I’ve just spent a long weekend in Helsinki with Blai; he was there for a course and I flew in to join him on Friday night. We had a lovely relaxing time but goodness, if one thing’s for sure, it’s that Helsinki is one expensive city. An average restaurant sells main courses for around 20€ and to eat anywhere cheaper, you’d be eating ethnic food. And I didn’t go all the way to Helsinki to eat Chinese food (though there was a cheap pizza or two – there are so many pizza places in Helsinki!)! Anyway, it was a fun weekend away, with much of our time spent at a few of Helsinki’s many cafes.
My penchant for street food led us to the Kauppatori (the market square by the harbour) on Saturday morning where I’d heard that there would be many stalls selling little bites. We saw many produce vendors selling many root vegetables, beans, peas in their pods, apricots, cherries, black and redcurrants and many many berries. June to August is the season for berries and here there were all kinds: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and the celebrated cloudberry. We purchased a litre of peas and proceeded to shell them and eat them raw, Finnish style, while we wandered the stalls.
Helsinki is expensive and so we skipped most of the stalls selling traditional Scandinavian goods. I don’t really need a plain 5€ wooden butter “knife” nor do I require a reindeer hide (though it was tempting); I was more interested in the food! There were a few outdoor cafes selling baked goods and coffee and even more featuring huge pans with fresh seafood or reindeer meat.
Bizarrely, “paella” featured at almost every stall.
We also spent some time in the Kauppahalli, the market hall housed in a wooden building, also next to the harbour, and marvelled at the range of sandwiches and seafood salads available inside.
However, the allure of the hot seafood outside caused us to not even consider these. We went back outside and went to the stall that appealed to us most.
We chose a selection of the seafood which confused the man helping us as to how much he should charge us (keep in mind that I did ask whether we could have a bit of this and a bit of that!). Normally, you see, you choose one of the seafood items and it’s paired with vegetables and rice or potatoes for about 9€. As we were not starving, thanks to the lovely breakfast at our hotel, we wanted to sample a few things. In the end, he ended up charging us 10€ for the salmon roll with blue cheese and rose peppercorns (these red peppercorns are very popular in Helsinki), fried calamari rings, and little fried whitebait-like fish. I think we got a real bargain!
Everything was extremely fresh and not at all greasy; the only oil coming out of it was that from the salmon and blue cheese. The salmon was delicious, despite my not being a fan of blue cheese, and the calamari was thick and tender. The small fish were highly poppable and between the two of us, pop we did.
If you’re in Helsinki, I highly recommend a visit there, especially for an affordable lunch. While my guidebook said that the market closes at about 3pm each day and is closed on Sunday, I found that opening times change for the summer (this doesn’t just apply to the market – we found that reception opening times also changed for our hotel). All the stalls were open even on a Sunday until 6pm. It might be worth it to check with the tourist office.
Kauppatori (market square)
at the eastern end of Esplanadi, just by the harbour
Kauppahalli (market hall)
just a little south of the Kauppatori