Finland. Turku, the new culinary Mecca

Sep 2 2017, 07:00 | by Massimiliano Rella

Despite the lingering cold, on the Aura River the Finnish movida quickly gains speed after a winter slowdown. In July and August, the love of good eating and conviviality awakens along the river in Turku.

Little by little, as summer approaches, dozens of blonde heads appear on the promenade, sit at the open-air tables and relax on benches in the sun. The heart of the season is in July and August, when the townspeople in western Finland takes their places at a long table, or rather, at 700 tables set in a row on the banks of the Aura. Everyone brings food and beverages to enjoy the pleasure of being together. This is Dinner under the Stars of Turku, scheduled for August 26. Try imagining it along the Arno or the Tiber – how lively the Italian rivers would be.

Food tourism

Then, there’s Restaurant for a Day: twice, in spring and summer, everyone cooks their favorite dishes and invites perfect strangers to their homes. For gourmets, there’s Food Walk, five dishes in five places chosen among 10 restaurants over three days. The price of a subscription is 44 euros. “We launched it in 2012, and it’s doing well,” explained Olga Henriksson of Visit Turku, the public tourist office. “There’s new interest in quality cooking. Many people buy it as a gift for friends and relatives. This year, Finland celebrates the 100thanniversary of its independence, so the schedule of events is busier than ever.

The development of new restaurants

Ten years ago, there were no restaurants with important chefs here. Tourists didn’t expect much from food. The phenomenon grew a little at a time,” food journalist Heli Nieminen told us. She has written a cookbook, Turku on a Plate, 10 gourmet restaurants on the Aura River. “Restaurants are more affordable here, so many people come from Helsinki to taste our food. The result is that there’s a great deal of pride in using local ingredients, the relationships with producers have become very good and young chefs share their experiences, enjoying competition in a healthy way.”

Culinary events

Another event in this town of 180,000 is the Food & Fun Festival at the end of summer. This is the fifth edition of a culinary happening organized by Pekka and Jouni Kuru, father and son, ex-restaurateurs. From September 27 to October 1, the Finnish chefs and bartenders of Turku, their Icelandic colleagues from Reykjavik and a few other international cooks compete at their stoves with a pinch of creativity. At lunch and dinner, in the best restaurants and bars in the city, gourmet menus and inspired cocktails are offered at fixed prices. The event also involves two hospitals, a prison, schools and nursery schools. Food educates and, it appears, also re-educates. (

Near the Evangelican Lutheran Church, the largest in Finland, or along the Aura River, where contemporary art also finds space, cooking is the new passion. “In recent years, quality has increased,” said chef Jarno Seppä from the restaurant Smör (the word means butter). “The difference between us and you Mediterraneans is that we use few spices. We try to enhance the purity of the ingredients, which here are mainly berries, seafood and fresh water fish, such as lake perch and whitefish.” Opened in 2013 and 2014, Ludu and Kaskis are also considered among the best restaurants in Turku, and are part of the Food&Fun Festival. The winning formula at Ludu is the alliance between Jonas Sippo, 41 years old, waiter and bartender, and TomiRosenberg, chef and school friend. “We work together on new ideas, and often we dream large. But my wife, who keeps the books, brings us down to the reality of the accounts,” joked Sippo, as we tasted a delicate salted salmon with smoked potatoes, sauce and cucumber mayonnaise. At Kaskis, energy comes from the two chefs, Erik Mansikka and Simo Raisio. Their idea is to make as much as possible in house, from delicious bread (rye, wheat, malt, and sugar) and herbs to vegetables grown in their own country garden.

Herbs and berries

Another Turku trend,” added Sami Piirainen, bartender of The Cow, where we went for a nightcap, “is to gather herbs and berries in the forest and include them in cocktails. That is developing alongside the evolution of our cooking.”Gin and tonic Napue, with cranberries, rosemary and raspberry juice, is only our first round, but it is immediately convincing. Sweden is nearby and many people are bilingual. We met a group who collected forest berries and made their own wine from them, ex-publicists who made fruit juice at homes on mobile presses, artists who raised sheep and made clothing from their wool. We found a number of exceptional people here in the north. This too is Turku, the city and province that decided to challenge Helsinki.

Kauppahalli, the covered market

Kauppahalli, Turku’s covered market, occupies a beautiful fin de siècle building from 1896, an iron structure clad in dark brick. Inside are about fifty stalls, cafés, and restaurants that offer good local products ranging from many variations on dark rye bread to delicious sweets, fresh fish that is marinated, smoked and in sauce, and meat such as venison, elk and reindeer. The pastry shop Piece of Cake offers artisanal specialties made by KatiaNurmi, such as strawberry cakes or tarts with cream and seaberry icing, made from a yellow berry that grows in the Finnish woods. There’s even a museum corner to show off Finnish food products.

The Handicrafts Museum

In 1827, a fire destroyed almost two-thirds of Turku. The monastery neighborhood was saved, and today it is an artisan’s museum, a rural complex with characteristic houses in wood, courtyards and internal gardens. After years of abandonment, today, the buildings each offer an old craft. There is a house for weaving, others for clockmaking, baking, clothing, book-binding and more.

Natural Juices: forest flavors

The little Tackork Bär specializes in the gathering and sales of forest berries and mushrooms. They produce jam, juices and housemade cakes. Everything is a proof of the owner Margot Wikström’s courage. A few years ago, this dynamic woman left her work in a bank to dedicate herself to the land in the village of Nagu, in the Turku archipelago. Her products are for sale in local markets or in her own shop, whatever the time of day. Customers leave their money in a drawer in the shop.

Tove and her German husband Gunna rBornemann left their jobs to work the land in the zone of Pargas. Both graphic artists, they were tired of the rhythm of their jobs. They purchased a mobile press on a truck and, founding their Bornemanns Musteri, make fruit juices at their customers’ homes, They move from orchard to orchard, pressing apples, strawberries, currants, blueberries, raspberries and other fruit that grows on the Turku archipelago. Besides moving around to the growers, they process the smaller boxes of fruit that families bring in, transforming them into delicious juices.

Nectar from the berries of the archipelago

In the Tammiluoto Viinitila, red and white ‘wines’ are made from pressing and fermenting a wide variety of berries. The products are a white currant wine, a red from a blend of black currants and a small percentage of aronia, another local berry, and a wine from wild strawberries and black currants. The most recent label from producer Timo Jokinen is a sparkling green gooseberry white. From apples, Timo makes a pleasant cider. The company, located in Lielahti, welcomes small groups for tastings or typical lunches and dinners. Nearby is a sauna with a tub of hot water next to a pond, ready for a dip in cold water, Finnish-style.

Meat. An atelier with sheep

Heikki Vendelin and Jill Christiansen are two retired artists, husband and wife, who have been living in the woods of Pargas for over 30 years. Their home on one of the 25,000 isles in the Turku archipelago is in a beautiful wooden house from 1917. Their life is an unusual mix of sheep-raising and design. Stentorp produces wool and a craft line of clothing and house accessories, all made by hand by Heikki, a ‘peasant artist.’ The brown wool comes from about fifty Finnish Landrace sheep. They make sweaters decorated with Nordic embroidery, scarves, berets, vests, cushions, rugs and décor items, all sold in their home studio.

by Massimiliano Rella


Where to eat

Kaskis | Turku | Kaskenkatu, 6 | tel. +358 (0)44 7230 200 || Refined, modern and updated cooking, principally inspired by seasonal local products.

Ludu | Turku | Linnankatu, 17 | tel. +358 (0)20 734 0311 || Among the best restaurants in the city, offering good international cooking with Nordic touches.

Panimo Ravintola Koulu | Turku | Eerikinkatu, 18 | tel. +358 (0)2 274 757 || Brewery with pub, restaurant and brasserie. Many dishes use beer as an ingredient.

Smör | Turku | Läntinen Rantakatu, 3 | tel. +358 (0)40 7614 666|| Handsome restaurant in a basement along the Aura River with tables outside. Modern Scandinavian recipes and a Spanish touch.

Tiirikkala | Linnankatu 3 | Turku | tel +358/041.4406367 ||Open. Mon-Thu 11–23. Fri-Sat 11–01. Sun 12–23. Kitchen open until 21:30. Live music, Friday and Saturday nights. Cocktails 9€, beer 6,50-9,50€. New place with a terrace on the banks of the Aura. Ideal for coffee, beer or a cocktail. Also, salads and sandwiches.

Köpmans | Nauvo| Rantapolku, 3| tel. +358 (0)41 502 0290|| Neo-bistro in Scandinavian style with a bread and sweets counter. Local dishes, revisited and lightened, along with international specialties.

L’Escale | Nagu | Nauvon Rantal, 4 | tel. +358 (0)40 7441 744 || Pretty restaurant facing the little port of Nagu, a gourmet spot for good Scandinavian cooking with a French touch.

After dinner

Cafe Qwensel | Turku | Läntinen Rantakatu, 13b | tel. +358 (0)50 3950 021 |

Charming café in a red painted-wood ex-warehouse. Tables in the courtyard and unusual small wooden houses.

E. Ekblom | Turku | Läntinen Rantakatu, 3 | tel. +358 (0)2 536 9445 || Modern, original bar for beer, mint liqueurs, cider and cocktails with berries and forest fruits from Lapland.

The Cow | Turku | Aurakati, 3 | tel. +358 (0)44 0250 090 || Excellent bar for craft beers, spirits, cucumber vodka with berries, and cocktails made with Finnish products.

Where to stay

Radisson Blu Marina Palace Hotel | Turku | Linnankatu, 32 | tel +358 () 20 1234 710 | |

B&B Vastergard | Nagu | Gyttjavägen, 29 | Nagu | tel. +358 (0)40 586 1317 ||

Villa Rainer | Kirjala | Skråbbontie, 244 | tel. +358 (0)400 449 671 ||

Where to shop

Art Bank | Pargas - Paranainen | Kauppiaskatu, 24 | Köpmansgatan | tel. +358 (0)400 524 177|| The largest private collection in Finland of works by Salvatore Dali. A gallery dedicated to 20thcentury art, with works by Chagall, Mirò, Lucio Fontana, Picasso and contemporary Finnish art.

Artek | Turku | Iso-Heikkiläntie, 6 | tel +358 (0)20 7432 530 | Turku || Finnish design in decor and houseware

Bornemanns Musteri | Pargas - Kirjala | Kårlaxvägen, 234 | tel. +358 (0)40 7188361

Kauppahalli | Turku | Eerikinkatu, 16 | tel. +358 (0)2 262 4126 |

Luostarinmaki Handicrafts Museum Turku | Vartiovuorenkatu, 2 | tel. +358 (0)2 262 0350 |

Sisustuksen Koodi | Turku | Linnankatu, 6 | tel. +358 (0)20 7940 880 || Furniture and accessories for the home.

Stentorp ky | Kirjala | Skråbbontie, 222 | tel. +358 (0)400 844 506 |

Sylvi Salonen | Turku | Linnankatu, 14 | tel. +358 (0)20 7660 830 || Finnish crafts and design, much of it done in- house with furnishings and objects for the home.

Tackork Bär | Nagu | Tackorkvägen, 31 | tel. +358 (0)40 7350 593 |

Tammiluoto Viinitila | Pargas - Suomi | Tammiluoto, 261 | tel. +358 (0)2 4586 899 |

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