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Published: April 2nd 2009
The breakfast of champions (in Finland)!
I woke up early enough to make it to a nearby market for breakfast before the tour I signed up for started. At the small market square was a tent serving coffee and pastries. Perfect! I went with the voipulla, directly translating as “butter baked roll”. It's a butter-filled donut type of thing, not quite as sweet as our donuts though. This should go on your "Must Try List" if you ever make it to Finland.
The tour bus picked me up at the hotel, swung by a couple other hotels with no additional passengers and then headed to the tour’s starting point where the bus became a crowded mess. Luckily the speaker system was robust enough for me to hear the guide over the excessively loud and rude Middle-Eastern group that either didn't understand or didn't care that a tour was being conducted. Anyway, off we go… We drove by several sights, the seats of government, some gorgeous churches, a couple of embassies (the French one is yellow, ironic?, the British one is pink) and many other things maybe not worth writing about. Of note however were the Sibelius monument in Sibelius Park honoring the famous Finnish composer. Many
Pipe organ? You decide.
viewers claim the monument resembles the pipes of an organ, but the artist states that the work is abstract. So you can interpret it however you wish. Also of note is the Rock Church. Finding the site of this new church to be layered with tough bedrock its builders decided to just build the church into the rock. It is carved into the bedrock and topped with a roof adorned with spiraling copper wire. Completed in 1969 it's a very popular tourist destination, hosts many weddings and because of its acoustics is a great concert venue. The tour let out near the government square, in view of several government buildings and the amazing cathedral.
Tour over, my next move is to visit Suomenlinna, the island fortress. Conveniently near the goverment buildings is the Helsinki Market Square. Here I bought my ticket for the ferry to Suomenlinna and wandered into the market to find some lunch. A friendly vendor, advertising a warm tent, sold me a traditional finnish meat pie, lihapiirakka, and a coffee. Now you may think you know meat pies, but this is significantly different from the British or Australian variety. Traditionally filled with a minced meat and
Sorry I couldn't get one of the copper wire ceiling to come out right.
rice mixture I'm told you're supposed to tear it in half and eat it with your hands. It's somewhat like what a Hot Pocket could be if it had goals and ambition, i.e. it was delicious 😊
Stomach full I boarded the ferry for Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland). The ferry ride itself is quite an experience, at least during winter since the waterways are frozen. This makes no difference to the ferry as it plows thru the chunks of ice with ease. Letting out at the Main Quay, on the largest of the six islands comprising the fort, it's about a half a click walk to the visitor center. I arrived just in time to catch a very interesting guided tour. It's quite simple just to wander the fortress on your own, which I did after the tour, but the tour was quite informative. I definitely recommend it. It was originally built by the Swedish (then named Sveaborg) and mostly funded by the French who were itching for a foothold in Scandanavia at the time. We were told, "You're welcome," by the French members of our guided tour on the island. The island is gorgeous in the winter, and
Who doesn't love a meat pie?
I'm told it's even more stunning in the summer. So add this to your must see list too. Just make sure you watch your step! This place is known for crippling engineers 😉
I had one more lihapiirakka and a coffee at a small cafe and also stopped in for a beer at the local brewery on the island before heading back to Helsinki. Arriving back on the Finnish mainland I had a couple hours to kill before my dinner reservations. I filled this time getting some more up close and personal time with sights I'd passed during the morning tour. Walking up to the Orthodox Cathedral is quite an experience, as is climbing the stairs to the main Cathedral. A service was about to start so I was able to sneak a peak inside, gorgeous! Having my religious fill I headed towards Helsinki's main shopping district which my sister, Maria, may still consider a religious experience. I just cruised through pretty quickly... Shops I've never heard of, lots of clothes and shoes and pretty women shopping 😉 Not too exciting besides the women until I came across Fazer. It's one of the largest corporations in the Finnish food
Talking to Dad atop the fort walls.
industry, founded in 1891 in Helsinki. They're most famous for chocolates, if you've been to Finland I'm sure you've had some, but they also run cafés and even the cafeteria where I'm working here. I swung by the chocolate shop in Helsinki, mainly to make my sisters jealous. Also in the shopping district is an enourmous Stockmann's department store, think Finnish Macy's. One last stop before dinner. I'm not sure what it's called, but what a beautiful cafe, mostly made of glass panes with a grand view of the market and waters. I had a tea while enjoying some soothing music from a pretty, redhead pianist.
For dinner I decided to go low key and book a table at one of the three Michelin Star restaurants in Finland, G.W. Sundmans. This was my first Michelin Star experience, and I'd say it lived up to every bit of the hype. The restaurant is located near the Market Square, in a C.L. Engel-designed Empire house built in 1817 for merchant ship captain Gustaf Wilhelm Sundman of which the restaurant is a namesake. Jarmo Vähäsavo is the chef de cuisine and his dishes are impeccable. He was also gracious enough to take
One of the many cannons still on the island.
a break so I could personally thank him for such a great meal.
Here's the rundown: I ordered the Chef de Cuisine Menu Karjala. Starting out I had a mousse of smoked vendace with vendace roe and a Spatlese Trocken '03 Riesling by Schloss Reinhartshausen. According to reviews, the kitchen's mantra is to cook using the best raw materials and emphasise their natural tastes. This dish forces that point home through the tastebuds right from the start or your meal. The second course was a perfect cep mushroom consomme with a cep pelmeni (think mushroom ravioli, kind of). This is the dish that stands out most in my mind. So simple in structure, it was done exquisitely; a depth of flavor paired with textures only an expert can create. And would you believe this went surprisingly well with the riesling? I'm not sure I'd have guessed that, but the riesling wasn't a very sweet one so it worked amazingly well. My fish course was a fried pike-perch with Jerusalem artichoke. Another simple dish turned awe-inspiring in the hands of a master. The fish was cooked to perfection and perched 😉 atop gratinated Jerusalem artichoke with a touch of sauted
Out to Sea
The sun wasn't cooperating, but what a spectacular view from the fortress walls out to sea.
spinach. I really enjoy Jerusalem artichoke and may have to start cooking with it more often. In case you didn't know, it has nothing to do with Jersusalem and isn't even an artichoke. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's a kind of sunflower. All I know is it looks a lot like ginger root if you're hunting it at the grocery store. Moving on... It's time for the main course: Partridge with cloudberry cream sauce. Now I'm not a partridge expert, but I thought it was a bit on the tough side. Perhaps that's just the nature of the partridge. It was not so tough as to hinder my enjoyment though, the dish was on par with each of its predecessors. Of note, however, was this dish's wine selection, an amazing wine, Roda I Reserva '04 by Bodegas Roda. To my taste the wine was a bit robust for the "lighter" meat, but the root vegetables created a depth to the dish that helped carry the potent wine. This wine would be a match made in heaven with a hearty red meat dish. After my main was the requisite cheese course. The offering was a sampling of
It's even more impressive up close.
Finnish cheeses with a Bual Colheita '95 from Cossart Gordon. I love a madiera, and this one had a lot to love! It's sweetness added character to the cheese. Kudos to the sommelier on this match. Now, who's ready for dessert? How about currants in three ways? Always amazing in their presentation this dish arrived as a cake, a mousse and a sorbet arranged for abstract viewing and amazing eating 😊 It was almost too pretty to put a fork to, but that opinion didn't last long. Add a Quarts de Chaume '05 by Chateau Pierre-Bise, full of honey and flowers, and it's a good thing.
How's that for a meal? After that it was time for a quick cigar on the way home to sleep off all that wine. Did I mention it was free refills? Haha.
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