Hands down, one of the best meals we had in Helsinki was at Konstan Molja, a small restaurant near the Kamppi shopping plaza that serves a mean all-you-can-eat buffet.
All the traditional Finnish dishes are here: roasted reindeer, salmon soup, deer meatballs, pickled herring and smoked salmon, to name a few. The food is simple, delicious, and incredibly high value. The buffet was 18 euros when we visited, about $25 USD, and a glass of wine was 5 euros, the best price we paid in Helsinki.
We weren’t the only ones impressed by Konstan Molja. It’s the 5th highest rated restaurant in Helsinki on TripAdvisor, with nearly 300 reviews.
To learn more about the restaurant, Finnish food, and the culinary culture in Helsinki, we reached out to the chefs at Konstan Molja with the following questions. Read on to learn why the food scene in Helsinki is growing, and what to cook if you want to celebrate Christmas Finnish-style.
How would you describe the food culture in Helsinki?
I would say Helsinki has a multicultural gastronomy. There’s traditional Finnish food, and also Asian, Italian and Turkish. Helsinki is becoming more multicultural due to its clean nature, nice people, peaceful atmosphere, advanced technologies, and great leadership. People from around the globe come here to study, live and work. More people want to have good education and a peaceful life.
How has Finnish food culture changed over the past 30 years?
Thirty years ago, people ate homemade food. Now, fast food is everywhere. People are in a hurry. They have to meet their deadlines in work and study, and also young people want to have more time for themselves. People want quick meals in order to have time for other things.
What are some of the secret ingredients in Finnish food?
Finnish food uses hardly any spices. We use only cream, butter, salt and pepper. There is no secret; the food sells itself.
Tell us about the history of Konstan Molja.
My restaurant opened in 1981. The restaurant has Finnish and Karelian (an area of Northern Europe currently split between Russia and Finland) cuisine. The restaurant is a family business. It used to be located on Uuras island in an area called Vippuri. Before World War II, Vippuri belonged to Finland, but now it is under the Russian government. People who lived there were able to speak four languages: Finnish, Swedish, Russian and French. Uuras was an important timber harbor. There was a pier named Konstant Möljä where people would come to meet and drink coffee.
Why did you decide to open a restaurant?
We wanted to open something that reminded people, especially the younger generation, about Finnish food’s history. At the moment, there are not many traditional Finnish restaurants. The young generation in Finland care about the origin of the food, and believe it should be clean, fresh and safe. They still appreciate the traditional food. Every week, new young people from different parts of Finland come to enjoy the traditional cuisine in our restaurant.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
Vorschmack is my favorite dish. This dish is made from lamb and anchovy. It’s very tasty and different from other lamb dishes. (Editor’s note: it was indeed amazing.)
What do you cook for a special occasions such as Christmas Eve?
We make ham and porkkanalaatikko, a Finnish baked carrot dish. We also serve lantulaatikko, or baked turnip, and a potato dish called perunalaatikko. We also make a special fish called lipeäkala. For drinks: hot glögi, a Finnish mulled wine.
We noticed Finnish food contains a lot of pickled dishes. Why is that?
It’s a traditional old-fashioned Finnish way of serving food. It’s based largely on all the raw foods we have.
In addition to Konstan Molja, what are your favorite restaurants in Helsinki?
Sorry, I don’t have time to go many restaurants.
What advice do you have for people who want to start a restaurant?
Try to make unique food all by yourself. And avoid processed food.
We worked with Nokia and Visit Finland in arranging our trip to Finland. Neither groups reviewed the stories we wrote in advance. All opinions expressed here are our own.