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Monday, 9 February 2009

Finnish flavors experience a renaissance


Scandinavian simplicity, arctic flavors and pure, organic ingredients. Home cooking, original recipes and reinventing traditions.

These are the ideas that you would come across while perusing the shelves of Finnish cookbooks in any of the country's bookstores. In the last decade, Finnish gastronomy has taken considerable steps towards international appreciation. Today, both Finns and global gourmands are greeted by a newfound flair for the local cuisine, which can be sampled at a handful of Michelin-star restaurants as well as a growing number of small, independent eateries in Helsinki.

The number of cookbooks being published is also rapidly increasing, and many of these are in the Finnish language. This is evidence the fact that the local cuisine certainly appeals to the locals. A recent survey found that young Finns in particular are more enthusiastic about the Finnish traditional gastronomy. They prefer salmon, and game such as elk and reindeer, root vegetables, mushrooms and forest fruits to foreign flavors. One would be hard pressed to find a stronger endorsement of a country's cuisine.

Perhaps this also points to a larger trend, in which young generations in Finland and elsewhere look to their origins and folklore for inspiration in fashion, design, art, food and other creative pursuits. One could say that the trend extends to the restaurant scene as well as in tourism, where genuine cultural exchanges are the ultimate aim of many travelers. While Finnish tourists visiting Madrid might seek out authentic patatas bravas, Spaniards touring Finland would similarly look for distinct taste experiences in Helsinki, Turku or Lapland.

A variety of venues

Today, Finnish chefs proudly offer these experiences at a variety of venues in different categories. Michelin-rated menus are offered by places like Chez Dominique, Demo or Carma, all of which are located within the same neighborhood in Helsinki. Their proprietors belong to the contemporary crew of ambitious talents who place an emphasis on local produce and simplicity in tastes while seeking innovative approaches.

Postres, another Helsinki-based restaurant, could be described in similar words. The South China Morning Post cites it as serving distinctly Finnish menus and reinventing old recipes "so the classic salmon pastry comes with a different jasmine rice pudding and dill purée."

Juuri, a 24 seat restaurant with a farmhouse atmosphere is an example of the more relaxed eateries. It serves Finnish tapas, such as lingonberry-marinated salmon, recently praised by the New York Times, International Edition.

In fall, the business, culture and design bible Monocle was quick to mention the new Sis Deli chain, supporting local produce, which instantly became a hit among the Helsinki crowd.

The list of places to see and experience continues: each day and each year Finnish chefs become more inventive in creating personal, independent concepts, in charming their customers, in maneuvering the handicraft of the profession, and in turning the heritage of a traditionally poor kitchen into simple, modern delicacies. Thanks to the new talent, the international audience may today try ambitious fine-dining and relaxed food concepts, all with a Finnish twist, in Helsinki as well as in cities further north.

Helsinki, and Finland, may today proudly present themselves on the global culinary map. And most likely the trend will continue: young people take an interest in food as well as in the chef's profession. If this is a promise of an even brighter culinary future, remains to be seen.

Places to try

In the 2007 edition of "50 best Finnish restaurants", the list compiled by the Finnish trade magazine Viisi Tähteä, Editor-in-Chief Eeropekka Rislakki states:

"Our restaurants have now reached the level in which to compete in the international arena. Finland is becoming one of the gastronomically most interesting countries in Europe and Helsinki one of the most exciting restaurant cities."

In 2008 the list was revised. As in earlier years, the best restaurants have three things in common: a respect for classical aspects of the Finnish cuisine, a demonstrated innovativeness and broad vision of the field, and an interest in top-quality raw materials and regional cuisine. Please find picks of the list below:

Helsinki

Chez Dominique, www.chezdominique.fi

Chez Dominique is a unique top-restaurant in Finland run by Hans Välimäki, currently holding two Michelin stars. Considered a forerunner in the field, and worthy of the international recognition it has received. Signature dish is baby lamb with egg-plant lasagna and rosemary sauce.

Demo, www.restaurantdemo.fi

Demo, holding one Michelin star and run by chefs Teemu Aura and Tommi Tuominen, is considered a modern classic in the heart of Helsinki. It is appreciated for it's the harmonic flavors and combinations, the choice of ingredients and preparation. The atmosphere of the small restaurant is smart and personal. The duo also runs Grotesk, around the corner from Demo.

Olo, www.olo-ravintola.fi

Olo, newly elected restaurant of the year 2009, is one of the restaurants constantly receiving excellent ratings. It is considered the aristocracy of the Scandinavian cooking, Finland's next top-restaurant. Its playful attitude, skills and compilations of modern tastes have found a place in many hearts.

Postres, www.postres.fi

Postres is run by a team of young chefs and is known to offer high-quality, art-like food experiences. In a short time period it manages a place in the very top category of the city's restaurants, and receives special thanks for their Tarte Tatin and for sharing their enchanting personalities in their work.

Carma, www.carma.fi

Carma is the relatively new place of old-timer chef Markus Aremo: an enchanting place, stylish and clean interior-wise, with a strong label of its own.

Ateljé Finne, www.ateljefinne.fi

This is the place for art-lovers who fancy granny's cookings. Ateljé Finne is located in the former studio of Finnish sculptor Gunnar Finne and presents many his works in the decoration. The menu is compiled of traditional, honest food with a fresh twist: a quality bistro with relaxed atmosphere and young clientele.

Kosmos, www.ravintolakosmos.fi

Kosmos is one of Helsinki's legendary places, the artist's living room going way back. Still Kosmos appeals also today: nothing revolutionary, rather traditional, safe, yet unique. A classic dish is fried herring.

Juuri Keittiö & Baari, www.juuri.fi

Known for its Finnish tapas, sapas, Juuri has been a positive surprise for locals and foreigners. It is a simple, yet warm place featuring a feeling of returning to ones roots (Finnish roots). Its small dishes are part of the traditional Finnish cooking, a handicraft and a piece of the national identity.

Tampere

Näsinneula, www.nasinneula.fi
Henrik's, www.aleksinravintolat.fi/henriks

Turku

Panimoravintola Hermann, www.ravintolaherman.com
Mami, www.mami.fi

Oulu

Matala, www.matala.fi
Uleaåborg 1881, www.uleaborg.fi

Rovaniemi

Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara, www.laplandhotels.com
Nili, www.nili.fi

Further information please visit www.visitfinland.com/au

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