29 April 2007

Finding Good Food in Helsinki

Me in HelsinkiAfter my utterly disappointing experiences with international food in Finland, I decided that for the next week I would eat only Finnish, Swedish, or Russian food. Even if Helsinki couldn't attract chefs from around the globe to prepare great international dishes, I speculated, they should at least be able to find decent chefs in their own part of the world. I am happy to report this approach has worked out brilliantly...

I started the week off at a great little Russian place called Saslik, located at Neitsytpolku 12. I had grilled elk, which amazingly I was able to get medium-rare. As an aside, it is quite difficult to get any meat cooked to a temperature less than medium around here. I don't know whether it's because they precook the meat or if the quality of meat is not up to medium-rare standards. Before Saslik, whenever I had asked for something to be cooked to a lower temperature, the waiter usually made a funny face and recommended medium instead.

HelsinkiI had a tasty plate of Nordic herring at a charming Finnish restaurant called Kosmos, located at Kalevankatu 3. When I entered the restaurant, a nice gentleman offered to take my coat. When I politely declined (hoping to warm up a bit first), he made it clear that it was not an option to enter the dining room wearing a coat. The Finns are definitely sticklers for the rules. It reminded me of the time I tried to get a taxi driver to let me roll down the window so I could get a little fresh air. The response was that it was simply not an option--apparently everyone knows that it is just too difficult to drive with the windows down.

Later in the week, I discovered food from Lapland at a fun little place called Saaga, located at Bulevardi 34. Lapland is in Northern Finland, and traditional Lapish food includes reindeer, bear, game bird, fish, wild berries, and barley. As I was enjoying a simple soup of game bird & vegetables served in a hand-carved wooden bowl, it made me feel like Grizzly Adams.

I also had bear meatballs at Saaga, which was definitely not something Grizzly Adams would have done. Before I decided to try it, I asked about the bear situation in Finland to see if I could eat it with a clear conscience. I was told that bears from Russia often crossed the border into Finland because they couldn't find enough food in Russia. Apparently there are strict laws governing how many bears may be killed each year (only about 100), and the restaurant only served locally hunted bear. In the end, they just tasted like meatballs. By the time they were flambéed in brandy and covered in a light cream gravy, I couldn't really taste the bear in them.

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