More Carnivals and few tips for Helsinki

Apparently my time in Helsinki was all about good people, cakes and other (gourmet) food! NB: This post includes links to recommended places in Helsinki, most of them are in Finnish. However, I bet you get the idea and I do recommend you to visit even though you don’t understand much of the interwebs info. Reality is so much better, anyways. And they do speak English.

If you ever go to Helsinki and you care about what you eat and drink, I highly recommend Johan & Nyström in Katajanokka. I have posted pictures before, this time around I went for some serious cake tasting. The place has a good selection on different raw cakes and pastries, and you can also get different kinds of quality coffees and teas. However, there are better places to get your caffeine fix: Caffi, Kaffa Roastery, Gruppo Coffee Lab just to name a few better than average places…Helsinki has much more brewing on than in Tampere, and I still have more places to check out!

After Eight (the winner), Raspberry licorice, and lingonberry cake (skip this one) at Johan & Nyström
After Eight (the winner of the tasting), Raspberry licorice, and lingonberry cake (skip this one) at Johan & Nyström

Last Thursday was The Night of the Arts in Helsinki, which included loads of cultural events around the city. Since I was busy with the Raw Food course, I couldn’t attend anything, I just had time to visit Teurastamo, an old slaughterhouse nowadays a culture space and a restaurant, which hosted a night market carnival event. Too bad Evira didn’t allow crickets to be served for some ridiculous reasons, such as not all species are edible (not all mushrooms are edible, but some are still eaten! Why are the Asians eating crickets and still alive?), I would have liked to try those. In stead, we had some delicious summer rolls from Rulla, and my dad enjoyed some frog legs as well. This was my first visit to Teurastamo area, which also hosts a solar-powered kitchen. Pretty cool atmosphere and area!

Carnival in a slaughterhouse
Carnival feeling
Creative rulla-combos served with a smile
Creative rulla-combos served with a smile
Hammocks, frog legs and graffitis in a slaughterhouse
Hammocks, frog legs and graffitis in a slaughterhouse

I am back in Tampere now, but can’t wait to go back to Helsinki to try out few other places. I already had a terrific lunch for a fairly reasonable price (9,7€ for mediterranean appetizer buffet, main course and fruits+coffee) in Krog Madame, which besides the delicious food and good looking staff also has a nice patio. Another place with a nice atmosphere: Cafe Köket (the Swedish name is a bit misleading) near the big church. Nice service and good breakfast in Finnish designer environment.

Take your pick and move to the buffet table
Take your pick and move to the buffet table

Since I seem to have so many new favorites around town I might have to dedicate a separate post to them all. But while I’m at it (or not really), check out Costo, the coolest hats I know and own. I might have bought 2 new ones this past week.

Something was going on in Tampere this weekend and upcoming week: DesignOn Tampere and Design market.

Finnish hats, jewelry, clothes and artisan stuff
Hats, jewelry, clothes and artisan stuff from Finland

I love happenings!

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Best of Hong Kong

Everything good ends at some point. I have now been away from Finland for almost a year, living in another continent, speaking different languages and doing many things I could or would not do in Finland. Now it’s time to say hello to Finland for a while. Here are some of my favorites from the past 4 months.

Nature.

There is much more to the city than just skyscrapers
There is much more to the city than just skyscrapers

It is unbelievable how much more there is to Hong Kong than just millions of people cramped in narrow streets between tall buildings. One can easily find amazing nature, from mountains to beaches and natural reservoirs, even in Hong Kong island!

Atmosphere.

Perfect Sunday: Relaxing at the East Island Markets
Perfect Sunday: Relaxing at the East Island Markets

By far, my most favorite place in Hong Kong was the Sunday market in Quarry Bay. The market is closed down for the summer, but will return again in September. I wish there was something like this in Finland – this farmer’s market really reminded me of New York!

Events.

Perfect Tuesday night: art, bubbly and nibbles
Perfect Tuesday night: art, bubbly and nibbles

There is always something interesting going on, whether it is an art gallery opening, birthday party or pop-up store. The only thing is to know where, when and what is happening.

Random statues.

Teddies in Heritage shopping area
Teddies in Heritage shopping area

HK is a huge shopping mall. Usually the malls have huge, quite random statues, that change almost monthly. Often the motifs of the statues are rather interesting, and worth taking a picture (or two).

Random street art.

Noodle time!
Noodle time!

Rather than ugly tags, one can encounter rather interesting pieces of art from the streets and alleyways. Tin Hau and Sheung Wan are the best bet for finding something interesting.

Fruit selection.

Sousop and something else
Sousop and something else

The amount, quality and price of fruit in Hong Kong came like a gift from heaven, after being seriously fruit-deprived in Japan. Here I have eaten tons of various fruit every day: lately especially mangos, since they are ridiculously cheap and usually sold cheaper if you buy 3 or 4. Other than mangos, I’ve been enjoying papayas, pineapple, some durian, mangosteens, dragonfruit, melons and the conventional apples, grapefruits, kiwi and oranges. Time for some Finnish berries!

Coffee culture.

Teakha in Sheung Wan
Teakha in Sheung Wan

Little coffeeshops offering top quality coffee blends and single-origin beans are popping up around the city, and there are several companies offering coffee tastings and other events. In stead of the Pacific Coffees and Starbucks in practically every corner, some of the best places to get your fix are: Coffee Academics (Causeway Bay), Coffee Corridor (Causeway Bay), Common Ground (Sheung Wan), Barista Jam (Sheung Wan), The Rabbit Hole (Wan Chai) and those moving coffee companies that frequent for example the East Island Market: 8 Grams and Moving Coffee, for example.

Food.

Delicious Chinese vegetarian cuisine, mostly with mushrooms
Delicious Chinese vegetarian cuisine, mostly with mushrooms

There is abundance of international food in Hong Kong. My favorite restaurant is Mana!, which serves organic, vegan and gluten-free wraps and salads as well as raw desserts and smoothies. Besides Mana, there are few vegetarian restaurant, and plenty of Chinese vegetarian cuisine (which is textured soy and often rather slimy to my taste). Sushi buffets are aplenty and affordable, Western food is more expensive than Asian. The Asian desserts were also rather interesting, maybe I’ll dedicate another post to that.
Mostly I cooked myself: various mushrooms and sweet potatoes were my favorites. I did try veggie dumplings on few occasions, but most Chinese restaurants had meat in their dishes even if it is not announced in the menu.

Transportation.

Back to the old times
Back to the old times

I definitely am a walker, but when you need a different means of transportation, there’s plenty to choose from. My favorite would be the Star Ferry to Kowloon side – fresh air, nice views and less crowded than the mtr. MTR is by far the fastest way of getting from A to B, but sometimes you want to relax and watch the hustle and bustle; the old-fashioned tram is perfect for that. The double-decker buses can sometimes feel like being on a theme park ride, since the drivers are rallying like on a race. The taxi isn’t a bad option, either: super cheap and easy to catch – the only problem might be the language barrier. I would not bike in Hong Kong island, but in Shatin there is even a bike route!

These are just a few things I will definitely miss from Hong Kong. I could also list the great people and sports opportunities (mYoga with it’s views to Victoria Harbor, oh man). What are your favorites?

Whole lotta food love

No idea where the name comes from
No idea where the name comes from!

Lucky to be working in the food industry, I was able to visit Asia’s largest Food & drink, hotel, restaurant & food service exhibition HOFEX, held in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition center this week. During the first 3 days, the expo had 38,297 buyers – not quite the same caliber as any expo in Finland!
If Natural Expo West/East in the States (or any other natural/organic expo for that matter) would be my Heaven, HOFEX probably is something right outside Heaven’s gates. Exhibitors in 3 floors, from so many different cultures, presenting what they perceive as the best from their country. (Scandinavia was not represented at all, though at least I saw one oven door manufactured in Sweden!) Unfortunately for me, European Fine Meats were well presented. On the other hand, the only producer of quinoa products was from Holland – Go Europe!

Scottish lard
Premium Scottish lard

Besides the culinary presentations, panels and other cookings, there was barista championships and the more visually intriguing flairtending competition as well as some rather fancy culinary competitions. And of course some the cool kitchen equipment was tested on-site – I saw some pretty cool sushi making machines as well as veggie spiralers, among others.

Food is art and I was definitely taking picture of the cupcakes
Food is art and I was definitely taking picture of the cupcakes

The thing I like most about this kind of events (besides all the nibbles), is to talk to interesting people who possibly share same interests and have passion about their work (hopefully). In general, I was maybe a bit surprised how many pig legs there was, and so much ice cream! It seemed like pretty much all of the European countries were focusing on meat, alcohol and possibly some cheese. Food traditions rather than trends…

Not your regular cuppa joe
Not your regular cuppa joe

Speaking of trends, the extensive coffee and tea sections were rather seducing. I got to try my first ice drip coffee, which was surprisingly soft – I tried the same Vietnamese beans as hot dripper coffee, and the flavor was much more intense. The coffee had been dripping for 2 days until ready to drink. In Hong Kong, single origin beans and more love-requiring brewing methods are definitely a hit – when Hong Kongers don’t drink bubble tea or milk tea, they at least value their coffee! About beans…the only single origin bean is not coffee, anymore.

Pure, single origin chocolates from Vietnam, from 72% to 82% cacao
Pure, single origin chocolates from Vietnam, from 72% to 82% cacao

I admit being a “bit” of a snob when it comes to certain things. Chocolate just happens to be one of those things that I will rather not put in my body, if it’s low quality. Some chocolove-talk in HOFEX got me an invitation to taste these amazing single-origin chocolates from different villages in Vietnam. Though I do prefer raw chocolate to processed ones, these sweeties were pretty impressive: the only ingredients used are the specific cacao beans and sugar.

Simplicity at its' best
Simplicity at its’ best

When it comes to processed chocolate, these ones were top notch. From cool packaging design to the origins of the bean, Marou has got it figured out. Lucky me, I still have their event invitation which was a chocolate bar. Plus I got a goodie bag with their special golden chocolate, which cannot be bought anywhere. What a dilemma – I don’t want to eat it, but how can one resist the temptation?

Oh, expos, how I love you. If I ever get to go to Fancy Food Show or Expo West, I’ll be happy for months in advance! I hope the next time won’t be too far away from now.

Sado, way of the tea

Third post is a charm? After being a complete rookie and out of place in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony 2 times I can now proudly say that the secrets are beginning to unravel!
I have now studied the “Japanese Traditional Arts” aka tea ceremony for a few weeks, and let me tell you: it’s not as easy and simple as one could expect. Midterm is coming up next week, and there is still a lot to memorize! There is a certain manner when entering the room, certain amount of steps to take to the tokonoma (alcove) to view the scroll and the flower, specific number of bows at certain points, and so much more. One does not simply grab and munch the okashi (sweet) and wash it down with matcha – there are semiformal and formal positions, bows and phrases that need to be remembered. It is a must to apologize to the next guest for eating and drinking before them, and of course the previous guest has to know that you will join them with your treats. And of course one has to be thankful for the tea and the treats, express thanks and admire the cup from many different angles. No chit-chatting involved.

Tokonoma and eager students waiting for tea
Tokonoma and eager students waiting for tea

Wa kei sei jaku – harmony, respect, purity and tranquility are the key terms. Respectful I am, but tranquility is far when trying to remember to wipe the empty cup from right to left, and leaning on your knees to view the inside of the cup. Our group is quite big, and the atmosphere is more like in kindergarten than in a hut of peace (which is the name of the space where the classes are held). Besides the atmosphere and the challenge of memorizing everything, the ceremony is extremely interesting! And each time we get to eat an okashi, traditional Japanese sweet treat (that’s why we paid for the course). There are unbelievably many creations one can make from bean paste and rice! I think it might deserve a blog post of its’ own.

Ichigo ichie – One opportunity, one encounter. I hope that’s not the case when it comes to the test!

Matcha, ready to be served and the cups to be observed
Matcha, ready to be served and the cups to be observed

Japanistic Korea

Seoul and Beppu are different like night and day (go figure: one has 1 Starbucks, the other has coffee shops for probably every third adult of the 10.5 million inhabitants). In Seoul, I found many differences between Japan and Korea, but the countries do have some things in common as well.

 

Incheon in the foggy frisk morning

Beautiful views

Traditional Hanok village

Beautiful architecture and history

Navigation (or passing a car) can be a challenge!

Small side streets with no names

 

My first meal in Korea: bimbap with free sides of kimchi, pickled daikon and Korean soup!

Similar, delicious cuisine

Schisandra tea with pine nuts

Appreciation for  high quality tea.

When it comes to tea, I definitely prefer the Korean one. The various possibilities: Schisandra, jujube, ginseng, and all the other other herbs: the variations and possibilities seemed to be endless! Japanese matcha and sencha are nothing compared to these various powerhouses. The bimbap, or Korean sushi, on the other hand was not that convincing. Usually the Korean sushi roll consists of spam/ham, surimi (fake crab) and mayo, which are not the ingredients I’d want to put on my roll. The nori is seasoned with some oil (grape, olive or other), and there is no soy sauce for dipping. The Korean soup is not as delicious as miso, but it comes for free with the divine kimchi and daikon, with refills! Point to Japan for this dish, point to Korea for the drinks!

 

Both of the countries also use a sign language I cannot understand. The difference is that in Japan I can at least read hiragana and katakana, whereas in Korea I had no clue what most of the signs or texts said. Luckily it is possible to manage without knowing Korean. For some reason, I automatically and accidentally spoke what little Japanese I can in the shops and restaurants. Maybe the numerous Japanese tourists had some to do with that, or then I am turning more Japanese than I thought I would.