Where to Eat in Finland

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Sally Schneider


To view a slide show of markets and restaurants from Helsinki and the Finnish countryside, click here.

Helsinki—high energy, easy to navigate, rich with restaurants and design—is the best place to get an instant feel for Finnish food and sensibility. From there you can easily travel to the countryside to experience an island retreat or an inn serving traditional country fare, with Swedish influences to the East, and Russian influences to the West. The country is so small that nothing is very far away.

High summer is the time to go, when wild foods, especially mushrooms and berries, are everywhere, and the weather is fine. Winters are so dark and long in Finland that summer is taken very seriously, and there are endless festivals devoted to opera—the most famous being Savvonlinna—modern dance, jazz, drama, and curiously tango, about which many Finns are passionate. Starting July 21, crayfish are celebrated at home and in restaurants for several weeks—even Finnair flights feature them. Summer is the time when most Finns take extended holidays to island and forest retreats (which I will feature in an upcoming post).

To get a quick lay of the land of Finnish food, start in the morning at Kauppatori, Helsinki's market square by the port. It comprises a huge outdoor market with vendors displaying seasonal foods under vivid red and orange tents and the old, somewhat touristy covered market called Hakaniemen Hall, where there are still many treasures to be found, including, I've heard, goose livers from birds that have not been force fed, an interesting ingredient possibility. Purveyors pull up to Kauppatori in boats, as well, to sell home-smoked fish, vegetables, and flowers. On a sunny day, you can perch on an Aalto stool at a stand selling coffee and traditional snacks and sample fried pastries filled with ground meat or berry jam (a Finnish jelly doughnut), or Karelian rice pies.

VIEW SLIDESHOW>> Schneider_HelsinkiSS_inpost2.jpg

Sally Schneider

A 15-minute walk away on the teeming Mannerheimintie, in the yellow functionalist landmark Lassipalatsi Building, is the recently-opened farmers' market Eat & Joy Maatilatori. This is the place to see the range of Finland's local foods, to shop for them for picnics, to sample in your hotel room, and to take home. The store is committed to giving Finnish farmers and food artisans a wider venue to sell their products. Aki Arjoli, one of Maatilatori's founders, will point out the seasonal treasures among the offerings of 200 or so producers who sell through the store: breads and mueslis, beef and cheese from Finland's indigenous Kyyttö forest cow, wild reindeer, microbrews, berry wines and preserves, licorice, superb smoked fish and caviars ... It was there that I bought the astonishing Baltic herring that had just arrived vacuum-sealed from a local fisherman, to take home to New York in my luggage.

Upstairs from Maalitori is Lassipalatsi restaurant, a Helsinki institution and one of many restaurants in Helsinki that feature local ingredients. It is a good place to sample truly wild reindeer—which have fed only on the 300 or so plants they find in the forest—along with many of Eat & Joy Maatilori's offerings and the wonderful architecture itself, which looks out on the bustling boulevard.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.

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