Exploring the Explosive Food Scene in Finland

Winter can be dull. Cold nights, infrastructure failures and slush covered streets that keep you indoors. A place that’s famous for their snow, Santa and reindeer, Finland’s Lapland usually takes all of the credit. But Finland’s winter charm extends beyond the boundaries of the Arctic Circle. Instead of the winter blues you know and despise, the Fins have perfected how to deal with the bluster and breeze.

Finland’s food scene has exploded over recent years, winning Michelin stars and opening countless restaurants as they roll out a red carpet of food delights across the Scandinavian peninsula. Ranking in the top three countries for environmental performance, Fins hold a particular drive in their hearts for eating from the earth. The Everyman’s Law gives each person the right to food foraged from the land and the abundance of these forageables across Finland is incredible.

Given the climate during the winter months, the challenge that chefs across Finland have taken on to stick to their principles is awe inspiring. Magic and wonder has been mustered from the unlikeliest of places. The usual variety of woodland mushrooms and readily available fresh fish are utilised with roots, herbs and unique berries to produce a flavour combination that puts you right in front of that wood fire, with the day’s harvest, a good book and a glass of hot Glögi.

With easy access to Sweden and Denmark, Finland’s port capital city of Helsinki provides a huge collection of incredible architecture, immense public spaces (check out the Oodi library) and fantastic shopping opportunities. Winter in Europe is truly at its finest in a city like this. Though with a lot of variation, the streets of Helsinki are easily walkable with trams running through for when your feet are tired from Christmas markets and couture window browsing.

Having been the birthplace for pioneering art icons such as Tove Jansson, Claire Aho and Klaus Haapaniemi, Helsinki’s focus on design, art and architecture makes the city an exceptionally inclusive and beautiful experience. A walk through the neighbourhoods exposes the sublime efficiency of the Nordic capital through boutiques, restaurants and quaint gift shops covering every street. Every shop is a well known brand or unique family run business supported by the community and appreciated by all.

Helsinki’s outdoor markets laden the city streets on the coast of the sea whilst fresh fish are carried in and sold directly from boat to home. If you’re brave enough, you can join the locals in a freezing dip in the sea before heading to one of the many public saunas. Combine this with a cup of coffee as you walk through the indoor market hall, tasting fresh salmon, trout and whitefish and sampling reindeer biltong, pastries and collecting your daily groceries for the complete Helsinki experience.

During your shop along the promenade, break for lunch at The Glass, a basement restaurant perfect for a lunch of grilled whitefish with endive and citrus velouté finishing with the delicious upside down plum tart. Head further south to try oxtail and beef cheek with rich mash, potato latkes with trout roe and cream cheese at the Ego Restaurant, a beautiful winery and cellar restaurant under the city.

Experience the foraging representations of the four points of Finland at the little Finlandia cafe. An indoor forest of repurposed trees where Chef Mika Jokela’s artistic expression of the compass points of his country is the epitome of odes to Finnish delicacy. Meaty unctuous mushroom five ways, and a subtle beetroot salad are just half of the celebrations of Finnish wildlife on show. After a drink with a show stopping view at the top of the Sokos Torni Hotel, the only skyscraper in the centre of the city, head to couple-run cosy restaurant Skörd. Every ingredient in the ever-changing seasonal menu comes from Finnish producers, including the berry wines and the surprising favourite of warm beetroot cake.

Just a couple hours out of Helsinki and once Finland’s capital city, Turku sits on its Western coastal archipelago, providing a cacophony of forest, canals and sea. Stepping into the Turku Market Hall, which has been open since 1896, you are opening the door to delightful fresh produce all year round. Herkkunuotta fishmongers provides the freshest fish you’ll find as well as some traditional favourites such as pickled herring and pearls of Roe paired with thick cream cheese on Rye. As one of the biggest coffee drinking countries, you’ll find locals enjoying a cup or three alongside Laskiaispulla, a local favourite cream filled bun, as well as homemade chocolates from Piece of Cake.

When in Turku, do as the Finnish do. Set your base as the Hamburger Börs – an iconic modern Nordic designed hotel, built as an extension to the original which outlives two city fires. With two cocktail bars, including one with a balcony view over the town square of Turku, you can sip a sharp sweet cloudberry bramble as an aperitif before venturing to Smör, a locally sourced high end restaurant on the banks of the River Aura.

With a keen interest in reducing waste, Smör’s ethos applies directly to food but also eating implements. Your choice of cutlery out of the selection in front of you stays with you for the entirety of the meal, though this makes the decision difficult when offered sticky milk bread and churned butter – a moorish family favourite where hands are the clear implement of choice. Be sure to try the pan fried whitefish with black salsify and lemon pepper sauce.

Continuing the love of foraging, Chef Sami Tallberg’s residency at the Finnish Design Shop dedicated his menu to highlight the extraordinary flavours found nearby extends beyond the kitchen. Book foraging excursions alongside the reading of his multiple books on the love of the Everyman’s Law which has inspired him ever since a trip to the New Forest. Make sure to try the wild mushroom tabbouleh or beetroot, rose and tarragon when available, the seasonal salads celebrate the availability and deliciousness of the wild and make for a perfect lunch whilst browsing the incredible Nordic designs of the FDS.

Reuse and reducing waste are key drivers for Turku, with the perfect example of this being the Kakolanmäki Hill prison. An old prison complex transformed into a community of businesses including the Kakola Brewing Company which offers beer tastings as well as a bar and the Kakolanruusu restaurant. Known as the rose of Kakola, set in the old night cells,  the bar and restaurant offer incredible delights for lunch and dinner. For an unforgettable night, order as many sharing plates as possible but ensure to include the grilled iberico pork on a bed of pear and aubergine puree, as well as the stewed leek with smoked herring and crispy potatoes.

The apparent love for wildlife and ecology which the Fins all share is as incredible as the hospitality and welcome that they provide for tourists. Whether staying in a luxury hotel or even renting a Finnish home on the island of Hirvensalo, you won’t be far away from a culinary spectacle that is impressively appreciative of the hidden nature around us. Even in the dead of winter, Fins have made it an important passion to scavenge, grow, nurture and fight for the food which is readily available to all. An experience like no other, city life has never been so rural.