Because it was selected as one of the top ten food markets ever by Food Lover’s Guide to the World from Lonely Planet, my expectations for the Helsinki fish market were running high and the rest of me was running late.
Finland was my first pass at discovering Nordic cuisine and its current incarnations, but the wheels were coming off my travel wagon. I’d been on the road a few weeks already; lost my ipad; got in a fight with an Italian airport lady who accidentally (on purpose?) lost my luggage; phone died; and then I almost punched a cabbie. Knowing the market closed in an hour and determined to see it, I set out on foot with my notebook and the vague memory of a map I had read before my modern communications flat-lined. Old school nav: go south, and the fish market is on the water, because where else would it be?Soon I found white pop-up tents on the pier, a ferris wheel, and the old, historic covered market sitting winningly on the shore under a blue summer sky that let me know, along with the squawking seabirds, that everything I needed in Finland was right here.
In this self-assured city that seemed a blend of St. Petersburg and Seattle, the outdoor market was strangely similar to the ones I habitually visit in the states. Always a sideways tent vulnerable to a big breeze; or a loaded stall where the vendor has wandered off for a coffee or some change; locals looking for dinner and a chat. But here, oompa bands played on the esplanade near the market square, cafes were packed, and an elegant landmark church reminiscent of Russian aristocracy stood amongst progressive manufacturing operations and tech start-ups. The market stalls sold grilled salmon and sautéed vegetables; crunchy little fried fishes from the day’s catch; warm, skinless new potatoes; bay shrimp sandwiches; coffee; cakes; knitted toys and handicrafts. Take this recipe for Lemon Aioli by Nancy Silverton, add a tablespoon of fresh chopped dill weed, get yourself a fresh piece of salmon and grill it, and you are almost on the dock with me, barefoot in the midnight sun.
No way this market closed early – it stayed open for hours after I got there, enough for me to visit all the stalls, buy strawberries and cloud berry jam, and talk to the bear meat salesman about (what else?) bear meat. The indoor stalls were crafted in an old-fashioned wooden style that would have been easy to blast out in favor of something more efficient, but here they are –
sturdy and holding authentic, artisan goods without much pretension or spin. Just a good old Scandinavian market – one of the best in the world I’m told – where you will most certainly and most happily find something fishy.
Kauppahalli (“covered market”)
South Harbour, Helsinki, Finland; Mon–Fri 8am–6pm, Sat 8am–4pm, Sun (summer only) 10am–4pm
And for the record, I did scoop my beloved NYT on the story of how cool Helsinki is right now – by a whole week.