Gastronomy party and 4 routes in Helsinki
23 June, 2014
By Ana Sánchez brom Gastronomistas
They literally do not stop. They are really aware of what a privilege it is to have long sunny days in summer and their agenda is full of events, all over the city. The best option if you go to Helsinki is to visit the tourist office and ask about the week's programme of activities. In our case, we couldn't miss out on Restaurant Day, the day on which ordinary Fins put their creativity to the test and play at being chefs, setting up street stalls all over the city.
This is one of the most important street food events on the planet, and although it started in Helsinki, where it is now best established, it is also international in scope and any city can decide to take part in it. It is held four times a year and if you are planning a trip to Helsinki in summer, take note, because the next Restaurant Day is 17 August. You'll find food stalls all over the city, but if you really want to go wild on a huge variety of home-made delicacies don't miss the Esplanadi, one of the city's main avenues.
Let yourself be wafted away by aromas on Restaurant Day. Remember that you won't have many such opportunities to enjoy really home-made food while on holiday. So get yourself ready, spoon in hand, to visit stalls to suit all tastes. You'll find not only traditional food, such as a variety of dumplings stuffed with rice, fish or red fruits, and the yummy cinnamon rolls; but also meat grills, and stalls with oriental and Indian food, cakes and cupcakes.
Four essential routes around the city
It's impossible to do tourism on an empty stomach, so we suggest four routes around Helsinki with obligatory stops to replenish your strength.
Architecture:15 minutes from the centre, you can start on a route through the port to arrive at the Katajanokka peninsula, one of the most charming districts of Helsinki, and lose yourself in its streets, which preserve examples of modernist architecture from the early 20th century. If you are a collector of experiences and still haven't spent time behind bars, how about trying the most authentic accommodation on the peninsula, the Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka (Merikasarminkatu, 1), a former prison converted into a hotel in 2007? Skirting the peninsula you'll find Johan&Nyström (Hamringevägen, 1), where you can recharge your batteries with a great variety of ethnic and ecological coffees that they select themselves from around the world.
Opposite the café you'll see one of the city's highlights, a spectacular red brick building with a green dome. This is Uspenski Cathedral, the largest orthodox cathedral in Western Europe and the main legacy of the Russian invasion. Take Aleksanterinkatuy Street to reach Senate Square with its stunning white building of Saint Nicholas Lutheran Cathedral. Inside, you'll notice the great difference between its austere Nordic decoration and the golden, iconoclastic decoration of the Russian orthodox cathedral.
If you haven't had enough and you're still hungry for Finnish culture, top off the route by trying the traditional gastronomy in Savotta (Aleksanterinkatu, 22). This restaurant sticks to the centuries-old flavours of Lapp food, with it ties to the nature of Finland's woods and lakes. Here you can try traditional creamy Finnish fish soups (normally salmon), served with the country's typical black bread. Another star dish is the reindeer, served with vegetables and cranberry sauce. If you're curious and you don't have any qualms, in Savotta you can try bear meat. We went for fish, served in a variety of Finnish delicacies: smoked pike, rainbow trout roe mousse, rye bread filled with herring, and rye pie filled with potato and cranberry.
Alternative: I don't not know what you think of up and coming alternative neighbourhoods, but we love them. Helsinki's B-side is called Kallio, a workers' district that is rising fast thanks to students, full of boutiques, bars, record and second hand shops and rehearsal rooms. Don't be surprised if you go into a bar to find it full of Finns, beer in hand and dressed in black leather jackets. You haven't been beamed back to a bikers' bar on Route 66, it's just that the Finns are very into metal. They're probably watching a game of ice hockey.
We recommend you to stop at GalleriaKeidas (Fleminginkatu, 7), where, as well as serving great organic coffee, they display work by local artists. For lunch, don't miss the fashionable restaurant, Sandro (KolmasLinja, 17), which you'll love not only for its decoration but also for its sophisticated Moroccan food.
But if you really want to find a unique place that will satisfy the most alternative of palates, you'll have to go Teurastamo. Outside the Kallio district, to the north, on Työpajankatu Street, the old Teurastamo slaughterhouse has been fully refurbished as a space for gastronomy. Inside the old slaughterhouse there are a variety of activities, including the cooking and cocktail school, Flavour Studio, an urban agriculture garden in the courtyard and a barbecue free for all to use. At the restaurant, B-Smokery, decorated with old machinery from the slaughterhouse, you can eat the best grilled meat, ribs and hamburgers. And if you're still hungry, try a dessert in Jädelino, specialising in Italian gelato ice cream for all tastes (including varieties with soya milk, unsweetened and sweetened with stevia). The ones we asked for were with currants and coconut.
Cosmopolitan: We all know the reputation of Swedish design, but Nordic design doesn't begin and end on the Expedit bookshelf. In case you didn't know, Helsinki was chosen as World Design Capital in 2012 and is responsible for great interior design icons such as the curved iittala vase (designed by Alvar Aalto) and the puppy and ball chair by EeroAarino. If you like to pick up special souvenirs on your trips, we suggest you take a stroll in the DesignDistrict, an area close to the centre where most of the decoration, jewellery and Finnish fashion shops are concentrated. Our favourite is the DesignForum Shop (Erottajankatu, 7), where, in addition to finding real objects of desire, you can enjoy coffee and a wide selection of cakes in the café.
To put the finishing touch on an afternoon of shopping, nothing better than to relax watching the sunset from the place with the best views of the city: the Ateljee Bar (Yrjönkatu, 26) in Hotel Torni. From its cocktail selection, our favourite is the AAlto, a tribute to the Finland's greatest architect, made from cranberry vodka, Cointreau, soda and lemon juice with cranberry.
Sunday tripper: When the good weather starts, Finns love to spend their time outdoors and Helsinki is fortunate to have first-rate sea transport connecting it to the main nearby islands. So don't miss out: take a boat. We suggest a visit to the island-fortress of Suomenlinna. Boats leave every half hour from the port and you will enjoy one of the most incredible views of the city on the way over. The island, a former Swedish fortress that preserves its unique architecture, is today one of the city's main leisure spots and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are restaurants on the island, but as we are good Sunday trippers we know you'll love to take a picnic, and we suggest you ask them to make it for you at Sunn (Aleksanterinkatu, 26). Ours consisted of several dishes: seared salmon, broccoli and potato salad, lamb's lettuce and buffalo mozzarella, chicken pie and a selection of fruit and pastries.
So you feel like visiting Helsinki, do you? Book your flights here!
23 June, 2014