Q&A: What’s one cool location in Helsinki? (Malminkartanonhuippu edition)

First of all, Malminkartanonhuippu should be mentioned just for the name alone – thank goodness that all letters are pronounced in Finnish so there is usually no need to guess how to say things. Standing at 90m above sea level, it’s the highest point in Helsinki and that has always been rather interesting to me because I grew up in a house on what I consider to be “a small hill” and it stands at 160m above sea level. I know that Finland is a rather flat country but things like this remind me just how flat it is.

Malminkartano Hill is also interesting because it was a municipal construction waste landfill up until the mid-90s… and now it’s a hill where you can nicely train for races like the Marseille-Cassis that require a lot of uphill running. The only downside is that it is quite a hassle to get all the way  there, even if there is a metro stop not too far away. Still, along with Hietaniemi (Hietsu) beach, it’s definitely up there on my list of favourite man-made Helsinki landscape features.

Q&A: What’s the weather like in Finland? (February/March 2018)

This year we’re having a rather cold end of winter, with some nights as cold as -20C in the city center, with loads of wind making it feel much colder. Earlier we had some decent snowfalls although the snow was on and off the ground up until around mid-January. As an example, we had a day where the snowfall was such that it was difficult to walk in the streets but the next day there was almost nothing left because it had rained overnight.

temps

Of course, more than the weather, it’s the darkness that characterises winter here. I like to joke that on an average December day, the only reason you know it’s “day” it’s because it’s dark grey outside instead of being pitch black… and even that only happens for a few hours. More than just the shortness of days in winter, I find it very difficult to keep a positive attitude during the months of October and November – the days aren’t that short yet but you can visibly see that they are getting shorter and you start anticipating the full-on darkness and bad weather to come. Everything goes back to normal in my head in February – it’s the coldest month but it’s when days get visibly longer and there usually are only blue skies (hence the cold) and it’s time to bring out sunglasses as not to get hurt by the glare from the snow.

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Q&A: What do you eat for breakfast in Finland?

There is what I eat and probably what many others eat – I only have coffee with full fat cream in the morning before work. At work I’ll have some almonds or some fruit, maybe a yogurt. I’ve just never been a breakfast person!

That said, there are plenty of great breakfast food options around here though – for example, there are many types of porridge available, you can even get porridge at the cafeteria downstairs! You can garnish it with jam, berries or other fruit and it’s really nice and filling. Sometimes I’ll make myself rye porridge and flavour it with some broth, it’s the perfect thing to eat after a cold walk outside. Continuing on breakfast foods, of course you can have a small sandwich made of rye bread with some butter, maybe a slice of cheese and tomatoes. There are also plenty of sweet pastries that you can choose from, cinnamon ones or doughnut like or some with sweet cheese.

Coffee is also very important. Finland inevitably ends up in the top countries of coffee consumption per capita. It’s not always good coffee but it’s an essential part of the Finnish diet for sure.

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BLOG: About that cricket bread

A simple search for “Finland + cricket + bread” will tell you all about Fazer’s cricket bread so I’ll just give you a personal take on it here.

First of all, it’s not available in every shop but I live and shop in the city centre of Helsinki so there are shops that carry it – hooray for that! First hurdle overcome! The second hurdle were other people who also wanted to try the cricket bread and kept on buying it before I could get my hands on some. Eventually the frenzy died down and there came a day when some bread was left at the time when I go shopping after work. Second hurdle overcome! I had cricket bread, for 3€ and a bit for a loaf. (Side note: now that the craziness of the first days is gone, there is always some available.)

The packing looks quite normal – a bit of green, a little cricket on there. The ingredients of course tell you that it’s not 100% cricket, it’s different kinds of flour, including 3% of flour made of ground crickets. That said, 3% is already a good start in terms of adding protein that have great potential to contribute to sustainability.

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Now for the taste – it tastes like regular mixed-flour bread. I’m not exactly the best person to try and describe what makes bread good, I generally don’t even eat that much bread… but I can tell when a baguette is good or bad (I have strong opinions on which boulangerie makes the best baguette) and know that not all rye bread is good. I could not taste anything strange, there weren’t any bits of insects that would add extra crunch. It was just regular bread, which is exactly what I think they are going for and should be going for – they want to show that there is nothing different and can be easily accepted by the population. Heck, I’d argue that taste-wise this is easier for people to get used to than non-dairy milk/yogurt alternatives and we’ve seen those soar in recent years.

My conclusion is that I hope that the trend of including insect-based proteins in “normal” (=non-gimmicky-omg-look-I’m-eating-an-insect) food will continue. This bread has the backing of Fazer and they’re a multi-billion € company, they can hopefully develop a sustainable supply chain for insect proteins that can be readily used in food.

Q&A: Why did you move to Finland?

The first time I moved to Finland was because I was offered an internship in a lab at the local university and I had never been there and didn’t know much about it – I thought it would be a great adventure ! (While I was paid a small amount for the internship, my parents helped out quite a lot – thank you, mum and dad!)

It would be an adventure and that was quite enough to convince me.

I had no idea what to expect. My sister and brother-in-law gave me a travel guide to Finland that I read on the plane. Some things mentioned in there were true (silences can be just silences, they don’t have to be awkward), some I have yet to encounter (swarms of large mosquitoes everywhere next to lakes). I learnt quite a bit about really living on my own (previously I had lived within 60km of my parents’, except for 6 months where I extended that range to 300km). I also saw that my personality actually meshed quite nicely with the average Finn – I liked being left alone, always having access to nature, enjoying spending loads of time outside when it’s warm. At that time I did have quite a lot of trouble with winter, the cold, the dark, the feeling that it will never end. It’s the winters that actually made me decide to try my luck elsewhere after five years.

The second time I moved to Finland, I did so right at the start of winter but, so far so good, I’m older and come armed with new coping mechanisms. I did mainly move because I accepted a job that sounded really interesting but I would never have applied for said job if I wasn’t fine with moving back to Helsinki. There is something about this place.

(sidenote: I have an EU passport so moving and working within the EU is really easy for me, I just needed to go get a Finnish ID number at the local town hall and register at the local immigration office. There would have been probably many more steps for people coming from outside the EU.)

BLOG: My love for mämmi knows no bounds

Finland has some foods that might appear strange to foreigners, some so strange that some foreigners will refuse to eat them. Yes, I am talking about mämmi that apparently reminds people of poo but is really the best thing about Easter around here (I’m not huge on chocolate). But it’s not poo, not even close! It’s rye-based dessert that’s been through a very slow cooking process and that you eat with milk or cream.

Technically you can get mämmi year round in bigger supermarkets but it will be frozen, there will be only one kind and it will be on some random hidden shelf. Around February mämmi will appear more prominently in the frozen food section and that’s my cue for getting exited* – soon there will mämmi in the refrigerated section and there will be choice! There will single-serving cups and those biiiig cardboard containers and there will be no need to waste time on thawing.

(* by “excited” I mean excited to the point of instagramming the aforementioned prominent frozen food section)

mämmi

I personally prefer to get the no-added-sugar kind and eat it with full-fat cream. I’ve heard rumours of there being flavoured mämmis but why would anything want to eat that?

Q&A: Do you speak Finnish?

I definitely don’t speak Finnish fluently but I do understand enough words to get by. I also have mastered the art of GoogleTranslate!

Alas most Finnish words don’t have the same roots as most Romance, Germanic or Slavic languages so it’s been quite an adventure not being able to rely on etymology to figure out what a word means. Most of the words I do know are basic greetings or related to food! As I live and work in the Helsinki region, it hasn’t been too problematic as most people do speak English (or at least understand enough to help me when I do need help).