I don’t know about you, but everytime I visit a new place, especially with a culture I know nothing (or almost) about, the very first thing I want to try is… the food of course! I always google what are the gastronomy specialties on site prior to the trip, and then starts a long quest for the most typical and different dishes we can find. If you’re also interested in knowing and trying all the local Finish food, keep on reading 🙂 this article starts with all the addresses I have personally tried and can recommend you to go to, and then you will find the list of all the specialties you need to taste too!
1. Tested & approved addresses
But first, BRUNCH
Green Hippo Café
Brunch addicts, this one’s for you! (coming from a member of the brunch team as well)
The Green Hippo Café is the ideal place for breakfast, lunch, brunch, or even dinner! You can basically choose whatever type of meal you feel like eating, without thinking about what time it is, or combine all options, as they serve almost everything at any moment of the day. Only a few breakfast options are not available anymore after 11am. They even make Sunday an all-day brunch! How cool?
Also, in plus of being yummy, super diverse, and very convenient, the plates and place itself are both very instagrammable, if you know what I mean!
Where? Punavuorenkatu 2 – from Kamppi, go a bit south, it is approximately halfway in the direction of Kaivopuisto park.
When? Open every day of the week from 7.30am to 10pm Mon-Fri / Sa: 9am to 9pm / Sun: 10am to 6pm.
How much? Price range : €€ – We payed 23,40€ in total for 2, which included one avocado toast, one avocado pasta, one chia pudding, one tea and one americano coffee. Quite fair to me!
More information here on their website. You can already start to choose what you’ll eat, because trust me you will want to taste everything! Enjoy and thank me later 😉
BEST DINNER PLACES
Finding a good dinner spot can be tricky in Helsinki. Indeed, you will either end up at very random food-trucks or small places where to grab something simple to eat, or either be “forced” to spend quite a huge amount of money for a fancy restaurant. We struggled to find a good “in-between”, so if that is what you are looking for, be prepared to walk a bit before that perfect option shows up. Otherwise, if you’re not too much on a budget, you can choose to have a really nice dinner in a really nice place. It is also the best way to try high-quality local food!
We had dinner there on our first evening in Helsinki, with our friends Camilla and Miro. From their local point of view, they directly recommended this place! It is always nice to know when a restaurant is considered “worthy” by the people living in the city. And of course, they were right, this restaurant is amazing! It mixes traditional dishes and modernity in a very refined atmosphere.
As you can see, the decoration first is very fancy and pretty, in a kind of “bistrot chic” and retro style. The service as well is perfect, the staff was incredibly kind and helpful, attentive. But the very best thing about Ravintola Loiste (and let’s agree, the most important anyway) is the food itself! We had a real blast tasting everything and the quality of the meals served was completely worth the price. A true gem if you want to discover Finnish food! Can only recommend this place. You need to go!
Top pictures below (starters): Traditional Vaakuna salmon soup / Salmon carpaccio
Bottom pictures (mains): Revisited Reindeer ragout / Salmon with mashed vegetables
I don’t remember well all of what we got because some time passed since then, but trust me everything sounded so appealing on the menu and what we took was so good!
Last but not least, the restaurant is located at the top of a quite high building, which gives you an absolutely amazing view on all the city through the large windows while you eat. A big outside terrace is also available (near the toilets) to admire the streets better and/or to smoke a cigarette if you need to. You can feel the city vibe from there, so magical and vibrant. Check out this view!
Where? Raivokatu 3 – between Kamppi and the main railway station, in the very center of Helsinki. You will enter in the building by the street and then go up directly with the lift.
When? Open every day except Sunday. Mon: 11.30am to 10pm / Tue-Fri: 11.30am to 12pm / Sat: 12am to 12pm
How much? Price range: €€€ – Good restaurants are quite expensive in Helsinki (from a French point of view at least), we payed 123€ for 2, for two starters, two mains, desserts and beverages (including wine). Overall totally worth it!
Kaarna Baari & Keittiö
We had a more simple dinner there for our second and last evening in the city. I didn’t take a lot of pictures, simply because we were actually really tired, sorry for that -oupsi. However, even if it’s not as impressive or sophisticated as the first option above, it is a really nice place to eat in, a bit less expensive, and still very yummy with a lot of typical dishes.
Top plate: Roasted country chicken and goat cheese, with pumpkin orzotto and dark cider sauce / Bottom plate: Traditional meatballs with mashed potatoes and brandy cream sauce (specialty of the house and made from scratch there)
Where? Mannerheimintie 20 – same area than the previous one, near Kamppi. You can also access it from the inside of Forum shopping center (the mall inside Kamppi railway station).
When? Open every day – the exact opening hours seem to change every week, so check on Google Maps or on their website before going if you want to be sure. However it is always approximately from 11/12am to 10/12pm.
How much? Price range: €€ – we payed 45€ for 2, for two mains only.
If you already looked for information about food spots in Helsinki before reading this, you might already know this name. Regatta Café is probably the most-seen on Instagram, and I can understand why! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to go there (even if we were like 2 min away from it at some point, which I realized only when it was too late..), but I couldn’t not mention it. I will also include it in the 48h itinerary suggestion that you can find here. In any case, be sure to go when you will be in Helsinki! My local friends confirmed it was good, and I read a lot of positive feedbacks as well – also their Google rant is pretty clear: 4,7/5! Adding some pictures below so that you get what I’m talking about 🙂
Their particularity is to bring a touch of Finnish countryside to the middle of the capital with this small charming cottage. You can sit by the fire outside, or be warm inside, eating simple and typical cakes or sausages (from what I have seen). They are especially famous for their cinammon buns. In summertime, you also can rent stand up paddle boards, canoes, kayaks and so on. The most typical experience!
Where? Merikannontie 8 – 3 minutes away from Sibelius Monument, it is on the coast and also belongs to Sibeliuksen Puisto (the park).
When? Open every single day from 8am to 9pm.
2. Local food specialties
WHAT I HAVE TRIED
Starting with my absolute favorite thing in Finnish gastronomy : the glögi (pronounce gleu-gi), a form of hot wine but not necessarily prepared with alcohol. Typical beverage at Christmas period, of course, it is a red fruits juice with spices, slivered almonds and dried grapes. There is a red version, as below, made of red berries, but also a white one, made with apples. Then it’s up to you (or at least the place serving you) to add alcohol or not in it. Generally most places serve both. This one was without, and it was SO good.
I tried it – see above – in the fancy restaurant we have been to on the first evening. It was ideal after a big dinner, but it is also perfect when it’s cold outside in winter. The perfect way to get warmer! On our second day exploring, I had some again from a very simple shop in Suomenlinna island (article here), as you can see below. Not very complicated to find, during winter at least, and definitely the yummiest thing ever.
The second specialty you can try is quite the complete opposite in terms of savor. Indeed, although it’s candy, it’s not sweet at all. Salmiakki, aka Finnish people’s favorite treat, is basically very salty liquorice. You can find it in a lot of different forms, the classic being this one below.
Even if I usually don’t like liquorice, and was I must say very skeptical at first, I actually liked it. I think you cannot go to Finland without tasting these! Every Finnish person you meet is an absolute fan of them, so get local and give it a try. Very very easy to find in any shop.
I agree it’s a complicated name to designate sea buckthorn juice. As we didn’t get the time to try it on site, we brought this bottle back home with us at the end of the trip. The taste is very not common, quite acid, but this juice is particularly energizer. Drink it in the morning, it will give you an amazing boost!
Locals drink it pure or diluted, as a juice, but also use it as seasoning, for cooking, in cakes, jellies, or even to accompany fish. It is very versatile and often used, just like many other wild berries.
Originally from Karelia, a Northern province of Finland (to make it short – more info here if you’re interested), these little pies are amazingly yummy. Usually prepared with a type of rice pudding inside, you can eat them raw, but also with ham, salmon or cheese. Locals also often spread some munavoi on it, a dough made of butter and hard-boiled eggs. Didn’t taste that option but the simple one was already super good!
As you can see on the last picture above (bottom row), you can easily find them fresh in the supermarkets, which is by the way the best place to go to if you want to have a real overview of Finnish cuisine. We had them for a quick lunch on our last day, and it was absolutely perfect!
Going to Finland without eating this classic reindeer stew would be a shame (of course it is a way of speaking, you do whatever you want according to your convictions). Even more traditional in Lapland, for obvious reasons, it is still quite easy to find some in Helsinki. However, reindeer meat is usually pretty expensive, conversely of what people tend to think. That’s why the dish is most often kept for special occasions by Finnish people.
This specialty is generally served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry, as pictured on the right above. The one we tried on our first evening at Ravintola Loiste (the fancy restaurant) was more gastronomic, but still inspired by the classic typical recipe – picture on the left. If you go to this place or to any other restaurant serving reindeer, I cannot recommend you more to taste it! It is not very strong, and really good.
Kanelipulla / Korvapuusti
Last but not least … The so-famous Finnish cinammon bun! Actually more generally Scandinavian than Finnish, this pastry still stays the absolute star of the country. I don’t think I need to introduce it; it is the very first and essential thing to eat when in Finland. We ate way more than one during the weekend – I am obsessed with them – but this is the only picture I took. The carrot cake was good too aha.
You can find them quite everywhere, in cafés, supermarkets, fresh, packaged, big, small, to share, to bring back… If you’re a cinammon addict like me, enjoy, it will be heaven!!
OTHER THINGS TO TRY
Unfortunately, in 48h we didn’t have the time (nor budget) to try all the main Finnish specialties. Even if you’re already good to go with the suggestions above, I thought I would include a few more here. Just in case you are spending more time in the city than us, or if you are planning to spend every second eating (which is always a good plan from my opinion).
Salmari drink / shot
This alcohol shot is basically made with the same basis than the Salmiakki candies I told you about earlier – salty liquorice. I can imagine what type of strong liquor it can be; better be ready!
Another type of pie, bigger than Karjalanpiirakka and made with fish this time. In general it’s with some muikku, a sort of herring that Finnish people really like and actually fish themselves in the lakes.
These are grilled sausages, sprayed with beer and cooked on a barbecue or simply above a camp fire. Every summer, locals organize big outside events and eat them with mustard all together.
This one is also part of Finnish daily diet. Basically a sourdough rye bread, you can find it everywhere. The most famous has a hole in the middle and is called reikäleipä. We tried some at the airport but I’m not sure it was a very good piece. In any case, it was very dry – but also super typical.
Any type of potatoes/fish/berries
After a whole weekend tasting Finnish food, and excluding the sweets of course, I have noticed than most of the local diet is composed with these three ingredients. They cook a lot of mashed potatoes, new potatoes (called Silli Ja Uudet Perunat and served with fish, chanterelles, butter and aneth), and a lot of other potatoes variations. Same for the berries, for instance with the sea buckthorn juice or lingonberry I evocated earlier. All types of berries are harvested in summer when they cover the entire ground in Finnish forests, and used all year round to make pies, sauces, cakes and other variations. The most famous pie is called Mustikkapiirakka. And finally, as Helsinki is a big harbour and like in all Scandinavian countries, of course fish is very central. Salmon first, especially “gravlax” (cured in salt), but also herring, fishes from the lakes… Smoked, marinated, grilled, “traditional”, “with vodka”, served on bread, you will find fish of every sort, on the markets but also in all restaurants.
Called Finnish squeaky cheese in English due to its texture, this cheese is apparently very sweet. Most often made from cow’s milk, sometimes it still can be with reindeer’s or goat’s milk. And guess with what they serve it? Berries jam yes! Generally, it’s considered best with cloudberry. Yes, another berry you didn’t know about before. Welcome to the club!
Let’s end this article on this vocabulary lesson. I hope it inspired you and made you want to taste all the amazing specialties of Finnish gastronomy and try all the recommended addresses! Be sure to send me pictures of your culinary experiences in Finland if you go, or just let me know if you have any feedback; it would mean the world to me if I could see and know what you thought about it. Enjoy!