Vegan in Helsinki

Normally, when I go abroad, I do a lot of research beforehand on where to eat - where's the nearest vegan-friendly restaurant, where can I pick up breakfast, and whether the local beer is vegan. All important stuff - sod the sights, I want to know about the scran.

But for a recent trip to Helsinki, things got done a little differently - it was a work trip, I was travelling with five other people who were omnivorous, and all the meal choices were left in the hands of our hosts.

Considering Nordic food revolves chiefly around fish and dairy, I was a little scared of whether I'd be skin and bones by the end of the week. (Fear not - like a bear going into hibernation, I'd laid down stores of body fat in preparation. Alright, I ate a lot of cake. Because I like cake.)

While not one of the places we ended up eating in in Helsinki at was vegan or even veggie, they all managed to rustle up a couple of vegan courses - and only a couple of green salads between them!

The first place we rocked up at was Saari, one of Helsinki's summer restaurants - cute little places built on the many islands that make up the archipelago, and which only open when the weather is good enough.

Saari is only accessible by boat from Helsinki, and two minutes later, we were in what looks like an old yacht house with lovely views over the gulf of Finland.

Despite being warned they had a vegan coming to dinner, the Saari staff seemed a bit confused about what they could offer me. After a chat with the kitchen, the first course came out as this:

Marinated red onions, semi-dried tomatoes, buckthorn (apparently), what I think were dried parsnip  shards, and some leaves (or were those leaves in fact buckthorn? I've never had it before, so buckthorn afficinados, let me know!)

The main course was another testament to doing not much to lovely veggies, and still having it turn out pretty darn tasty.

There was just asparagus, carrots and green beans, all dressed in a light herby vinaigrette. Sure, I wouldn't have minded some spuds or rice or something to bulk it all up, but I couldn't complain when it was so fresh and delicious.

But the real star of the show was this berry sorbet, served with a tar and berry syrup. Yep, you read that right - tar. From what I could gather from talking to the staff, pine tar is a traditional taste that you get in Finnish sweets, and Saari's speciality is tar (dairy) ice cream. 

It may sound a bit wonky, but it was phenomenal - a smokey, savoury flavour that counteracted the sharp berry sorbet and reminded me a bit of tobacco. I might not be doing it any favours, but it was superb.

The next day, we headed to another place that seemed to have no problem dealing with vegans, despite being an omni restaurant. The place is called Pure Bistro, but the website has a lot of pictures of meat and fish on it, so I'll avoid posting a link.

They served me up some gazpacho for a starter, which was pretty good if a bit watery, and this veggie dish, with broccoli, cauliflower, new potatoes, radishes, cucumber, and green beans, all lightly fried and served with mustard snow (no, I don't know what mustard snow is either) and fennel-tasting herbs.

It was another nice job with pared down ingredients - who knew cooked cucumber could taste so good?

The next day, lunch was at Kosmos, a restaurant that opened in 1924 and which has kept the deco vibe ever since, with heavy chandeliers, dark wood and booths the Helsinki intellectual types would sit in to chew the fat.

The starter was a generic green salad with some lovely Finnish dark bread (and they brought me out some oil as an alternative to the butter everyone else got).

The main was more interesting though: a vegetable hotpot, without the halloumi they normally serve it with. It was more cruciferous goodness with rice (yay carbs!) and a shedload of turmeric and chilli to spice it all up.

But, I'll be honest, my favourite thing that I ate in Finland wasn't at any of these restaurants. It was from Niia's Cupcakes, a little all-vegan cake place in Helsinki's shopping centre.

It was FANTASTIC. I've eaten a few (alright, more than a few) vegan cupcakes in my time, and this is pretty near the top of the leader board. The icing to cake ratio was bordering on the obscene, but when it was so light and fluffy, I couldn't complain.

There were vanilla and berry flavours, but I couldn't say no to this chocolately bad boy.

There's a lot to recommend Helsinki - some beautiful landscapes, a compact capital and the wilds of Lapland, for example - but Niia's has got to be one of the highlights!


  1. man, Helsinki is gorgeous! You are so lucky to have gotten there, even if it was work-related. The food really reflects the landscape, I think. Tar and mustard snow, huh? Sounds illegal. The amount of icing on the cupcake ought to be illegal too...

  2. Sounds like you did just fine with food. I'm just glad they didn't try to serve you reindeer!

  3. At least the presentation at Saari was great, but I'm with you, something heartier on the side would've been nice. And hey, getting dessert at a non-veg restaurant is pretty awesome too! Also mustard snow? Ha ha ha, weird. Never heard of that either. I'm glad you found some amazing vegan cupcakes on your journey!

  4. Cake, for the win! I hope you were to do a little exploring, but regardless - I'd love to go anywhere for work! There has to be some vegans in Finland somewhere - we just have to find them and ask them what to eat. Ha! The main course veggie dish looks nice!

  5. What a fantastic location for a work trip! I love the look of the vegetables dishes at Saari and would choose a berry sorbet over a cupcake any day of the week. I would have been craving some lentils, beans or tofu after all of these low protein meals though.

    Mustard snow is a new one for me too!

  6. Happy to hear it all worked out for you. I'm going on vacation back home soon and I'm scared shitless of what my and my husbands families are going to try and feed me.
    The sorbet sounds (and looks)crazy good, although I'm confused by what tar is? It sounds like something you most definitely shouldn't put in food, ha ha. And mustard snow? What the what?

  7. So jealous...never been to Scandinavia. Looks like you are very healthily...and that Nia cupcake looks absolutely divine.

  8. Wowza, I wouldn't complain about those dishes either! Even though they had to make them on the fly, they did a great job. I love my icing on my cupcakes sky high!


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