A well seasoned approach to travel and food

Salmon – It’s What’s For Lunch … And Dinner … And …

October 27, 2018

Beginning a day looks a little different in Helsinki this time of year. When the sun doesn’t rise until 8:30 a.m., it seems everyone gets a late start

As I watched the sun rise from my hotel window, there was little to no movement in the streets.  Of course, that could have also been due to the extreme cold that hit Helsinki a bit early, particularly evident later as people scrambled to buy new hats and scarves to stave off the chill (me included).

My first thought for the day – breakfast.  Finlanders are prone to drinking coffee (as in up to 12 kg of coffee each year per adult) and eating pulla (sweet buns), but they also love brunch. 

I decided against brunch (we do that in Dallas) and, instead, began a quest for the best Korvapuusti (cinnamon bun).  Finland enjoys a different pastry for every season, but the omnipresent Korvapuusti (“ear pulla”) can be found and devoured all year long. 

Research told me that a good Korvapuusti would be sticky without being overly gooey, ooze cinnamon out of every opening, the exterior should be several shades of brown crispness (a uniform color means it is “commercially made” – gasp!), and should be sprinkled with just the right amount of pearl sugar (never, never regular table sugar).

Cafe Ekberg, Finland’s oldest bakery, patisserie, and cafe, was the perfect place to start my search. I was, however, just a wee bit too close to my hotel for comfort (waistline comfort that is).  For the past 160 years, Finlanders have been delighting in their baked goods and, more recently, in their breakfast, brunch and lunch buffets.  For 19 euros, you can feast like crazy on eggs, porridge, fruit and a bounty of pastries. 

The croissant being waved around in the grip of the toddler at the next table looked mighty tempting (I do love a good croissant), but I was there for the Korvapuusti. 

Although the cafe was buzzing with people, I snagged a tiny table by the front door. I ordered hot tea and the sweet bun.

As the initial offering in my quest, the pastry looked the part. It was different shades of brown and had enough caramelization to be sticky but not too much to render it gooey (I did have to discretely lick the pads of my fingers when done), pearl sugar on top, and cinnamon.  Breakfast goodness.  If I have one complaint though, I’m not sure it had enough cinnamon, but then, I don’t have any comparisons yet – I guess I’ll know tomorrow if it was enough.

Fortified with enough caffeine from the tea and sugary goodness from the sweet bun, I began what would end up being a six-mile walk around town.  With nowhere specific in mind, I picked a direction (left) as I exited the cafe.  I did stop in for a moment to check out the patisserie section of Cafe Ekberg.

I passed parks, construction (road and buildings), monuments, shops not yet open for the day, and people heading out for coffee or just starting their day.

About 15 minutes into my walk, it was apparent I needed to add a scarf and a warm hat to my wardrobe.  And so the search began. 

The famous Stockmann Department Store was beautiful inside and out, but didn’t have a non-wool hat or scarf anywhere in its multiple floors. (An allergy to wool precluded me from snatching up any of the reasonably priced merino wool accessories I saw.)

Although I didn’t find any appropriate head gear (found elsewhere later), I didn’t pass up the opportunity to go down in the basement of Stockmann’s to the Herkku Market – an immaculate, wide-aisled, splendidly organized food haven.  As I often do, I wandered the aisles searching for nothing in particular and watching others shop (in a non-creepy way). 

Warning: Do not get in the way of little old Finnish ladies; they will run you over with their carts or wheeled shopping bags – I have tire tread marks on the toes of my new boots as proof.

Back out in the cold, I followed the tracks of the #2 tram recalling that it runs close to several of Helsinki’s historic sites.

I found the Tuomiokirkkoseurakunta (Lutheran Cathedral) sitting atop a hill with its gleaming white facade and green domes.  The exterior beauty doesn’t prepare you for the austerity of the interior.  Other than a few chandeliers, a few statues of Reformation leaders, and one large painting, the church is unadorned and very white (the walls are white, the statues are white, the ceiling is white – you get my drift).  There is a rather large pipe organ in the back, but that’s it.  Despite its plainness, it was a welcome warm refuge from the cold.  I found myself shushing rowdy tourists as they disturbed the calm.

I kept on walking – down to the waterfront and around the tented shops along Market Square.  Off in the distance was a huge Ferris wheel, which I’m sure provides lofty views across Helsinki (won’t find out – afraid of heights).

Oh, and yes, those are outdoor swimming pools and yes, those are real live people swimming in the pools – well, at least in the heated pool.

I found my way into the Old Market Hall (aka Hakaniemi Market), a collection of food vendors and small eateries.  I do love a good food hall (time out for fond memories of Foodhallen in Amsterdam…). 

As I made my way along the narrow walkways, there seemed to be a theme to the shops ~ salmon, other fish, more salmon, pastries, more salmon, coffee, more coffee, and yet more salmon.  Whether you like your salmon raw, cured, baked, broiled, on a muffin, in a soup, or in a salad, this is your place.  It’s salmon, salmon, salmon all the time.

Finlanders love their salmon soup – each vendor boasting that theirs is the creamiest or contains the most salmon or, is simply the best! 

I had to try “the best in town,” so I tucked into a corner of E. Ericsson to try a bowl.  It came with tasty rye bread (everything here came with rye bread).  Not sure if it was the best, but it was creamy (albeit a bit salty) and chocked full of big, not overly done pieces of salmon, another mystery fish, and a few veggies for a healthy flair.

Fortified, I was back out in the cold and up the hill to the Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox Church built by the Russian military in 1868.  Unlike the Lutheran Cathedral, the interior of the Uspenski is beautifully adorned with mosaics, paintings, and other artwork.  I sat for a long time watching others reveling in the beauty while I warmed my fingers and toes.

As I headed back to the hotel, I found myself engrossed in the beauty of the architecture and enamored by the statuary.

Someone was even concerned enough the statues might get cold that they draped warm scarves around their necks.  How considerate! 

I must say, I’m loving this city. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

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