Thanks to the Old Market Hall in Helsinki, I started Thursday morning with a stunningly good Americano and an open-faced sandwich of whitefish, rose peppercorns, and fresh sprigs of dill on rye bread that looked like Christmas and tasted like the ocean. Thanks to the Old Market Hall, I purchased a variety of traditional Finnish delicacies and ate them on an island with a historical sea fortress and the only combination lighthouse/church in the world. Thanks to The Go Game, I’m in Helsinki staying just a few cobblestoned streets from the Old Market Hall. Sometimes I have the best job in the world.
Of course, it’s not all fun and games and market-hopping as I’m just coming off some intense work weeks with no time even for blogging! And running on startup funds means a lack of finances to take advantage of the Michelin-starred gastronomic temples to Nordic cuisine sprinkled around the Finnish capital. As several locals mentioned to me, food is pretty expensive in Helsinki. But I most enjoy simple (and delicious) pleasures and am soul-satisfyingly happy buying a loaf of bread and a wedge of cheese and sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean and the Helsinki skyline. I don’t need long-stemmed wine glasses and 80 euro tasting menus to experience Finnish food…not that I’d turn it down if someone offered. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Let’s get back (figuratively) to the Old Market Hall, which I went back to (literally) every day I was in Helsinki. Our client fortuitously selected a starting and ending location across the street from the Market (also known as the Vanha Kauppahalli) and I was on my way to check out the venue when I walked by the Hall, idly glanced in a window, and noticed an abundance of hanging sausages. Unquestionably a detour was in order…
The hall consists of two long parallel aisles of stalls ranging from cheesemongers to butchers to bakers to candy vendors to fruit and vegetable sellers as well as a wine shop, and an Italian deli. Interspersed amongst these stands offering take-home purchases are tiny sit-down restaurants just a few meters wide, including several Finnish cafes, a sushi restaurant, a coffee shop, and a Soppakeittiö (soup kitchen).
I couldn’t help but gaze longingly at all the soup eaters, wedged in shoulder to shoulder and hunched over steaming white ceramic bowls and baskets overflowing with slices of bread. I longed to join their ranks and try all three items on the menu – a bouillabaisse, a lamb cabbage stew, and a pumpkin soup drizzled with a spiral of cream. Yes, I was looking over people’s shoulders at their bowls. Soup is one of my favorite things. But alas, work beckoned.
However, I made sure to check out all the Finnish delicacies. The market features several particularly Nordic foods such as extensive glass cases of immaculately sliced and arrayed smoked salmon with various garnishes and flavorings such as the popular rose peppercorn:
Salmon was certainly not the only fish on display. I can’t read any of these signs for the life of me, but another fishmonger I spoke to pointed out trout, herring, perch, and whitefish at her stand and I’m sure some of them are looking enticing in the photo below.
Another particularly Finnish stand featured wild northern game of all animals – everything from reindeer to bear, black grouse to hare – and in all forms – smoked, tinned, sliced into sirloin, shaped into salami and sausages, made into soups and pates and more. Although sorely tempted, I couldn’t bring myself to spend over $30 on a large can of bear soup, but I did enjoy ogling all the weird items on offer.
Other never-seen-before take-home treats of the Nordic tradition included jars of cloudberry and sea buckthorn jam and tall bottles of spruce shoot syrup.
Outside in the Market Square (posts coming soon), you can buy boxes of the poetically named cloudberries; round, apricot-colored, and about the size of blueberries. I had an vaguely bizarre dish of long wedges of fresh Lapland cheese topped with a scoop of cloudberry jam, unexpected in both flavor pairing and consistency. The cheese was white and mildly rubbery with a lightly mottled brown outside and a texture slightly denser than fresh mozzarella. A bit odd, but surprisingly good with a scoop of the sugary sweet jam which reminds me a bit of a less tangy passionfruit with its similar color and small seeds.
We’ll get to all my purchases in a later post, since I did return to the market one or tw0 or six times. Thanks to its location smack in the center of our game zone and on the way to the city centre from my hotel, it wasn’t hard to justify multiple daily trips. Especially when all the fascinating elements of theVanha Kauppahalli turn out to be ideal fodder for writing Go Game missions. Where else in the world can you find the notorius reindeer killer of Lappland?
Only in the Old Market Hall of Helsinki….