My Travel Map

My Travel Map

08 January 2016

Helsinki II

Helsinki, Finland... Part II: A lesson in foraging

I knew this was going to be a good visit to Finland when one of the first stops on the itinerary was a great sushi restaurant the evening of my arrival.  I knew it was going to be a great trip when the first stop the next morning was this farmers market.  I owe everything on this recent trip to the Finnish capital to my friend and brilliant colleague, Heli.  You see, Heli is Finnish, and she was a wonderful tour guide and ambassador!  So this post goes out to her; thank you so much for giving me an insider look into your country and culture!

So, this is a view of part of the skyline around the market.  Nothing special really, but the market was great, and I just loved the kauppahalli sign.

Gooseberries anyone?  I must admit that I had never seen a gooseberry before this market.  And not only did I see them, but I got to taste them too.  Despite their grape like appearance, they are actually very tart.

Scandinavia is a place blessed with berries.  They grow everywhere, and there are so many different types.  Here we have blueberries and red and black currants.  The colors in this market were just stellar.

How about some tomatoes and chanterelles?  The chanterelles supposedly grow very, very well in Finnish forests... making them a gourmet export good.  Also, keep an eye out for all the "Suomalainen" signs here, which translates to "Finnish"... aka locally grown or harvested products.

Raspberries, more gooseberries, cloudberries, and a few lonely strawberries over there in the upper right.  Oh cloudberries... definitely my favorite type of berry.  They are miraculously sweet and buttery and tart all at once... pure deliciousness (especially smeared with butter on toast).

And more blueberries...  more on these below.

We had a beautiful morning for the market.

The gorgeous weather continued on into lunch, where we met a colleague from the University of Helsinki.  Not a bad setting, eh?

And for dinner, some fine Finnish food and micro-brewed beers at Zetor.

I had the braised reindeer with red currants, pickles, mashed potatoes, and gravy.  So, so good.

If you feel like something a little lighter though, you can always go for some "sapas", that is "Suomi (Finnish) tapas".  These are small plates inspired by the Spanish staples but using predominantly Finnish ingredients.  The hunk of salmon over lightly pickled cucumber was out of this world good.

Or if you are feeling more like some quality desert and coffee/tea with a relaxing spot outdoors by an open wood fire, you should check out Cafe Regata, northwest of the center.  This great little cafe is decorated with all sorts of charming and quirky bric a brac and had a line way out the door when we were there.  You can even make toasted marshmallows and s'mores over the fire!

Helsinki's domed cathedral on the city's central square, the Senate Square.

Another new tidbit that I learned from Heli is that the square was designed with the cornerstones of society around it: the cathedral sits on the north side, the main building of the University of Helsinki on the west side, the Government Palace on the east side, and shops (representing a market economy) to the south.  Helsinki's center was a designed city, laid out by Carl Ludvig Engel in the mid 1800s.

Another thing Helsinki is famous for is its variety of Art Nouveau architecture.

And then there is the Central Railway Station, with its famous stone men.

The stone men.  They have become icons of Finland's national rail service provider, VR.

The Stockmann department store and one example of the many works of public art found around the center.

This place is simply amazing, Helsinki's Chapel of Silence: this speaks wonders of the Finnish philosophy.  The chapel is actually Lutheran, but it offers people a quiet place to rest and collect their thoughts in one of the busiest areas of the city.  Finns can be very thoughtful and introspective people, and they all seem to love being in nature.  I can see how the city can drive you crazy sometimes, so having a good quiet place to collect your thoughts is priceless.   The fact that they've made a chapel that caters directly to this is just fantastic in my opinion.

Then there was this... 

Art?  Yes... I think it is, since it inspired an emotional response from me: I laughed hysterically and felt happy!

If you ever find yourself in Helsinki, I can now highly recommend that you take a cruise around the harbor... even if the sky looks ominously apocalyptic like this.

For one, the cruise offers some unique perspectives on the city skyline.

Another thing that becomes immediately clear once you are out on the water is that Finns love their sailing... and it makes sense too.  The Finnish coast is sprinkled liberally with thousands upon thousands of small islands, so sailing around them and exploring is both great fun and a beautiful treat for the eyes and soul.


Finns also love their saunas... touring the harbor by boat, you see the little huts adjacent to each house and cottage along the water.

The saunas are always located close to the sea so that you can intermittently jump out of the sweaty heat and take a quick dip in the frigid water.  Seriously, Finns love this and proclaim its health benefits.  Also, they always to to the sauna in the nude and it is a social affair.  Finns (and Estonians) don't have anywhere near the same taboo against public nudity that we have in North America and much of the rest of Western Europe.

And last but not least, into the national park...  Heli brought me and a few other great colleague friends to Nuuksio National Park, which sits just a short drive from Helsinki.  This park is made up of healthy forest, beautifully peaceful lakes, and rolling hills.

So Heli took us to the park for some quality Finnish foraging.  Apparently one of the national pastimes is foraging for the treats provided by the forest.  The first thing we found were blueberries, which were not at all difficult to find since they apparently grow everywhere.  Seriously, you couldn't throw a stone without smashing a few of the delicious little blue fruits.  And the best part was, these things are good to eat right off the shrub!  I definitely had my fill while wandering around this forest wonderland.

The star of the foraging show however was definitely the mushrooms... most of which are not good to eat!  Many Finns are trained from a very, very young age how to properly identify the tasty from the deadly poisonous when it comes to mushrooms.  And let me tell you, you want to be able to tell!  According to Heli, this was not one of the good ones.

This is an example of one of the forest trails... it was simply a beautiful way to spend an afternoon wandering through the woods.

Did I mention the serenely beautiful lakes?  Yea, the park (and Finland) had plenty of those too.

More mushrooms, and nope, this one is not safe to eat either.  I was on a mission... I wanted to find good, tasty mushrooms to harvest and take home for dinner!  Hunting for them was quite fun... rooting around off trail with your eyes scanning the underbrush and rich forest floor.

Everything was so very, very green... you can tell they get a lot of rainfall there (and snow during the winter).

Another sign of how much snow they get was the trail signposts on the trees... high up on the trees too I might add.  This clue also indicates that Finns like their winter sports like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing!

Another couple of lake shots... the lighting and stillness of the water made for some perfect reflection shots.

Loved this mushroom, but no, not good to eat yet...

More blueberries... so, so many blueberries

And finally, just when I thought we wouldn't find any edible mushrooms, we hit the jackpot: chanterelles!

We ended up finding more chanterelles, like the one above plus several other types of wild mushrooms, all of which Heli was quite certain were edible.  When we got back to the hotel, we made a wild mushroom omelette... which turned out to be the most delicious mushroom omelette I've ever eaten.  And Heli was right, we didn't get poisoned!  Now that shows faith in good friends.

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