Thursday, August 30, 2012

The day of food

There are certain days that one completely devotes to food. These are a rare occurrence since I moved to Helsinki (in fact I can probably count them on the first two fingers of my hand if I really thought hard about it...and that might even be buffering for a lot), but sometimes they do happen. And when they do, they're pretty glorious.

This past Sunday was one of those days. Having been too busy to meet up with some new friends O and J, German K, Hong Kong P, and I finally had time in our schedules to do a meet cute. Being foodies, this naturally circled around food. And lucky for us, Sunday had something unique to Helsinki: it was a day for pop-up restaurants.

Now, before moving to Finland I had never heard of pop-up restaurants, generally speaking. We don't have a need for them in the States; we have restaurants everywhere, things are open all night long, and people have cars. Why would you need a pop-up restaurant? If you want to set up a stand and sell some food, you temporarily try your hand at a farmer's market or maybe as a moving stand (like a hot dog vendor). Perhaps you might even go so far as to fundraise online or at your local community fair. But these are pretty small and not considered big deals. Perhaps the food truck trend that has taken over America is the closest thing to what I'm about to talk about.

Pop-up restaurants seem to be in a class of their own though. There are dedicated days for pop-up restaurants to occur - they happen twice a year (once in the summer and once in the winter...though generally the winter one happens more in the fall because no one is interested in standing in line while it's snowing/raining/flurrying outside), and there are huge Facebook events about them first.

People who set up their own pop-ups don't need to be professional cooks, or need to even have cooking experience (they can get their family members to help them out, for example), and as long as they designate a space and register it with the pop-up restaurant board (or whatever the equivalent is), then it's fine.

The types of restaurants that pop up are usually ones that don't exist normally in Helsinki. We're talking family recipes or unusual fusions, but in either case, completely homemade. Usually on the FB events these people record their progress in the days leading up to the events. They usually start prepping about a week before.

Our target of choice for that given Sunday: Korean Explosion. There is only one Korean restaurant in Helsinki at the moment (aforementioned Korea House), and it's terrible (or so I've heard from multiple Asian friend accounts). Therefore, this pop-up Korean restaurant was definitely going to be tried.

Unfortunately it decided to rain that day (after a gloriously beautiful day of 25 degrees C the day before), but whatever. We still waited the hour in line for our bounty.

And bounty it was.

I paid 5euros for this little tray of goodies, but it seemed like an appropriate choice. I was secretly hoping for something bigger and a little more authentic, like maybe some bulgogi, but whatever, can't be picky in this town. :P

What I have in the tray (from left to right): marinated bean thread noodles with red and yellow bell peppers and egg, Korean "sushi" rolls with (one with tuna and one with kimchi), and rice cakes with cut star carrots in spicy kimchi sauce.

It was definitely delicious. J definitely ordered the all-you-can-sample platter and tried everything they had made. It looked incredible...he said everything was amazing.

After standing out in the rain for that long we were a bit cold and still hungry (portions were not exactly huge), so we decided to head to Cafe Ekberg for some hot coffee and goodies. The gorging continued.

There I ordered my traditional chai latte (classic coffee house order, since I don't drink coffee and decaf tea is a joke here), and the very traditional Swedish Princess cake.

Princess cakes are sponge cake layered with whipped cream and sometimes a little jam (mine had raspberry, quite fancy). The entire thing is then covered in a thin layer of marzipan. This one was to die for.

Not being someone who generally likes or eats sweets I admittedly didn't finish it all, but O came to my rescue and finished it for me. :)

I also ate some of J's dessert, an amazing Napoleon:

And if that weren't enough, after some chatting and warming ourselves up, we decided that though we were sugared-out...we were still craving some salt. Or maybe some sour/tang.

So we went out to get more food.

After some debate about what might be open still and delicious (all of the pop-up restaurants by this time were closed, being 4pm), we decided to go to Tamarin, a very popular Thai restaurant chain.

It was not a mistake. This will definitely become my standby whenever anyone wants Thai and comes to visit me. It reminds me a lot of Takhrai back in San Diego (before it changed ownership), or Erawan back in San Jose. Delicious, and fairly reasonably priced.

I had the Tom Kha Gai:

Coconut milk-based, creamy, and oh-so-fulfilling, I was extremely happy. It had tons of chicken, and the flavors of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves were intoxicating.

We ended up talking there for another few hours before calling it a night. By then we had been out for a solid 6 hours of basically nonstop eating. I think I spent a grand total of 35euros that day. All on food and beverages.

I could not have been happier.


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