Helsinki is a city to behold — but it also offers an impressive array of options for foodie travelers who need to refuel after their adventures. With fresh ingredients, tasty treats, unique concepts, and cool restaurants, Helsinki sure knows how to eat. Dig in!
What to eat
In today’s world, food lovers demand locally sourced, seasonal ingredients — but Helsinki’s food scene committed to using high-quality ingredients long ago. Trends like urban farming were embodied by cities like Helsinki, and, what’s more, farmers’ markets are booming in the Finnish capital.
To make the most of your time in Finland, order lots of seafood. The waters near Helsinki are home to about 60 species of fish, so you’ll have plenty of fresh, seafood options on virtually every menu, including whitefish, salmon, herring, and crawfish. (One of the species — the Baltic herring — is even honored in a festival every October, which dates all the way back to 1743.)
If you’re not a fan of seafood, don’t fret! Helsinki offers many other specialties as well, including blini (traditional Russian pancakes that Finns usually top with savory foods), kaalikääryleet (cabbage rolls served with meat, onions, and lingonberry jam), and grillimakkari (grilled sausage) — a popular street food.
Some of Helsinki’s sweets include pulla (the Finnish take on cinnamon rolls), Runeberg torte (an almond-and-rum-based pastry), and lingonberry anything.
Where to eat
For the best eats, head to the city’s famous restaurants, such as Blinit, Tukkutorin Kala Oy, and Juuri. Or, if you don’t mind facing splurging on your food, head to one of Helsinki’s five Michelin-starred restaurants.
For an unforgettable foodie experience, check out one of the city’s many markets, including the Old Market Hall, Hietalahti, and Hakaniemi. And, of course, don’t forget to chow down on some street food before you leave town.
As if the world needed more proof that Helsinki is an up-and-coming foodie destination, here’s one last piece of evidence.
Have you ever heard of Restaurant Day? Well, it’s a worldwide festival for pop-up restaurants, and it originated right here in Helsinki. Founded in 2011, the inaugural festival started when just 45 Finnish restaurants temporarily opened to the public all across the city. From that day on, Restaurant Day spread across borders, peaking in May 2014, when 2,724 restaurants popped up in 35 countries.
Recently, the Finnish individuals who founded the initiative were running low on resources and energy, so they handed the reins to the Canadian Restaurant Day volunteers. Even though Restaurant Day is under new management, it remains a great example of Finnish creativity — especially when it comes to food.
This global event will continue to take place four times a year, letting people celebrate around the world. And, if you ever visit Helsinki in February, May, August, or November, be sure to check the Restaurant Day schedule!
Ordering and dining
Don’t plan on becoming a fluent Finnish speaker before your big trip, unless you have lots of spare time on your hands. According to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, it takes about 44 weeks of intensive study — roughly 1,100 hours — to become proficient in Finnish.
That said, developing a food-related vocabulary is a fun (and practical) way to get to know a country. So, when you’re sitting at your first ravintola (restaurant) in Helsinki and looking at your ruokalista (menu), enjoy the experience! All the way from the alkupala (appetizer) to the pääruoka (main dish) and jälkiruoka (dessert), your stomach will thank you for traveling to Finland.
Most restaurants translate their menus into other languages, and many waiters and waitresses speak English. A word to the wise — your bill will automatically include a service charge, so leaving a separate tippi (tip) is a thank-you for exceptional service, rather than a customary practice.
We’ll see you in a restaurant in Helsinki. Soup’s up!
Header photo by Roosa Kulju