Monday, June 16, 2014

June 13-15 2014: A Tail of Three Fishes: Food, Family, and Friends in Helsinki

Kiasma Modern Art Museum exhibit.
Mirror image -- or is it???

Check-in terminal at fully automated attendant-free Omena hostel!

We came to Helsinki to explore the country and culture - and also in the hopes that Olga's family and friends would come visit us from Russia. And visit us they did! At times, it was like herding cats, trying to get as many people as possible to meander together through various parts of the city. Other times, particularly at dinner, everybody came together in spectacular fashion, with 17 people at dinner on Saturday night. Finding eclectic restaurants that could easily accommodate a group as large and diverse as ours wasn't easily. Most nights, we dined on traditional Finnish cuisine in stained-glass and faded wood-walled rooms.

Olga and Masha
Prykmestar Savu (an excellent Finnish
smoked Porter), World Cup, and the boys

Finnish cuisine is a vegan's nightmare. A vast array of dishes are based on pork, beef, lamb, and deer. Vorschmack is a tediously-prepared sort of gefilte meat that reminds a bit of chopped liver. Sausages are popular, as are stews, smoked meats, and cold cuts. Olga's brother Kostya and Danya are strict vegetarians - and avoid eggs too - so there were very few foods they could eat during our Finnish culinary tour. Often, we found them negotiating with the waiter to assemble a dish using a few ingredients from several other dishes. Also, a healthy portion of salad and goat cheese is offered at many restaurants.

'Thumbelina' Masha on a giant lilypad
at the Helsinki Botanical Garden
My name is Maya, don't you forget it!
Thanks to Danya for the cute nametag!

There's a plethora of fish and seafood dishes, which has been my staple during out visit. There is often a mixed fish platter, consisting of herring (sometimes sweet with berries - and always interesting and tasty), salmon (a thick smoked steak - delicious), and whitefish (boneless on the skin). A creamy smoked salmon soup is wonderful, as well as the Toast Skagen: whole grain bread loaded with small shrimps, mayo, and a hard-boiled egg.

Celebrating our friend Olga's birthday
The whole mishpocha at Ravintola N11

A pescetarian will not go hungry as fresh fish is available everywhere! In fact, I think I have gained a couple pounds on this trip as there is much more to eat than just fish. The desserts are hard to pass up: rhubarb crumble with sorbet and Crème brûlée are key. Ice cream is very popular - Finns are proud that their per capita ice cream consumption is the highest in the world despite the cold and soggy climate. And everyone wants to order a round of drinks and toast something.

Our local friend Olga loves Vorschmack (REALLY!)

How are we supposed to eat Korushka fish??
By Sunday morning, we had hugged, kissed, said goodbye to everyone, and saw them off to their trains, cars, planes, and marshrutkas. Our local Russian/Finnish friend Olga (who we also ran into in Bangkok) was having a birthday party, on an island, so we had a chance to get a taste of the archipelago series of islands surrounding Helsinki. When we were in Stockholm Sweden a few years ago, we found the city entirely empty of locals on Midsummer (June 22) as they had all sailed off to the archipelago, so the idea of being invited seemed very dreamy. We had a wonderful "brunch" at 2pm on the tiny former military warehouse island at an outdoor picnic table clad restaurant that had just opened for business the week prior.  Everything was magically perfect - including the weather, the portions of cava/herring/whitefish/salmon/rhubarb/sorbet/coffee, Olga's and Ron's friends, and even the timing as we just made the boat with a minute to spare :)

Do yourself a favor and read more about our experiences in Helsinki on Olga's blog!

The famous mixed fish platter

Herring with black currant, caviar sour cream dip, potatoes, and salad
Toast Skagen fixins in the background

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