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The Finnish line: A Helsinki food tour

Helsinki is an unlikely bet for the Nordic culinary capital, but it’s currently knocking Stockholm and Copenhagen off their foodie pedestals.

The Finnish line: A Helsinki food tour
Kellohalli, Helsinki.

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I quickly discover why the Helsinki food scene is earning rave reviews, while on a tour of the cobbled streets and beautiful bays of the city, with Finlands’ Jamie Oliver-esque TV chef, Sami Garam.

We begin at Hakaniemi, a 1914 redbrick market hall where we grab a coffee among the 70 stalls of local produce before driving out to Kallio. Once a working class area of the city, this vibrant quarter is packed with hip, cheap bars.

[caption id="attachment_7154" align="alignnone" width="300"]Helsinki food tour - pan-fried herring. Pan-fried herring. Image: iStockphoto.[/caption]

Sami recommends Siltanen — an all-day spot, offering everything from mellow brunches to madcap clubbing nights — but for now, we head to the cool new Meatpacking district for lunch. Kellohalli, a vast dining room in what was once an abattoir, serves up a small, international menu, with dishes such as Jamaican jerk pork and halloumi strawberry salad. Next stop: one of the surrounding tiny indie cafes such as the heavenly Jädelino Café ice cream bar.

Café Regatta (T: 00 358 40 0760049) is a quirky wooden hut, facing Sibelius Park, where we stop for tea and cinnamon buns by the open fire, before heading back into town.

Dinner could have been at one of Helsinki’s Michelin-starred eateries such as Restaurant Ask or Chef & Sommelier, but Sami chooses Salve, one of the city’s oldest and most reliable Finnish seamen’s restaurants. Think griddled salmon with white-wine fennel sauce, and pike-perch and crayfish gratin. A perfect choice.

Don’t miss

Salve’s pan-fried herrings, ground elk meat patty or sauteed reindeer with cranberries and mashed potatoes are traditional Finnish fare, but there’s always the lamb tenderloin with garlic and thyme if you can’t stomach eating Rudolph!

Published in the October 2014 issue of National Geograpic Traveller (UK)