fat and skinny

“Finland, Finland, Finland, the country where I want to be . . .” (Monty Python’s Flying Circus)
A stopover in Helsinki for seven hours was just enough time to race into the city and get a feel for the place – and taste some Finnish cuisine. It was well worth the effort.

reindeer meat

I particularly wanted to sample the famed reindeer meat in Helsinki. The good news is, to try the delicacy, you don’t need to travel right up north to Lappland territory. There are very good restaurants in the capital offering the fare. The menu presented me with a difficult choice. For a drink I passed on the Reindeer’s Tear, which is 38% alcohol, and described humorously as “an unconstrained drink of plain Finnish Koskenkasva with a few cranberries”. The cranberries are obviously a minor ingredient. Instead, I went for a Cranberry Rickey as appetiser; good for the urinary tract, I believe.

The options on the main course were Grilled Fillet of Reindeer, Original Sauteed Reindeer, Sirloin of Elk, Lappish Game Selection for Two, Reindeer Shank, Grilled Reindeer Liver and Cooked Reindeer Tongue. I had to try this last one just to see if the tongue tasted the same as our own tongues on those unfortunate occasions when we bite them by accident. The news is: yes it does!

The meal was actually very tasty, especially the lingonberry sauces. (Don’t ask me what sort of berries these are!) Also on the menu – which, incidentally, is printed in 15 different languages – were some Australian wines. It was good to spot wine from Nuriootpa rubbing metaphorical shoulders with some from Alsace, Mendoza and Katalonia.

Helsinki in summer

Helsinki is a very pleasant little city with a very agreeable tone about it. There is quite a lot of waterfront and the streets are all exceptionally wide. This is a city which stays low, with buildings of medium height and a healthy proportion of land devoted to public spaces. Today there were many hundreds of Finns out enjoying their public spaces with each other in the favourable weather (25 degrees). Many were sitting chatting whilst many other sunseekers were playing games including a peculiarly Finnish game called Molkky. I watched a mixed-gender group having fun with this on a dirt surface. The game is a version of wooden skittles and has been played in this area since the Middle Ages.

Predictably, it is still light after 10 pm at this time of year and the locals are out in groups peaceably enjoying the evenings. It is said that Finns are notoriously un-neighbourly to those who by chance live next door, but are loyal to their chosen friends. In summer many wear very skimpy clothes and many look quite lissome. This must have been an illusion because the ‘Helsinki Times‘ reported on the same day that 40% of Finns are overweight. Perhaps – just like in California – the fat people don’t come outside.
59 years after the Helsinki Olympics, people can still feel safe outside well into the night. Finnair’s in-flight magazine says: “Don’t worry, this is as safe a city at night as it gets.” It is easy to believe.

jäähyväiset from Helsinki

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