Kiitos, Helsinki (Day 1)

One of the biggest draws for moving to Toulouse for a few years was all the European travel we’d be able to do, easily, once there.  Back in April, Jim and I decided we’d take a summer vacation and go up to Scandinavia to escape the heat (this became MORE and MORE necessary as we got into July and early August), drink some beer, and gorge on seafood with some lovely scenery.

As such, I started playing travel guide and booked a Scandinavian excursion for the two of us with stops in Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Bergen.  That would mean we’d see four new countries we’d never seen before.  We couldn’t wait.

Two weeks ago or so we started our adventure in Helsinki, and it surely did not disappoint.  We arrived around 5pm and took a cab to our hotel in the city center.  We had a cab driver who taught us a couple key phrases in Finnish (eventhough everyone and I mean EVERYONE speaks English perfectly and mostly without any Finnish accent).  One of those words was Kiitos or Thank You.  Once we got to our hotel, the guy at the front desk chuckled a little when we thanked him with a, “Kiitos” and a smile and then corrected us, “KEY-TOOS – the consonants are really hard.”  This, my friends, is quite the stark difference to French.  Regardless, we felt pretty good, armed with correct pronunciation and continued to say it nearly everywhere we went to nearly everyone we encountered.  We were always met with a slight chuckle and a huge smile.  I’m starting to think we’re the first tourists they’ve encountered who try out a little Finnish.

We had a dinner reservation that night at Ravintola Olo, which I’d made a few weeks before.  Olo was billed as Helsinki’s best restaurant and a place “at the forefront of modern-Suomi cuisine, and it’s memorable degustation menus incorporate both the forage ethos and a little molecular gastronomy.”  Not surprisingly, we were pretty pumped to kick off our Scandinavian journey with a 15 course tasting menu complete with drink pairings.  Why not start off with a big bang, we thought?  Olo 100 percent lived up to the hype and potential.  It was a culinary delight from start to finish.  We ate chicken livers with raspberries, fish purees, mushroom & reindeer porridge (AMAZING), pickled fish with tapioca & roe, three types of butter (which we were told was terribly unhealthy but delicious), bread (yeast) that was rising on our table when we arrived, sweetbreads, tartare with quail eggs, artichokes, juniper ice-cream, strawberries & cream, ice-cream popsicles, and a slew of amazing drinks to go with it.  We felt like royalty throughout the meal and at each course.  The staff was top-notch.  They were warm, friendly, and knowledgable.  An interesting thing they did was a different member of the wait staff would bring out different courses and explain what they were, how to eat them, etc.  One waiter, in particular, stands out in my mind.  I believe he first delivered the dish that followed the reindeer porridge.  We commented how it was delicious and he let out a deep, guttural laugh and said something like, “Oh, I know.  Believe me, if I could I’d be eating all of it in the kitchen right now.”  We all laughed and said, “Kiitos,” which elicited a second guttural laugh followed by a genuine smile and his own, “Kiitos.”  It felt sorta like we’d made a Finnish friend.  After that he seemed to deliver a few more dishes and he’d linger a little longer and tell us a little more about them.  He was my favorite.  At the end of the meal, we gushed and asked for other recommendations on what to see/do in Helsinki, from a local’s perspective.  We were told to visit the Suomenlinna (the Fortress of Finland), but ONLY if it wasn’t raining and Loyly Hernesaari for a sauna experience (one Finland regret is we didn’t go).  She also recommended these restaurants & bars:  Finnjavel, BasBas, and Gaijin.  We already had dinner reservations for the following night, so we couldn’t try out the other restaurants, but after reviewing, they look pretty amazing, so I thought I’d share with you all.

After dinner, we headed out to a beer bar not too far from our hotel called, Teerenpeli to try some local, Finnish beer.  This spot did not disappoint.  I believe Jim got a stout (no surprise), and I opted for a blueberry cider.  In the end, we mixed the two together to make what we’ll dub a Finnish Snakebike.  It was pretty tasty.

All in all, our first night in Helsinki proved to be an interesting and memorable one.  As we traveled to other cities, we kept comparing our dinner to Olo, and Olo kept coming out on top.  If you find yourself in Helsinki, we fully endorse dinner at Olo.



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