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Helsinki and Turku, Finland Trip

My husband and I will be traveling to Finland in a few days and will be in Turku for 5 days and Helsinki for 2. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated -- we always try to look for the local slant and find food as close to homemade as possible, food that the locals would eat. We are also beer connoisseurs and any places where local brew is to be found would be great. Kippis!

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  1. GloRak,

    Helsinki is a wonderful city filled with (largely) unknown culinary treasures. I would describe Finnish cuisine for the most part as hearty "comfort food", with an emphasis on potatos and fish. The most common drink in Finland is coffee (not vodka!)-Finns are one of the highest consumers of coffee in the world on a per capita basis, so you won't have a hard time finding a good cup. You would normally eat a piece of pulla with your coffee-a braided slightly sweet coffee bread with a hint of cardamom. It is absolutely delicious, and every Finn's staple.

    I would definitely not miss the Market Square (Kauppatori)-you can get all kinds of delicious "cheap eats" like fish stew and the like. Unfortunately the best time to visit the square is in October during the delicious herring festival.

    The other recommendation I have is to visit any restaurants/bars owned by the famous film director Aki Kaurismaki. I visited one of his establishments in 2002-unfortunately I cannot remember the name for the life of me. What I do recall was a kind of country-blues theme with old school red and white checkered tablecloths and "trucker" seats at the bar. This place had the most atmosphere in a restaurant that I've ever experienced to this day. And the food was delicious. A good idea would be to view any of his movies-Leningrad Cowboys comes to mind-to gain insight into Finnish culture and ethos. Most non-Finn reactions to his movies are usually one big question mark, as these people are really quite unlike any other culture in a variety of ways. Finns are only Scandinavians geographically. They are not related to Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, or Russians. They are most closely related to Estonians and Hungarians linguistically at least.

    I've included a link to an short article about Kaurismaki's bars and restos:

    http://www.travelintelligence.com/tra...

    Another link you will find useful is one started by a fellow 'hound "Food Wine":

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/442620

    Keep in mind that Finns are not generally extroverted people-but get them drunk and you'll see a different side! Have fun, and please report back!

    SWS

    PS. I'm not sure if you meant to say "Kiitos" at the end of your post-that's "thank you" in Finn.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

      Thank you so much for the info SWS! I have heard of this trucker restaurant and definitely plan to go...I will report back for sure!

      p.s. I did intentionally use the word "Kippis" for "Cheers!"

      1. re: GloRak

        Don't know what your budget is but if it permits you may want to check out Postres which gained its first Michelin star this year and is considered by many to be the best restaurant in Helsinki.

        http://www.postres.fi/

    2. Wow, I only just found this board, and on first try, a question I'm well placed to answer... *feels useful*
      Good beer and innovative pubs are easy to find in Turku. Koulu on Eerikinkatu (koulu means 'school' and is indeed a former primary school converted into a restaurant) has a microbrewery on the premises, you can't get more local than that. Website at www.panimoravintolakoulu.fi. Uusi Apteekki (New Pharmacy) on Kaskenkatu used to be one in days of yore, has a more international beer profile and a good choice of single malts. Old Bank -- well, you get the picture. And if you'd like to have a drink in a pub that was once a public convenience, Turku is the place to go.

      In general, high VAT levels make eating out a rather expensive pleasure, so Finns tend not to go to restaurants in order to eat things they can make at home. The restaurant profile in Turku tends to the ethnic side, pizza and kebab places abound, and the university students eat at the campuses (though I'm biased, being a grad school student, campus restaurants tend to be the best-value places to have lunch even if you don't have a student card.) For more Nordic flavours, I've had good luck with Harald (ignore the Viking trappings, the food is usually good). And while I know you're not coming to Finland to eat Brazilian, I can heartily recommend Bossa (Kauppiaskatu 12).

      7 Replies
      1. re: Alshain

        Wow such great information from SWS and Alshain! Thank you very much! I am even more excited than before for my trip! By the way, what are VAT levels?

        1. re: GloRak

          Usually 22 %, which doesn't make it the highest rate in the EU but pretty close.

          I forgot to mention that the covered market (Kauppahalli) close to the main square is worth visiting.

        2. re: Alshain

          Uusi Apteekki-I totally forgot about that place! Yeah, its great!

          http://www.uusiapteekki.fi/home.html

          1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

            One other thing, do you have any good fish recommendations? I don't really eat much seafood (or meat for that matter) but I can tolerate white fish that doesn't have a fishy taste, like mahi or tilapia...I'm not sure what kind of fish is available there. Thanks!

            1. re: GloRak

              You'll usually find salmon, whitefish and zander in restaurants, sometimes trout. Most imported fish comes from Norway. Tilapia and other exotic species are slowly making an inroad on the market, but the general sentiment on fish (in part thanks to a strong fishing lobby) seems to be, eat locally caught stuff or don't bother.

              1. re: Alshain

                Yes, Alshain is indeed correct-salmon and whitefish are the most common.

                1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                  Thank you! I'm off to Finland tomorrow -- can't wait! I'll make sure to report back!

        3. A bit late, but I'll bump the thread and post this link regarding Michelin Helsinki.

          http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Hels...

          9 Replies
          1. re: hungry_pangolin

            Thank you for the information...I'll keep it for next year's trip! I have much to report on Turku and Helsinki and will post soon! I loved it!

            1. re: GloRak

              I have returned from Finland and must say it was an absolutely amazing trip! The food was high quality, fresh and clean flavors. Here's my rundown:

              TURKU

              We had dinner our first night at Foija, a restaurant located in a cellar and upstairs is a bar called Hemingway's. The restaurant was located right off of the main square, an easy walk from our hotel Sokos Hamburger Bors. I started with a goat cheese salad, which was amazing. Finnish goat cheese is superior to that of what you get in the U.S. It's richer, sweeter, and creamier. I don't think I will be able to eat goat cheese here now! I ordered the chicken with fruit which intrigued me, and my husband got a steak frite with french fried potatoes. Both dishes were delicious. Foija was so wonderful we went back on our last night and had Filet Mignon -- great.

              The weather was not great, so there were times we chose our dining based on location (in hotel or next to it). I won't mention those, because they were run of the mill, chain type places.

              Another place we ate was at Koulu, the old Swedish school turned brewery and restaurant. The beer was fantastic, so much so that we visited again. I ate Filet Mignon with goat cheese (see a pattern here?) which did not disappoint.

              We also ate at the Viking themed Harald, which I thought would be hokey, but it was actually quite nice with the rustic decor. One of the best beers I had there was Kukko dark. I had a goat cheese (!) salad and grilled chicken. There was a lot of meat there -- pheasant, boar, beef, etc. Not a big veggie place.

              Another place we ate was Dennis Pizzeria -- pizza in Finland? Much better than in the States. It was a European/Italian style so I would recommend this place.

              As for beer, we also drank at the Old Bank twice and at the Pharmacy bar. Great places!

              HELSINKI

              We were only there for two days, so we basically ate what we could where we could. We had breakfast at a nice cafe near our hotel (forgot the name) and had dinner at a decent place inside a street mall. We didn't really know where to go. We did stop at Zetor, the restaurant with all the truck and farm equipment. I did not like the fact that we were ORDERED to check our coats for 2 euros each, even though we were only going to have a beer. Once we got a beer, it tasted very bad, like copper. It was as if I was drinking liquid pennies. My husband told the bartender, who was very abrupt and rude, and almost didn't let him switch beers out. With that said, I really wasn't impressed nor did I want to try the food. So, we ended up going to a Tex Mex place called Amarillo Grill. It was the first time in Finland I had somewhat spicy food, and it was very good. Nice place to kick back for sure.

              A friend recommended that we go to the Ice Bar, located in a Spanish restaurant called La Bodega, which is next to the Wrong Noodle restaurant. Ice Bar is what it is -- a bar made of ice. It's pricey and definitely a tourist thing, but we did it anyway. After a 10 euro entrance, we had to put bulky coats on, and the drink menu was vodka drinks only. We entered and there were some boisterous Danish lads there, which makes the ice bar cozy -- only 12 people allowed at a time. Cold, yes. Expensive, yes. Fun, yes.

              That's all I can remember for now. Finnish beer is some of the most excellent I have ever had, and its goat cheese is my favorite.

              1. re: GloRak

                That's incredibly disappointing about Zetor...seems things have changed since I went back in 2002. But I'm glad you had a great time. Helsinki is a great city.

                1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                  I was very disappointed too, as I had seen it on TV on the Travel Channel, where traveler Samantha Brown goes to Helsinki. It was kitschy for sure, but the whole coat check and beer episode turned me off. Oh well, there were many other wonderful places to visit. I agree, Helsinki is great, and I can't wait to go back!

                2. re: GloRak

                  HI GloRak

                  Thank you for your report.

                  I am so sorry to hear about your Zetor - experience.
                  I am also sorry that I did not see your original post on time: I could have given you some recommendations, and could have also given you a link to my friend's Helsinki web site. Sorry :-(

                  That coat rack thing totally blows my mind! I just cannot believe it is happening in Helsinki, in 2008!! That used to happen some decades ago, as Finland did not use to be a very service oriented place, but today that should not, absolutely not, happen anywhere there today. Personally, I would have walked out.

                  Also, the beer thing, yuck. They probably never clean their equipment. What a shame.

                  Personally, I never liked Zetor, and neither does anyone I know in Helsinki. So whenever I travel to Helsinki, that is one of the last places I would visit. Zetor is a tourist trap, among other things.

                  I know this is too late, but if anyone reading this is planning to go to Helsinki anytime soon, this web site is a good place to start your research:
                  http://mybesthelsinki.com/index.html
                  restaurant pages: http://www.mybesthelsinki.com/Helsink... There are 3 restaurant pages, with restaurant links and links to other Helsinki restaurant sites

                  1. re: GloRak

                    HI GloRak

                    Thank you for your report.

                    I am so sorry to hear about your Zetor - experience.
                    I am also sorry that I did not see your original post on time: I could have given you some recommendations, and could have also given you a link to my friend's Helsinki web site. Sorry :-(

                    That coat rack thing totally blows my mind! I just cannot believe it is happening in Helsinki, in 2008!! That used to happen some decades ago, as Finland did not use to be a very service oriented place, but today that should not, absolutely not, happen anywhere there today. Personally, I would have walked out.

                    Also, the beer thing, yuck. They probably never clean their equipment. What a shame.

                    Personally, I never liked Zetor, and neither does anyone I know in Helsinki. So whenever I travel to Helsinki, that is one of the last places I would visit. Zetor is a tourist trap, among other things.

                    I know this is too late, but if anyone reading this is planning to go to Helsinki anytime soon, this web site is a good place to start your research:
                    http://mybesthelsinki.com/index.html
                    restaurant pages: http://www.mybesthelsinki.com/Helsink... There are 3 restaurant pages, with restaurant links and links to other Helsinki restaurant sites.

                    1. re: FoodWine

                      Paivaa, Paivaa, FoodWine, Hyvaa ilta! Boy, do I miss the 5 years I spent in Helsinki. I loved going into the train station (My son called it the Superman building because of the figures out front.) for a lija pirraka w/ 2 nakki, the street wagons w/ Balkan makkarra and going to Suomen Sauna Seura (Finnish Sauna Society) for a sausage and beer after a 300 degree sauna. Havis Amanda for fish, The Fisherman's Cottage and my local pub/restaurant in Munkkieniemi, the Ukkimunkkii As soon as the kids are out of college I gotta go back. There used to be direct weekend specials from Bangor to Helsinki. Oh, yes the restaurants at the Folk Museum and at Saarinen's country home.

                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                        Hyvää päivää, Passadumkeg! Mitä kuuluu? Sorry for the delay; I just returned from our summer vacation ... no, not Finland:-(

                        I used to love those lihapiirakkas, too. But I used to put some Kavli veggie-mayo spread inside of the piirakka :-DDD yes, decadent, but sooo good.

                        I have to get back to Finland, I have heard about many new, very good restaurants opening over there.
                        But the Euro is just too expensive right now.

                        Anyway, warm terveisiä Maineen! I miss the lobster rolls up there!

                        1. re: FoodWine

                          Do you know that the closest Finnish restaurant I can find in the US is in Houlton Mi. on the Upper Peninsula where Finlandia Univ. is! Twent years ago there used to be one near Rockland, Me. I just made Finnish pear and turnip pie this past week end.
                          Nakamien

              2. We'll be going back to Turku in a few weeks, and while I'm sure I'll visit my favorite restaurant and brewpubs, I'm always open to new suggestions!