We met under the clock at Stockmann department store in the Helsinki city centre. The spot is a common meeting place for locals. A friendly smile followed by a familiar Aussie twang and we made some brief introductions with Heather from Heather’s Helsinki. Heather is originally from Tasmania, Australia but has called Helsinki home for 14 years.
Our first stop on the tour was the food hall at Stockmann, on the lower level of the department store. It’s there Heather showed us the basics of the typical Finnish weekly shop. From heavy rye bread to Karelian pasties (a traditional Finnish dish made with a rye base and filled with rice or other fillings), Muikkukukko (bread filled with small smoked white fish) to prepackaged horse and reindeer meat (we’re told both are only eaten on occasion). Of course, there are staples we would expect in any supermarket like fresh fruit and vegetables and a small organic foods section.
Our first tasting for the day felt appropriately fishy, given we were in a part of the world famous for it’s fishing waters. We tried prawns and salmon with a hint of dill. It was a great way to whet the palate for two people who often start the day with fresh salmon, as we do.
Cafe Kuppi & Muffini
A short walk across town to Cafe Kuppi & Muffini and it was time for a bowl of steaming porridge, perfect to combat the chill in the air. Unlike many countries where porridge is commonly a daily staple in winter, it is only eaten on special occasions (like Christmas Eve morning) in Finland. Cafe Kuppi & Muffini is a cute, cosy cafe that makes all their goodies in house. We were handed a bowl of porridge and directed to a buffet covered in toppings including butter, spices, sugar and fresh made jams to choose our own topping.
A stroll over to the Design District and our next port of call was Kaartin Kotikauppa, a tiny corner store, stocked to the ceiling with local goodies. We had a nip of non-alcoholic apple cider to wash down a taste test of seed crackers, a Karelian pastie with berries and a mini Muikkukukko.
Like its Scandinavian neighbours, the Finnish government controls the sale of alcohol, so it’s not as easy as heading to your local liquor shop or convenience store to pick up a bottle of wine. The Finnish have to buy their alcohol from Alko and it comes at a heavier cost than you might be used to. We wandered through the immaculately ordered Alko store in the city centre. It was great to see some Australian wines on the shelves (albeit at very high prices) and to have a little break from food before we rolled on to lunch.
A brewery seemed an appropriate lunch stop so we found ourselves sitting in the sunny beer garden at Bryggeri Helsinki. A rosemary sausage with sauerkraut, mustard and a flight of local craft beers? Yes please! We worked our way through the board of beers with the help of the breweries tasting notes.
Vanha Kauppahalli, the Old Market Hall first opened its doors in 1889. The facade looks as it would have all those years ago, but inside no doubt the choice is much more varied. Whatever your stomach desires, you can find it in the Old Food Hall.
We tried a few local cheeses served with cloud berries from Juustokauppa Tuula Paalanen as we wandered past all the beautiful stalls. Colourful displays jumped out at us as we passed. There were fresh produce displays, fish stalls, vegan and vegetarian food, organic options, chocolate indulgence and a very popular soup store and tins of canned elk, reindeer and bear for those in the market.
Just as my pants were beginning to protest all the eating it was time for coffee and cake at Hymy. We strolled through the famous waterfront market, Market Square at south beach at the end of the esplanade, on the way. A popular market with tourists who visit for the day from cruise ships, the market is a place to pick up a punnet of berries or try a little reindeer stew if you don’t have time to sit down at a cafe or you want to sit by the water to eat.
Hymy was our last stop on the tour. Thankfully it is a raw, vegan cafe, so the berry cake we had wasn’t loaded with sugar or guilt. We washed down the cake with a little coffee to wind up the tour. The ideal way to finish up our Finnish food fest.
The Fork in Hand Food Tour was about four hours long. This is not just a straight tasting tour. Heather covers a little of the history and important Helsinki landmarks as you walk which we really enjoyed.
The Fork in Hand Food Tour
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