During this summer’s stay at the Finnish capital and my former home city, I decided to chart the terrain of organic and local food in Helsinki. I wanted to see how much the scene had evolved since the time when I lived there in 2004, when luomu (“organic food”) and lähiruoka (“local food”) were still fairly marginal concepts. Of course, the farmer’s markets were there — but they had always been, without making a thing out of the “local” in what they sold.
Ten years later, the visibility of organic and local — and what it signals, namely the interest in where one’s food comes from and how it is produced — is of a different order entirely (although still lagging behind some other European cities). New classy restaurants, cute neighborhood stores and artisanal ice cream shops that are popping up here and there increasingly highlight the ethics and values that guide their selection of products and ingredients. Particularly if you live in Helsinki — or, if passing through, find other ways to access a kitchen such as booking a place to stay through Airbnb like we did — it’s pretty easy to eat a mostly organic and partially local diet; see the links here and here. But the following might be useful for a short-term visitor as well.
Restaurants and cafés
Silvoplee, with its bright green and orange decor, is my favorite among Helsinki’s vegetarian restaurants. The food is about 55% raw and 65% organic, and made with seasonal and local ingredients whenever possible. I’m not exactly a raw food fanatic, but Silvoplee’s plate is so flavorful and satisfying that it could feasibly turn me into one. The restaurant works on a buffet concept where you pay by weight, so you can get a plate for 10 euros or less — although chances are you’ll end up piling up more because everything looks so tasty! My favorites were the cashew pate and the buckwheat porridge with date sauce for dessert. Adjacent to the restaurant is a smoothie bar serving smoothies, green juices, and raw chocolate treats.
Toinen linja 7 (in Hakaniemi/Kallio)
Traditional Finnish food with a twist, drawing on organic and local ingredients when possible and favoring small farmers. Juuri means “root,” which signals both the restaurant’s rootedness in the soil and traditions of the region, and its use of many root vegetables – the traditional Finnish staple. Juuri’s specialties are sapas, or Finnish tapas — bite-sized dishes that allow you to sample various different chapters of Finnish culinary history in a single meal. The sapas menu includes things like trout sausage with roe and horseradish, egg cheese with lemon, thyme and birch sap, and cabbage pie with kohlrabi.
Innovative Finnish food made primarily with ingredients from Finnish producers. Pricier than the other two, so save this one for a special dinner — or skip it entirely if you’re traveling on a budget.
Image source: johanochnystrom.se/fi
Johan & Nyström
This is the Helsinki branch of the Swedish cafe & coffee roasters serving fair trade and “direct trade” coffee, working directly with specific coffee farmers. The coffee is roasted slowly by hand. They’re pretty serious about their tea as well, and the lovely location of the cafe by the water in the Katajanokka area makes the experience of sipping your chosen beverage all the more pleasant.
Kanavaranta 7 C
Ekolo sells organic and vegetarian foods, superfoods, non-toxic cosmetics and cleaning products and baby care products both online and at their store in Hakaniemi.
Eat & Joy Maatilatori
The attractive store at Mannerheimintie has closed, but Eat & Joy still has two branches in the suburb of Kannelmäki and in the neighboring city of Vantaa. Check the website for details.
Anton & Anton
A different kind of a neighborhood grocery store, with three locations in downtown Helsinki. Anton & Anton’s goal has been to offer an alternative to soul-less supermarkets, bringing local and seasonal food, good customer service, and a sense of community back into the city. In their own words, Anton & Anton “sells fresh seasonal food whose origin we know. Food that we can keep on our shelves and offer onto your table with a good conscience and for a good reason. We value and support the important work of farm producers and believe that the production chain of food should be transparent.”
Kapteeninkatu 26; Mariankatu 18; Museokatu 19
Outdoor farmers’ markets
The two biggest farmers’ markets are Kauppatori by the harbor and Hakaniementori in Hakaniemi (both open Monday through Saturday). This is where the farmers from the surrounding countryside were selling their produce long before local food was hip. You’ll also find artisans selling their wares, from basketry and leather work to yarns and souvenirs. Of the two, Kauppatori is more touristy.
Hakaniemi Indoor farmers’ market
Check out especially Satumarja, a store selling a wide variety of fresh organic food products, and Lentävä lehmä, a cheese store specializing in cheeses from small Finnish cheese producers.
Hakaniemi tram/metro stop
And for a sweet Fi(n)nish:
3 Kaverin Jäätelö Ice Cream
3 Kaveria (Three Buddies) make their ice cream based on traditional Italian recipes, but using Finnish cream and berries from Finland’s forests. Widely available at supermarkets. Flavors include dark and light coffee, blackcurrant and orange, and my favorite, blueberry cardamom.