One of my favorite things to do when I travel to a new place is try the local cuisine. I will eat anything once. I’ve munched on cow tongue in France, crunched on bugs in Thailand, and washed down a handful of dried fish flakes in Iceland; whatever it is I will at least have a bite before judging. When I was researching Finland I came across Heather’s Helsinki food tours and I knew I needed to book a tour. The reviews were all amazing, plus, it was a twofer (a walking tour plus food) sign me up!
Under the Clock
Heather asked us to meet her “under the clock” at 9am to start our tour. The clock is located under Stockmann’s which is a large Finnish shopping center. My travel buddy and I head to Stockmann’s in search of the clock. I am imagining the clock to be this large, magnificent, ancient time teller, similar to something you’d see on a clock tower. So, when we arrived at Stockmann’s I was stumped as to where this clock could be hiding.
Heather joined us and pointed to a small rotating clock that was at the entrance to the store. This clock is THE meeting place in Helsinki. Throughout the day you will see groups of people meeting up “under the clock”.
All the Fish
We made our way through the shopping center and arrived at a grocery store. While wandering through the store we learned about Finnish potatoes, blood sausages, bread, and so much more. Who knew a tour of a grocery store would be so entertaining? Then, we made our way to the fish counter and sampled fish with a smoked mustard sauce. I cannot for the life of me remember the name but it was tasty and not at all fishy.
Porridge warms my soul
From Stockmann’s we head to Cafe Kuppi & Muffini to warm up with some porridge. I am going to be completely honest, I’ve never had porridge in my life. After trying porridge, I am sad this was my first time trying it. I know what you are thinking, its porridge – what could be so special? What is special is that you get to load it up with any of the toppings you want. I went with a slab of butter because it’s butter. I also added lingonberry jam, a little sugar, and some almonds. HOLY MOLY do I need more porridge in my life!
*Lingonberries are small berries found on the forest floor in the Nordic region. They are very plentiful around the countryside and a staple in many Finnish dishes. I tried some later that evening and what I liked most was that they popped in my mouth similar to eating a Gusher fruit snack.
My oh my, I love fish pie
Following our date with a bowl of porridge we set off to another grocery store, this one much smaller. Here we sample hemp seed snacks, rye pastry, apple cider, and fish pie. I know what you are thinking “fish pie, ew”. I too was skeptical at first, then I bit into the flaky crust. Not at all fishy. It was warm and I could have eaten three more. I want all the fish pie. So good.
Food + Liquor Store = all of my favorite things
Did you know gin is up and coming in Finland? In 2015, Kyrö Distillery won best gin at in the world at the International Wine and Spirit Awards. I like any food tour that incorporates booze, after devouring my fish pie we visit an Alko store. Alko’s are Finnish liquor stores that offer a wide variety of spirits, beer, and wine.
Beer and sausage is the way to my heart
For lunch we stop at Bryggeri brewery for a flight of beer and an award winning bratwurst. What I love about Finland is that they lover beer, coming from Denver, Colorado where we have a craft brewery on every corner it felt like home.
Pass the cheese please
What’s the best way to end lunch? With cheese of course! Market Square is the place to go for fresh food. There are two long hallways filled with stalls selling meats, fish, fresh fruits and veggies, breads and pastries, and my favorite CHEESE! I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like. One of the samples was traditional “squeaky cheese” topped with a dollop of Cloudberry jam. It’s called “Squeaky cheese” because it squeaks in your mouth when chewed.
*Cloudberries are another juicy berry found in the Nordic countries, often used in traditional liquor drinks.
I am full but I will definitely stuff all the pastries in my gullet
At this point I am full of fish, berries, beer, and cheese. Our last stop is for coffee and traditional Finnish pastries at Karl Fazer café. Karl Fazer is known for its chocolates. If you want chocolate any Finnish person will point you in the direction of Karl Fazer. With our chocolate we had a Karelian pie. They are made with rye flour, rice, and egg butter. I mean come on..egg butter. YASSSS! Warmed up they are a tasty savory treat. I wouldn’t recommend eating them cold. We did this the day before and immediately threw them in the trash. However, warmed up with extra egg butter is the way to go!
If you are planning a trip to Helsinki, I highly recommend booking a food tour with Heather’s Helsinki. Heather is extremely knowledgeable about the country, it’s history and traditions, and of course Finnish cuisine. We did not leave her tour hungry!
Have you been to Finland? What’s your favorite Finnish dish? I’d have to say mine was a tie between the fish pies and all the beer.