Thursday, July 26, 2012

Toripojat at Kauppatori

One of the most unique things about Finnish culture is the abundance of market squares and market halls that thrive in the cities. On our first day out in Helsinki, Corey and I, struggling to follow the map in search of cafes we had marked, stumbled into the Kauppatori market along the water. Spellbound by the colorful vegetable and fruit stands, and intrigued by the reindeer meatballs and moose sausage stalls, we grazed the stands for over an hour. Since it was lunchtime, I decided on reindeer meatballs with potatoes and lingenberry jam (amazing) and Corey ordered a bowl of salmon bisque (also amazing, I tried a bite!).

After lunch we continued through the market, and to our surprise, discovered a little cafe stall selling coffee to a crowded line of customers from two steaming percolators and pastries kept warm in two giant pots on a pair of make-shift stoves. Where were we? We asked ourselves.

We seemed to be surrounded by sailors and old men who seemed quite content, so we ordered exactly what they ordered: a coffee and a possumunkki pastry. This raspberry filled, sugar toped, donut-y confection literally means “young pig” (possu) “priest in a monastery” (munkki), although we aren’t quite sure why, since the shape of the pastry didn’t exactly resemble a young pig-priest. Sometimes you just don’t ask questions.

Pekka Havanto, a talkative Finn drinking coffee and eating one of these possumunkkis, explained that the café (called Toripojat) was known as the President’s café, since the presidential office and town hall is located just across the street. Apparently the President of Finland for 30 years, Urho Kekkonen, was a regular at this cafe in the market, and often brought official diplomats visiting from abroad with him.

Pekka explained that this market square is like a second home for many Helsinki residents. “I come to the market every two weeks to eat fish and then have a cup of coffee and then a cone of ice-cream. I always come to this café,” he said sternly. In response to my question what is Finnish café culture? He said, “We wake up in the morning and must have our cup of coffee. Coffee is a normal, every day routine. It has no luxurious element. Just like bread and butter, you have your coffee.” This "no frills" attitude was very apparent at Toripojat, and although the décor and menu were more than simple, this place seemed to attract everybody – locals, tourists and presidents.

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