What's Finnish food you're wondering? On our visit to Helsinki we set out to answer just that question. Helsinki cafe's and restaurants offer a vibrant food scene in this region of the world. While neighbors in Denmark and Norway seem to get all the star cred, Helsinki is holding it's own – even if they're too modest to admit it. If you're wondering what to do in Helsinki there's one answer in my book – eat! With just under a week to explore we set out to try some traditional and some modern foods.
Helsinki Cafe Culture
All of the countries in this part of the world have a very strong coffee culture, but none beats Finland. They drink more coffee per capita than anywhere else in the world! Of course, with your coffee you need to have something sweet and they've got that covered too. The word kahvila means cafe in Finnish so keep your eyes peeled for this word.
Karl Fazer Cafe
The Fazer chocolate brand is ubiquitous with Finland and they're flagship cafe in central Helsinki is worth a visit to have a cup of something warm and enjoy some of their pastries. I opted for the korvapuusti (cinnamon roll) while MarocBaba had his pick of many different gluten free pastries. Of course your coffee, hot chocolate, or tea also comes with a few Fazer chocolates on the side too.
Kluuvikatu 3 | Fazer Cafe Website
I have a special relationship to this cafe now given the change to make korvapuusti with the owner one morning. It was the highlight of our trip! The cafe itself is small with a French flair but homemade pastries (yes really I saw them with my own eyes!) They also have gluten free options for pastries and a small lunch menu.
Uudenmaankatu 13 | Fleuriste Website
More Helsinki Cafe's to Try
- Cafe Esplanad – One of the larger cafe's, it offers homemade pastries and either indoor or outdoor seating. They have a lunch menu and you can order to go if you'd rather a picnic.
- Cafe Regatta – Take your coffee by the sea when you stop here. Helsinki's waterfront cafes are a really nice way to enjoy warm days.
- Johan and Nystrom – if you're a hardcore coffee lover you'll want to stop here! Not only do they brew coffee but roast it as well, come for the smell if nothing else.
- Unicafe Helsinki – Yes it's a cafe but it's also a restaurant and university canteen. Don't let that turn you off because it might be one of the best budget deals to eat and drink in the city. It's open to the public and while it's not Michelin star food it's a good, well rounded meal for under €8. You can also order a'la carte.
Finnish food has a bad rap but there's no reason for it! Today there are more and more innovative chefs and home cooks taking traditional recipes and Finnish ingredients to make them into something more appealing. Gone are the boiled potatoes with dill and in are unique flavor combinations combining the best of the country with influences from neighboring cuisine. Food in Helsinki isn't boring!
Restaurant Ask Helsinki
The first time we visited Helsinki we ate at this great little restaurant. The owners strive for a zero waste goal while staying true to Finnish flavors. There's no shortage of inspiration and shortly after we dined they were awarded a Michelin star; one of only four in the city. If you like fine dining then treat yourself here.
Vironkatu 8 | Restaurant Ask Website
One thing I knew I wanted to eat when we were in Helsinki was blini's. These are buckwheat pancakes cooked with oodles of butter and served with lots of condiments. Not health food, but delicious. These aren't Finnish at all, they're Russian but well loved. January is typically blini season but you can get them any time of year at Bystro.
Etelaeranta 16 | Bystro Website
When we asked locals what some of their favorite places to eat were, we heard this place mentioned several times. So who were we to argue? There isn't a lot of traditional Finnish food here but we really didn't care. The menu was different and the combinations on some of the dishes really piqued my interest. We ordered this, The Cock Bowl made with salmon, and loads of other Asian influences, plus their cock wings. I eyed the steak frites but was feeling a bit under the weather so didn't attempt it. Loved it!
Fabianikatu 17 | The Cock Website
We saved this stop for lunch, wanting something a bit lighter but still really satisfying. The ingredients they use are local and carefully selected. While not traditional Finnish food, the flavors and ingredients were certainly there. Every dish was really well plated and a good portion size not to be overwhelming but allowed us to enjoy each course. Here was the perch with potato, we also tried the veal main dish. For dessert I went with the cheese plate of local cheeses and couldn't help but think it would be great on it's own or with something sweet to share with friends.
Korkeavuorenkatu 27 | Juuri Website
The most traditional Finnish meal we had was at Restaurant Savotta. It's right in Senate Square, an easy to reach destination. The food is all classically Finnish with the serving staff and restaurant decor playing on the theme. While it does feel quite touristy we noticed several groups of Finns eating here as well. While I wouldn't say we loved everything that was served we were glad to have tried the “real thing.” By far our favorite course was dessert and this starter served in a traditional “bowl!”
Dining on a Budget in Helsinki
While food is a major part of our travel budget we also realize it's not the case for everyone. So if you're looking to save money here are a few suggestions.
Visit the Food Market Halls
There are some amazing things prepared here. You can buy just what you want and put together a meal for a fraction of what it might cost in a restaurant. The Old Market Hall, Hakaniemi Food Hall, and Hietalahti Food Market are the three main markets of Helsinki. Each offers something a little different but there's a focus on seafood wherever you go. There are small restaurants and seating areas inside (some larger than others). They're a good way to see local food culture and enjoy lunch.
Helsinki's Burger Joint – Hesburger
I admit we laughed when we saw this for the first time, having no idea what a Hesburger was and assuming it was an icky burger chain. But we later learned it's quite popular, more popular in Finland than McDonald's or any other burger chain. They even have gluten-free burgers. So, if you're after a cheap bite to eat, go for it!
They're popular in Helsinki, especially in summer which should come as a surprise to no one! Every Wednesday in summer a group of trucks get together for a Street Food Carnival and you can find carts all over the city at different times of the week. You never know what you'll find but good food at good prices!
Dining out every day can take a serious toll on your finances, especially in expensive parts of the world like Finland. But, if you stop into a grocery store and plan to make one or two meals a day you really can save a lot of money. Many staple foods are affordable, and not much more than you may pay at home. You might also find great deals, for example we bought smoked salmon from a deli case and paid under 10€ for about a half kilo. At home? That would have cost us 5x the price (or more!) Think about the foods that are produced locally and shop for those to get an additional discount.
Want to know more about Helsinki?
Our food exploration of Helsinki was made possible with the help of #HelsinkiSecret, a residence for bloggers and travel writers. All opinions are our own. If you'd like to read more about food in Helsinki check out their page HEL Yeah!