Tag Archives: food

Lingonberries are super food, but only for the brave

The Finnish forests are now full of free-for-all superfood! The blueberry season is almost finished, but now it’s the perfect time to go and pick lingonberries for the winter!

This weekend I’m visiting my parents in my dear old hometown Tampere, always relaxed and nice. Also the weather was on our side, so this afternoon we decided to be brave and head to the forests.

Why brave? The challenge of picking lingonberries in the perfect spot that “only” my parents know is that one is not alone there. These hoods are packed with nasty deer flies (in Latin Lipoptena cervi, in Finnish hirvikärpänen), who come there because the forest is also popular among elks.

Someone would think we are exaggerating looking at the preparations below, but covering everything you can and closing your sleeves with some painter’s tape was only a clever and quite necessary precaution before entering the forest… as we immediately found out.

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Super stylish berry picker ;)

A super stylish berry picker… not! 😉

I don’t have photos of our little friends but after we returned to our car after 2 hours in the forest (and with 35 litres of lingonberries, all the buckets full!) we found these flies all over our bodies. Disgusting! Especially my dad seemed to be popular among them, as he’s the biggest one and these flies look for human heat.

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But it was worth it, the forest was beautiful and gave you some special energy. Looking and tasting the lingonberries now makes one feel satisfied. Tomorrow we’ll freeze the berries and enjoy extra vitamins in the winter.

What is a lingonberry? Wikipedia tells that lingonberries are native to boreal forest and Arctic tundra throughout the Northern Hemisphere from Eurasia to North America.

The berries contain many organic acids, vitamin C, A and B (B1, B2, B3), potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. They also contain phytochemicals that are thought to counteract urinary-tract infections, and the seeds are rich in  omega-3.

The amazing fact is that 90 per cent of this super food is left in the forests of Finland. And at the market lingonberries cost about 4 euros per litre. What a waste! Maybe the deer flies are too big a challenge for us.

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Helsinki today: restaurants & a huge fleamarket

Today I got to taste Helsinki the way I really like it: with lots of happy people on the streets and with good weather!

This is not so easy combination that the people living in warmer climate might think… But when Helsinki wants to show its good side, it really is something! There’s a special feeling in the air…

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Today we had decided to take part in a huge fleamarket (in Finnish kirpputori), organised every now and then in different parts of Helsinki.

This time the association of Kallio, Kallio-liike, arranged a very popular street market in the bohemian & hipster Kallio neighbourhood, where everyone could just come and start selling their things – for free.

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The only requirements where to take all your unsold things back home with you and to make sure that the day would be fun & nice for everyone. And it really was! The sun was shining, there were lots of people selling and buying (perhaps more or less we were the same people but anyway) and everything went smoothly.

It’s so great when people quite spontaneously “occupy the urban space” and use it to strengthen the sense of community. The Vaasankatu street was closed to cars (actually it has been like that all the summer). Another good thing,

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However, the fleamarket wasn’t the only event happening in Helsinki today. A lot bigger one was Ravintolapäivä (Restaurant Day), which took place all over the city – and Finland – and internationally!

In short, it’s a food carnival where anyone can open a restaurant for a day – and it’s amazing how many people do it in very creative ways! You just have to take a walk in Esplanadi park, like we did, to get a good glimpse of the variety.

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Their enthusiasm is amazing, as is the fact that one gets to taste the most interesting things… Today I was mostly selling stuff at the fleamarket, but I still tasted typical Maleysian soy bean rolls with shrimps and Vietnamese frittata with cabbage. Or something like that… Unfortunately there are no photos of these delicacies, I was too hungry to think about photos at the moment. 😉

Only the creativity of the chefs is the limit when it comes to the food and locating the pop-up restaurants: they can take place homes, gardens, parks, streets, balconies, shops etc. Naturally now in the summer the most of the restaurants are outside, in the November or January edition of Restaurant Day it’s a bit different…

Thank you for today, Helsinki! Looking forward to seeing more days like this, with the city alive and many smiling people around.

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We want local food – but what is it?

Where do you come from, broiler?

Local food is a big thing in Finland these days. It’s truly in fashion, at least the trendy people of Helsinki constantly talk about how they want their food local.

New (expensive) stores selling local products pop-up all around the city. Like this one, Anton&Anton in Töölö.

Of course, the elder generations know better and have been consuming local food all their lives – without making a fuss about it. Still, I think this one is a good trend – as long as it doesn’t make the prices go up too much. And there is another major problem: nobody really knows what actually is local food?

This weekend I’m visiting my parents in Tampere and yesterday the local newspaper Aamulehti published an opinion about local food, which will surely provoke debate.

A guy called Visa Merikoski, the director of MTK Pirkanma, the local division of Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners, claimed that soon even broiler from Brazil will be considered as local product, if the current trend continues.

He says that yes, local food interests the consumers a lot, and this is way so many supermarket chains are now thinking hard how to take the advantage of the trend. They sell images and when it comes to local food, the tendency is to lie – just a little bit.

Why? Because “at its worst” Polish wheat, Danish pork or Brazilian chicken might end up being local food as in most supermarkets one can already find products, whose origins are not announced correctly.

As consumers prefer local food, it seems logical that the main reason for hiding the origins is that they are not from near here… not even from Finland. In the end, the consumer believes he/she’s buying something he isn’t. This could be called cheating, or at least hiding the truth.

The thing is that everyone has the right to define local food from their own point of view. The consumers think that only small-scale production means local and they hate the idea of industrial production. Some connect local food to organic food.

The food production industry thinks that what counts is where the food is made, not from where the ingredients come from.

Then there are the farmers, who want ingredients that arrive from as near as possible – at least from inside Finland.

And the food production workers think that domestic work is very important.

One might guess that all these different ideas cause a mess when it comes to marketing local food.

(Finnish?) rye bread

For example, Mr. Visa tells that in one local supermarket they don’t tell the origins of a pork product, whose name refers to something 100% local (the product in this case was Tapolan ylikypsä kinkku). Probably it had been made right here in Tampere, but not telling it makes one suspicious… naturally.

So why don’t the producers tell the facts, when the information would attract more consumers??

One might also find bread – on the shelf reserved for local food – whose wheat has travelled a long way. The bakers tend to explain that domestic wheat is not always available, so they cannot commit to using it. This is not true: one can always get domestic wheat, it just might not be as cheap as the foreign ones.

In brief, every Finn has encountered products that carry a Finnish flag or other symbol referring to it being national, even if the product might be something totally different.

Does this mean it’s Finnish – really?

If we don’t talk about this openly, the same tendency will continue – and someday we won’t have any means to know from where our bread, salad, fruit, meat, fish or chocolate comes from. No thanks, we have the right to know – and to be able to choose.

Everyone (the politicians, media and food producers) know well what’s going on – so please do something about it!

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Finland – a nation in love with milk

Yesterday I arrived to my parents’ place in Tampere, ready to spend some days without doing anything. Well, anything I don’t feel like doing.

Anyway, being at the parents’ place means that the fridge is always full of good stuff. When I open the door, which I do here a lot, it’s a very different experience than at home as to the variety and quality – my mom is an excellent cook and when the daughter is home so they make sure there’s everything I could ever desire. And I sure enjoy it!

Last evening I accompanied them to do the shopping for the weekend in a huge supermarket called Citymarket. Normally me and my boyfriend do our shopping in a small Alepa or K-supermarket next to our home, so it’s an eye-opening experience to go to these huge places and realize the choice they have – of everything. And in Finland the variety is still quite limited compared to many other countries. Especially in US I always get overwhelmed by the selection of all the products from cheese to sweets. It makes me immediately think do we really need all this stuff? Of course we don’t.

Anyway, this time I focused on the  variety of milk products – Finns love milk and consume a lot of yogurt, “piimä” (kind of sour milk) and “rahka” (kind of quark). Milk is a typical drink for anything: breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, salty, sweet… The speciality of Tampere is a creative combination of “mustamakkara” (blood sausage) with lingonberry jam and a glass of milk. Quite a surprise to my Spanish boyfriend! All in all, I would say milk is our national drink, though younger generations are not so much into it.

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Mustamakkara, the typical dish in Tampere, with lingonberry jam and milk. Here’s also the dessert – a doughnut.

Another thing is that there are as many tastes as there are kinds of milk. Today my parents’ fridge contains 5 different milk packs – all three of us have our milk + some extras. And this is nothing if you think of all the milks you can find in a normal Finnish supermarket.

Moreover, there’s a huge number of Finns who can’t intake milk lactose – for example myself. There’s even a joke that you know when you’ve lived too long in Finland when you become lactose-intolerant. So now they have all the milk products also with little (“hyla” or no lactose (“laktoositon”) And so the variety grows.

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My mom likes her milk semi-skimmed and “hyla” – with only little lactose, as she is a bit lactose-intolerant.

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My boyfriend wants his milk semi-skimmed and normal – as he’s Spanish, no lactose-intolerance involved.

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Today I like soy milk the best even if I drink skimmed low-lactose milk too. Depends of the moment…

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My father drinks normal skimmed milk – he’s not lactose-intolerant but on a diet.

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My brother wants to have his coffee with normal full-fat milk.

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Extras: sour milk – another speciality that is very good and healthy containing a lot of good bacteria.

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My favourite yoghurt – I like it simple, without any artificial taste.

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… and this is the yoghurt of my boyfriend. Danone Strawberry with lots of sugar and stuff.

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Quark – another milk product. I love the sour taste and the fact that it contains so much protein.

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My mom’s favourite. “Viili” is a type of yogurt (a mesophilic fermented milk) that originated in the Nordic countries”, Wikipedia tells.

Actually last year the milk consumption of the Finns went a bit down, as every Finn drank about 129 litres of milk in a year. Still it seems a lot, as not everyone drinks milk at all. Also ice cream was eaten a bit less last year – and Finland is the nation which most ice cream enjoyes in the world! Even if you wouldn’t believe it, as we have are surrounded by ice and snow most of the time  and eating something cold on top of that might not seem wise.

Yoghurt consumption is on the rise, too. Last year every Finn ate 24 kilos of yoghurt. Personally I love natural yoghurt and eat it every morning for breakfast with fruit and seeds.

Anyway, as there’s a very strong low-carb fashion in Finland right now, we consume more and more fat milk and butter (instead of margarine). Also cheese and quark are getting more popular. So I guess we’ll continue heavy consumers of all the white material coming out of a cow – and it’s derivations full of calcium and protein. Not that bad a habit, I guess, even if my vegan friends think it’s crazy to eat “cow’s food”. But even they love soy milk, rice milk, oat milk or coconut milk…

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The poor eat chips and the rich eat scallops – is it only about money?

People tend to think that Finland is a very equal country. Sure it’s true in most matters, for example when it comes to gender equality.

But it’s also true that those with less education, who are unemployed and poor die younger and are sicker than those who have a good education, job and a higher income. No surprise, but the phenomenon is still quite new here and we are not sure how to talk about it being “politically correct”.

Scallops - one of the symbols of the happy wealthy peoples' eating habits. Credit: Kala-auto

I just found out that in Finland we actually have exceptionally big differences when it comes to the mortality rate between the different socioeconomic groups. When a 35-year-old worker’s life expectancy is 74 years, his boss can easily expect to live 6 years longer. Quite a few years to spend in traveling, playing golf and enjoying your grandchildren.

Unhealthy stuff that is supposed to be so cheap - on the cost of our health?

When it comes to your health, one of the most important factors is the food you eat. And Finns are fatter than the other Nordics: only  33% of Finnish men and 48% of women are of normal weight.

Not everyone is getting fat, though, as eating habits are fast differentiating between the groups. Simplifying a bit, it seems that every day the rich eat better and better while the poor consume worse and worse products. Why?

Yes, the food is very expensive here in Finland. Some say that this is why the poor buy pizzas, chips, white bread, cookies, candy – filled with additives. But are they really so much cheaper?

OK let’s make a fast comparison:

  • A kilo of fresh potatoes: 0,75€ 
  • A pack of potato chips: 3€ 

= the healthy option is cheaper – like in many other cases!

Also our forests and lakes are full of clean superfood: berries, mushroom, fish… You just have to go and pick it.

Now the state is starting to tax harder all the unhealthy stuff. My wild guess is that this won’t make things better and Finns healthier.

I think it’s more a question of human mentality. For example, when you are unemployed and have lost your dream, what’s the point of staying fit and eating vitamines?

Food circle - all the kids remember this from the Home Economics classes. In theory at least...

The gap is widening between those who care about their health and those who are letting go. It’s normal that you don’t feel like cooking a healthy dinner if your life seems miserable. Maybe you order a pizza and to the sofa – definitely not the healthiest and probably not even the cheapest option.

Sometimes it’s a question of knowledge – even if here in Finland every kid has at least 1 year of compulsory classes of Home Economics where they are taught about healthy diet and how to cook it.

I’m of course generalizing. There are many exceptions.

And Finns are good at blaming the others. Perhaps we can blame the cold climate? When it gets -20C outside you grave for sugar and fat – you don’t feel like eating a salad but something hot and filling!

Or maybe it’s in our genes? Finns love sugar. We drink about 70 litres of limonades and sodas and consume 10 kilos of candies per person a year. Something should be done… soon.

Finns want to pick their own candies of as wide a selection as possible.

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Restaurant Day – become a chef for a day

I enjoyed my dear  – and cold – Helsinki so much this weekend! On Saturday we had Helsinki Restaurant Day, a food carnaval, where anyone is invited to open a restaurant for a day. The concept was invented by a couple of clever young guys from Helsinki – it is an amazingly simply and just ingenious idea!

The restaurants can be anything, you can check out the Browse restaurants section on Restaurant Day webpage to get a glimpse… Only the founder’s imagination is the limit. Absolutely anyone can be a chef for a day, make some exotic or traditional culinaristic experiments and invite strangers to their homes, install a kiosk on the street or organise an open picnic in some corner of the city. Some of my friends, who are lucky to own a shop, convert them into tea lounges, muffin factories or even into a Brazilian-Iranian restaurant, as one of the shoe stores in Helsinki did on Saturday.

This Saturday morning me and my friend decided to visit as many as we could of these pop-up restaurants. The only two limits were: 1) your stomach is not limitless and 2) the weather was “a bit” challenging, almost -20C…

Actually, to fight the second condition, I got an idea to fill my termo with – surprise surprise – champagne! Haha even if it maybe wasn’t the most elegant thing to do with that expensive drink, at least it helped us to stay warm all day long and it cheered us up on the windy streets filled with snow! Here are some of the delicious things we saw – and tasted, of course.

Celebrating Restaurant Day with a style. Hipster muffins at Hiphip cafe, Punavuori - the hipster neighbourhood of Helsinki.

Parmesan cake at a home restaurant in a cool old stable in Punavuori, Helsinki. The cake? It was excellent! As were the chats with the other "clients" present in this nice couple's living room.

My friend's underwear shop Punavuoren putiikki was converted into a tea lounge - with a sweet atmosphere and even sweeter cupcakes.

Warm tea to keep you going in Restaurant Day

Muffin Top - more muffins and spicy tomate soup at a jewellery shop in Punavuori.

All in all, the experience was great – once again… The carnaval is organised about every 4 months and each time it gets more popular! Also the police (who at first disapproved all this) is now looking the event through it fingers. More of this kind of spontaneous community activities, please. By the way, the next Restaurant Day is celebrated in May… Welcome!

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Soulless supermarkets make your Monday blue

OK, Mondays are always bad but today was especially horrible. Getting up from bed was almost impossible, it was cold outside and I just missed the tram to work. The day continued with meetings without meaning, dullish routine tasks and a strong feeling of I WANT TO GET OUT OF HERE AND TRAVEL TO A PARADISE ISLAND – NOW!!!

Well, a miracle didn’t happen so I tried to cheer myself up with some shopping – a trick that never works. Well, I found a skirt and a shirt  that I “really need”.

The anticlimax of the day was a visit to our supermarket, Alepa, where I stopped for some milk and fruit. The visit made me angry. Why? Because the Finnish supermarket scene is overdominated by a couple of companies and because of that we have no choice but to consume overpacked, tasteless products – produced sometimes too far from home. That’s so wrong!

A typical Alepa in a suburb of Helsinki. Grey. Credit: Alepa (I guess?)

Alepa belongs to Helsinki Cooperative Society Elanto (HOK-Elanto), which tells on its webpage that it “provides benefits and services for residents of the Greater Helsinki area.” The idea of 55 000 member-clients who own the company is nice. But of course it’s not that simple. They give us the typical green S-cards and small discounts but for that we suffer controlled prices and limited (bad) selection. I guess all the Alepa’s across Finland are packed with the same products. All this is just… sad.

Supermarket blues. Credit: HOK-Elanto

Only in Helsinki HOK-Elanto has over 300 stores. That’s a lot for for a relatively small city.

Of course, in old times everything was better. Many foreigner complain about these monopolized supermarkets (with a reason!) but before also we used to have small, cozy specialized shops for meat, milk, bread… like they still do in Southern Europe etc. It’s a tragedy that we have almost lost all that now – for a lot worse!

Even HOK-Elanto shops used to look nice. Customers buying meat in 1954.

Pharmacies used to look like this.

HOK-Elanto bread shop in 1930s. With a style.

More photos on Helsinki City Museum webpage.

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Thursday is for beer, pea soup and pancake

morning snow on Thursday, January 19, in Helsinki

Today we had a cool snow storm in Helsinki. Perhaps it influenced our minds too, as since the morning my colleagues at the office were restless and finally, after a 60-year-birthday party given for a colleague (with chocolate cake and cava) it was impossible to work.

Some opened a bottle of red wine. I tried to go back to work, in vain, so when a colleague suggested to have a beer – just one! – it was impossible to say no.

We explored a great Indian Bar Bhangra (Check Google maps, in Töölö, Runeberginkatu 28), decorated Bollywood-style and offering a nice selection of Indian beers, lassi, a shot roulette (scary) and Nepalese and Indian food. Also Bollywood music and movies, promises the bar’s Facebook page.

All in all, here comes the lesson: when a Finn suggests you “let’s go for ONE beer” in 99% of the cases it won’t stay in one. Neither today.

Luckily I was “wise” enough to leave home early… and when I arrived home, I just had to get pancake (pannukakku). Why?

For an unknown reason in Finland we have a tradition to eat pea soup (hernekeitto) on Thursdays. In the restaurant below my office too. The soup was good, but one thing was terribly missing – the typical, indispensable dessert to go with pea soup – the pancake! Typical for an unknown reason too…

Normally you enjoy pancake with strawberry jam and cream. Yummy. Here comes a photo of my masterwork – growing up in the oven… What is left over, I’ll take to the office tomorrow. Happy colleagues, happy work…

"Pannukakku", Finnish pancake growing in the oven

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Finnish Delicacies, part I

Ok, I’m going to introduce two delicacies now: hapankaali and raejuusto! I just brought some home from the supermarket.

First goes Hapankaali. This Finnish version of Sauerkraut strongly divides opinions. When I opened the box of the treat just now, my boyfriend’s first reaction was to throw away this strong smelling so-called food. So, the photo shooting was very fast.

Actually sauerkraut is not especially a Finnish delicacy, but it’s very popular here and has variations: hapankaali (sour cabbage) with garlic, with leek, carrot etc. In Germany it’s normally eaten with sausage.

Why is the taste so “special”? The cabbage is fermented with lactic acid bacteria – which is very healthy! Sauerkraut contains vitamins and lots of other good stuff.  They say it also has many cancer-fighting ingredients.

Haha, and a curiosity: while I was looking for the English translation for sauerkraut I found out that during the World War I the American public would have rejected a product with a German name, so it was relabeled as “Liberty cabbage”!

And then the second delicacy. Raejuusto is a Finnish cheese. It looks a bit like cottage cheese and is made of cow’s milk. I call it the cheese without taste, but I love it! It’s almost fat-free and very healthy as it contains loads of protein. You can eat it as such (directly from the box, as I do) or mix it with e.g. tuna, fruits, lasagna or  soup – only sky is the limit when it comes to The Cheese Without Taste.

Mmm… I will talk of other Finnish treats like salmiakki a little later on…

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