Finland is a slightly mysterious country. During the summer months, everyone is out and about but when the long nights set in, everyone seems to disappear. Whenever you visit, you might struggle to feel like you are totally involved. To learn about the people, culture and cuisine of Helsinki, you will need to meet someone chatty….or even better, take a tour with Heather’s Helsinki Walking Food Tour. Read on for our full Heather’s Helsinki review.
We were hosted by Heather’s Helsinki. All opinions are entirely our own.
Heather’s Helsinki Review
We met Heather, our tour guide, and the other chap who was booked onto that morning’s tour by the statue of Aleksis Kivi (a famous Finnish author). This statue is in a garden next to the main train station of Helsinki and in front of the large National Finnish Theatre. It is usually a nice spot to hang out, but on that particular morning there was a big burger/music festival setting up so we made a quick exit.
A Stunning Station
The imposing Helsinki Central Station as we see it today was opened in 1919 and is known as one of the world’s most beautiful. There are clear influences of Art Deco and its most famous features are the huge stone men that stand at either side of the main entrance. Heather took us to the side and pointed out some very cool architectural flourishes that we would never have noticed by ourselves.
Inside, we got to peek into the most gorgeous Burger King in the world. It is within the old station canteen and it still features the beautiful old mural and vintage lamps. It’s very atmospheric….I don’t think the ordering machines are original.
But it is time to start consuming!
We started the tour learning about the way Finnish fruit fans make it through the year. Each month comes with its own berries, someone of which we had never heard of. After discussing fruit, and inhaling the gorgeous zesty smells from the juice bar next to us, we got a zingy little shot to start the tour off with a bang.
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Coffee and Karelians
Spread throughout Helsinki, Robert’s Coffee is a very popular chain. Unbelievably, Finland consumes the second most coffee per capita in the world! They take their Joe seriously. Robert’s Coffee has rather fantastic coffee. It is the kind of place that is designed to sit and really savour your coffee, rather than a grab-and-go spot.
They have some delicious-looking sweet treats, but we weren’t there to try the cake. instead, we got a curious little rye pastry with savoury rice in the centre, topped with egg butter and a jaunty little cherry tomato. Now, if like us you are wondering what egg butter is, it is the older sexier brother of egg mayonnaise made of eggs….and butter. It was velvety, rich and so decadent., Our tour mate loved his Karelian pie so much that he went and bought another one.
The day after the tour, we noticed that our hotel breakfast buffet included Karelian pies so we both grabbed one. We would never have tried one if we hadn’t been introduced to them by Heather.
Finnish kids cannot get enough of liquorice. Black, salted, red or fruity, the chewy confection is top of everyone’s list. I mean, I am not a fan so I slightly doubted their obsession but later on, in the tour, we saw an entire aisle of the supermarket dedicated to liquorice.
We wandered down to a lovely liquorice concession in a department store and were greeted with an array of intriguing flavours. Lots of the samples were a little liquorice surrounded by a yummy flavoured coating. I thought I was getting the hang of it. The flavours were intense and delicious. Passionfruit, coffee…what could be wrong with this. Well, then it was time to try the hard stuff. Salted black liquorice is the most traditional kind in Finland and it turns out that, no, I am still not in love with it.
Strolling the Supermarket
We took a walk through a very nice supermarket and learned more about Finnish food. Bread, potatoes and even glasshouse-grown herbs all took on new importance as we soaked up the information. It seems that Finland has an incredible grasp on sustainability, which was great to see. There was a huge variety of “good food” marks. You could say that it is confusing but I believe it shows that everybody cares.
We didn’t have any official tour samples during our trip to the supermarket but I was sneaky and noticed little cheese cubes on the counter. Of course, I grabbed one (who doesn’t love a bonus sample). Speaking of the cheese counter. There was a lovely set-up with cheese, jam, chutney and crackers all placed together so you easily make a gorgeous platter.
My favourite spot was the fish counter..yes, we all know I ADORE seafood, but it wasn’t because we were eating. Behind the counter is a list of the fish on offer. Each was assigned a price, a level of sustainability and where it has been sourced. It allows customers to make an entirely informed decision about their food choices. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!
Finnish Design Moments
Heather led us into a fancy design shop, packed with beautiful homeware. It featured some of the most famous Finnish designers and good lord, it was all so cool! I was totally terrified that I was randomly flail and smash the gorgeous pieces. This was only increased when sugar was introduced into the mix. We got to try two classic childhood sweets. One was similar to a Blackjack, a liquorice toffee and other was a berry sweet covered in crystallised sugar. I loved the second but had already had enough liquorice for the day.
Munching in the Old Market Hall
On the harbourfront is a gorgeous brick, Victorian market hall. Inside it is a foody dream. Fresh meat and fish are ready to be whisked home to the stove. Baled bread, dried sausages and tasty pastries vie for tourist’s attention. As we walked around, we made mental notes on what to return for on the following day.
Heather guided us to a stall with a pretty selection of open-face sandwiches nestled amongst perfectly pink salmon and glistening meats. We each picked one and found a spot to munch through them. Between the three of us, we chose a salted salmon, a seafood medley style mayo-laden thing and a salmon with pink peppercorns which was a revelation. The fish was perfect. In fact, here is my concise review of this little lunch at the Old Market Hall:
- Bread. Great.
- Seafood. Great
- Atmosphere. Great.
The next day we returned and bought a reindeer salami sausage. It was probably rather overpriced but it was also delicious so we are pretty sure that everything you buy here is decent quality.
I am not a massive jam fan. It is usually too sweet and sticky, or else it’s the fruit spread my mum bought when I was a child that never spread or mixed smoothly. Well, the jams/preserves at this small stall were in a world of their own. There wasn’t much sugar in the preserves and the flavour of the fruit was a big punch of happiness with each little spoon we tried. The proprietor was an absolute character! She makes them all herself and presents each with passion and a wicked sense of humour.
I am not often moved to buy souvenirs but the sea buckthorn was just so tart and tasty that I had to buy a little jar. It was under 100ml so I could pop it into my liquids bag for the trip home! I did try to make sea buckthorn Bellinis with it but they were a bit of a disaster. I think I’ll stick with a slice of toast with jam instead.
A Little Alko
Alko is the only shop that sells alcohol with a percentage of over 5.5%. If you are having a party, or going to a party, in Helsinki, you need to be organised and go tot he Alko during its opening hours. They are limited to 9 – 9 or 9 – 6 during the week, 9 -6 on Saturdays and not at all on a Sunday. We popped into an open alko and learned about the favourite booze of Finland. Despite our preconceptions, it is NOT Finlandia vodka!
Cake, Coffee and Chocolate
Fazer Cafe is a Helsinki institution and the branch we paid a visit to was packed with locals at the counter, coming in for a midday treat. It is the original location and has been here since 1891. We grabbed a table and each ordered a hot drink. Well, the rest of us but Mr Fluskey’s aversion to hot drinks meant he chose a delicious strawberry juice instead. Around the walls and inside the main counter was an embarrassment of patisserie riches. Huge cakes, little cakes, mousses, parfaits and chocolates galore. They were beautiful, and luckily, the ones we tasted lived up to expectations.
My favourite was the hazelnut and chocolate dessert, created to replicate the flavours of the popular Fazer chocolate, Geisha. It was light and rich, with the most beautiful mirror glaze and a little of crispy mimosa filling inside. It was galling to have to share, to be honest.
I spotted the Geisha chocolates in the duty free shop of London Heathrow and was SO tempted to buy a box…I still might.
Final Thoughts for This Heather’s Helsinki Review
It seems a little funny to call Heather’s Helsinki just a food tour. It seemed so much more. Yes, it had foodie samples throughout but it was more the story of Helsinki as told through a food lens.
This isn’t the kind of food tour that will leave you stuffed so make sure you have some breakfast before you come. That being said, you won’t be left feeling like you didn’t get enough tasters. It is a good brunch/lunch. Heather was a delightful host. Easy to talk to and full of great stories about herself and Helsinki alike. We loved her honesty and her view of Finland having lived both there and elsewhere during her life. We had a wonderful morning!