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Caviar and Bear

August 26, 2017 Destination Feature, Headline News No Comments Email Email

You can feast on bear and meat or smoked poro (reindeer) – even black caviar from sturgeon farmed in Finland.

They’re not signature dishes on the menu at Helsinki’s top restaurants – they’re every day delicacies that can be found at the Finnish capital’s indoor wanha kauppahall (old market hall), which turns 130 years old next year. John Newton popped in to do a little gourmet food shopping.

Finland’s oldest market hall was built between the spectacular Helsinki waterfront and the tram tracks, after city officials ruled it was unhygienic for merchants to sell food produce outdoors.

Often packed to the rafters with regular customers and tourists, some of the market stores have been run by the same family for more than half a century.

Food Hall (Supplied)

They’ve seen a growing demand for Finnish delicacies, such as bear meat and bear salami, cold smoked reindeer, moose and wild boar meat and black grouse and reindeer pate.

When Russian black caviar became too expensive for Finns, they started farming sturgeon, which is now readily available in the market kalaliike – fish stalls. It takes nine years for the fish to produce eggs. According to one fish seller at the iconic market, sturgeons are being farmed in Lakeland Finland, with high quality black caviar being produced cheaper than the Russian product.

Cognac salmon, rose pepper salmon and lemon pepper salmon, fish tartare on bread, muikku (Lapland whitebait) are among the gourmet fish stores’ specialities. But the biggest seller by far is Baltic herring, which Finns grow up eating as many as other nationalities do warm meals. On offer are blackcurrant herring and orange herring with cranberries washed down with a seaweed salad.

Reindeer

Baltic herring fairs are held along the coastline of Finland throughout the country. The biggest fairs in Helsinki and Turku sell almost 100,000 kilos of fish products every year.

However, an international food trend has stepped up competition among the old market hall’s fresh food vendors. In the past five years, Vietnamese food stalls have opened up and there’s brisk lunchtime and take-away business for raw salmon rolls, along with the traditional beef, chicken, pork, shrimp and vegetable spring rolls.

The indoor market hall stalwarts are now wondering if their halcyon days are over.

A couple of hundred metres away, Helsinki’s outdoor market is doing a roaring trade, with queues lining the fresh berry stalls and the ice cream van on which a notice warns buyers: “Beware of the seagulls. They will attack your ice cream!”

Markets

The market is a blaze of colour with its flower and fruit and vegetable stalls, and is a daily tram journey for many locals. Tourists also flock to the souvenir stalls, where you can buy anything from reindeer horn necklaces to mink hats and jackets.

Busy food stalls by the waterfront also do a roaring trade with fresh salmon dishes the best sellers at realistic sit-down or take-away prices.

A short walk from the outdoor market are two magnificent cathedrals, both of which overlook the market square and harbour.

The blindingly white Lutheran Cathedral – Tuomiokirrko – with its green domes and wide, sweeping 53 steps leading from the Senate Square and the statue of Alexander 11. It’s arguably Helsinki’s best-known and most admired symbol, while the columns and facades of the surrounding 19th century buildings are reminiscent of the imperial centre of St Petersburg.

 Waterfront outdoor market (Kauppatori)

Closer to the waterfront is Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral with its red brick and golden cupolas. It’s the most richly decorated interior of any church – and possibly any building at all – in Helsinki.

This thriving city is surprisingly easy to get around. For instance, tram 3T – which later becomes 3B – takes you on a one hour, round trip of Helsinki and its inner suburbs. You can hop on it at the busy waterfront, where giant ferries that ply the vast archipelago between Finland and Sweden are larger than many of the visiting cruise ships.

Feel like going somewhere posh – yet not over the top price-wise – for lunch or dinner in Helsinki? Just a stone’s throw away from the harbour along Helsinki’s Esplanade park is Kappeli – a restaurant renowned for its fancy chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and paintings and statues by famous artists. Originally, Kappeli was a summer restaurant, where the crème de la crème of Finnish musicians, painters and poets, like Jean Sibelius, were regulars.

Helsinki Cathedral 

Don’t miss out on the bouillabaisse soup (10 euros), a meal in itself, which is a    lunchtime favourite for city workers at market stalls.

Written by John Newton

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