Black food in Helsinki to tingle your taste buds

Nordic Noir for your palate

Before I emigrated to Australia, Helsinki, the capital of Finland, used to be my home for several years. Helsinki is a great Nordic city, and one of the things I miss about it is the food. 

I know, Finland is not exactly famous for its culinary delights, and its cuisine has received some bad rap ever since French President Chirac in 2005 blurted a faux pas that Finland had the worst food of all countries. But I disagree with Monsieur Chirac, Helsinki may not have fancy Foie Gras or escargots, yet the food is tres bon, and what’s even better, the city has some unique food events, too!

Indeed, since 2010, the City of Helsinki has been busy at polishing its culinary image and creating a robust food culture strategy.  Check what Helsinki eats today, you may be surprised!

Photos: Helsinki Marketing 2019.

The communal efforts in Helsinki have borne fruit, and one of the tastiest ways to explore this beautiful city is through its innovative restaurants, food markets and trendy food events. Yes, the food scene in Helsinki is vibrant, ingenious, inventive and fun, and if you don’t believe me, read more about it on the CNN Travel blog.

To add to the CNN’s list, and as an ovation to my past home town, here’s my pick of the quirkiest and ‘darkest’ food events in Helsinki that make it such an exciting place to visit!

Black is Back!

Photo: Stockcreations, Germany, Royalty-free stock photo ID: 333977423 Japanese Black Burger with Cheese. Property of Black Food Festival.

What does Helsinki have in common with Budapest, Berlin, Tel-Aviv, New York and London? How about hamburgers, risotto, ice-cream, tacos, macarons and cocktails – a la black!

The Black Food movement first started in Budapest in 2016 by a food blogger Regina Boros who explains its idea in the video below.

Helsinki has jumped on-board the black food trend, and been eagerly plotting a plan to join its dark allies, premiering Helsinki Black Food Festival on 31st of March 2019. The participating restaurants, cafes, bakeries and bars will be creating awesome all-black menus, including vegan friendly options.

Black (musta in Finnish) is an unusual colour for culinary delights, and it tends to connote ‘burnt’ food (as discussed by Rabba). However, it seems black food is the new green, and the idea behind the Black Food Festival is naturally dark coloured foods, which are not only versatile and inspiring ingredients, but also jam packed with healthy antioxidants (think of blackberries, nori, black garlic, olives, black rice and beans).

Photos: from Pexels, by

Moreover, black foods containing activated charcoal, ice-cream made with coconut ash and squid ink pasta are in vogue. According to one recent news article, the drivers behind the black food trend, which originates from the Japanese style of cooking, is diners’ growing appetites for bitter, charred foods and Instgramable bold dishes. It seems Helsinki has jumped on the black bus, too!

The festival will no doubt blow your mind with delish creations, their visual appeal and unique flavours. Before you embark the bus, take a joy ride of Helsinki’s dark side on Facebook, and take a visual feast of what’s to come #blackfoodfestivalhelsinki.

By the way, while sampling all the jet-black foods in Helsinki, there is one particular black candy you’ll need to try. Salmiakki!

Photo: ecomum; Fazer Pantteri salmiakki and salmiakki vodka

Salmiakki is Finnish for ‘salty liquorice’ and you can find it in any Finnish shop, as the Finns simply cannot live without it. Its taste comes from ammonia chloride, which gives it a sharp, salty and sour tang. The story tells that salmiakki first came about when cough medicine was combined with liquorice in the olden days, and the formula has stuck ever since in the Finnish psyche!

Today, salmiakki comes in many forms and textures; soft, hard, powder, chewy, liquid, and it is added to just about anything; chocolate, ice-cream, drink mixes, milk shakes, barbecue sauces, cake batters, chewing gums, medicine, and even toothpaste. Indeed, the taste for salmiakki is an acquired one, and Finns are exposed to it from early on in their childhood. But for others, salmiakki can be a somewhat unusual and strange taste. You either love it or hate it.

The Finns love it, so much that they even have The Finnish Salty Liquorice Association based in Helsinki, which hosts two annual events; salmiakki picnic and salmiakkigaala, a popular bar night event. This year the event is on the 2 March, offering an abundant salty liquorice buffet and live music.

And if you get hooked on the black stuff, Helsinki has even bigger news for your sweet tooth; Liquorice and Salmiakki festival, a not-to-be missed event for the candy die-hards! The festival is all about both sweet and salty liquorice, and if you happen to be in the region, do visit the event as the black candy really is a part of the Finnish national identity!

Last year (2018) the event took place in October but this year’s date is yet to be revealed. Cannot wait!

Take a detour of the festival on Facebook and indulge in a
liquorice culinary feast on Instagram.

For Coffee Aficionados

Images: Helsinki Coffee Festival 2019.

Speaking of black stuff, we should naturally include coffee (kahvi in Finnish), and if you are addicted to kahvi like I am, you definitely do not want to miss Helsinki Coffee Festival on the 12-15th of April (2019) at the Cable Factory.

This year’s festival is the fifth one in running and it boasts itself as the biggest coffee festival in the Nordic region with some 30 major coffee connoisseurs joining the show.

Photos by Zun Zun from Pexels, from Pexels.

Why would Helsinki make such a big fuss about coffee?

Well, the answer is an easy one; Finns are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers! According to World Atlas, the national average is a whopping 12 kg of coffee per capita per year! That equals to a zillion cups of coffee and, in fact, twice as much as the Italians and three times more than the Americans drink (Aussies did not even make it to the top 25).

Typically, Finns sip coffee throughout the day and work-places are legally required to provide their employees with official coffee breaks (kahvitauko). Coffee is also an integral part of many special occasions from weddings to funerals, and if you pay a visit to a Finn at home, you are served coffee by default, regardless of whether you like it or not (and you are considered odd if you don’t drink it). A hot cup of coffee really is an epitome of Finnish cuisine and culture, therefore, it is no wonder coffee is celebrated in Finland.

Although there are plenty of coffee joints to enjoy medium and dark roasts around Helsinki, Finns tend to favour the very lightly roasted brew. However, consider yourself warned, Finnish coffee can be very strong!

And when experiencing kahvi, how about enjoying it like the Finns do, with korvapuusti, a delicious cinnamon & cardamom roll, another much-loved national staple. Funnily enough, korvapuusti roughly translates to a ‘slap on the ear’, see their shapes in the image below and you’ll get the point!

Photos: Chevanon Photography from Pexels, from Pexels

Although April is just around the corner, while waiting, you can try making your own korvapuusti with this recipe.

Helsinki Coffee Festival enjoys a high presence on social media which provides plenty of information about what’s on offer:

Join Helsinki Coffee Festival on Facebook

Follow Helsinki coffee culture on Instagram and Twitter@HelCoffeeFest.

See you all in HELSINKI!

Photo of coffee mug: Jennifer Hubacher, Pexels

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