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Cruise Diary: Eating our Way through Helsinki

Award-winning author and writer Jeanette Hurt is cruising the Baltic on Prinsendam with her entire family to watch her parents renew their vows. Enjoy her words and her husband (and professional photographer) Kyle Edwards’ photos. You can also follow her on Twitter @JHurtAuthor or www.jeanettehurt.com.

There’s just something so enjoyable about stepping off of the ship, walking through the port gates and exploring a city. While not every port allows the Prinsendam to dock close to a city’s downtown, some ports do, and those ports can be exciting to explore on foot.

Our favorite port, thus far, to explore on foot is Helsinki. This fantastically modern Finnish city encompasses dozens of islands – many of which can be reached by ferry or organized tour – but its central areas are quite walkable.

So Kyle, QJ and I did what we love to do in cities – we walked, took in architecture and ate. But really, mostly, what we did, was eat. Our food tour guide, Liise Arvola (liisa@tourdesignarvola.fi) introduced us to Finland’s very first food truck, called the Liesikiesi – Finnish for open car – operated by Risto Tepponen (liesikiesi.fi). Risto and his partner Patricio Saksa got the idea for a food truck after Patricio spent some time living in Florida.

HAL Risto Tepponen

Their truck currently is parked in the Hakaniemi Market Square, which is a fabulous, local food market. Before getting to their truck we tasted Finnish strawberries and browsed Finnish morel mushrooms. At their truck, we chowed down on some absolutely delicious pulled pork and cilantro-laced cole slaw. We finished our first meal with bites of carrot cake covered in a cloud of whipped cream and strawberries. Risto and Patricio also make Chilean-styled pastellitos, but we decided to try and pace ourselves.

HAL Helsinki Street Food

And that was a good idea, as we couldn’t stop eating at our next stop. Lisse took us to the Carusel Café (www.carusel.fi) to meet Ilkka Wikholm, who is co-owner with two friends of Kolnem 3 Jaatelo (fi-fi.facebook.com/3kaveria) or 3 Buddy’s Ice Cream.

Wikholm and his partners have only been making ice cream for four months, but in that time, they’ve had to hire six additional employees. That’s in addition to their wives and children helping out, and they’re looking to hire dozens more to keep up to the demand.

Their secret? Their ice cream is divine. Dip your spoon into a carton just once to taste the luscious clouds of airy cream, laced with real berries and real chocolate. But you can’t just taste it once – it’s addictive. “We were all working more than 20 years in the food business, and we wanted to do something fun. We wanted to have fun and laugh again,” says Ilkka. But since neither he nor his two pals had any experience making ice cream, they studied in Bologna and in the United States.

HAL 3 Buddys Ice Cream

Because gelato has too many additives, they sought to make a kind of ice cream that mimicked that texture, but had a more natural, organic taste. And then they played around in the kitchen. Right now, they have five flavors – wild blueberry or pilberry and cardamom, raspberry and white chocolate, strawberry and chocolate and strawberry sorbet. We only got to taste the pilberry, the raspberry and the strawberry, as the Carusel was sold out of the chocolate and the sorbet.

And, oh, we couldn’t stop eating that ice cream! Kyle finished at least two containers himself, QJ ate about half a container, and I know I ate at least one full container. We wished we could take the ice cream with us, but we didn’t have a cooler.

We rounded out our formal tour at the Hietaniemi Market Hall where we went to the Juustokauppa cheese store owned by Tuula Paalanen. Traditional Finnish cheese is called Leipajuusto or “bread cheese.” The cheese, made from cow’s milk, is a fresh cheese – like a fresh mozzarella or fresh chevre – but it tastes unlike any other fresh cheeses. On the outside, it looks like it’s been lightly toasted or browned, and on the inside, it’s pure white. It’s actually best eaten warm – lightly heated in the oven or the microwave – and that’s where it’s utterly unique because it doesn’t melt into a puddle of goo like other cheeses.

HAL Hietaniemi Market Hall-1

HAL Tuula Paalanen-1

Instead, it basically retains its shape, though softened, and it tastes so good with just a sprinkling of brown sugar on top or dipped into Finnish cloudberry jam. You can also heat it up with a little cream, too. I first tasted an American version of this cheese – several Wisconsin cheesemakers, including Sid Cook of Carr Valley, traveled to Finland to learn how to make this cheese – so I wanted to taste the original.

HAL Juustoleipa-1

And it was delicious and sweet and milky – but it tastes even better warmed with a little sugar on top. The next time I go to Finland, I want to taste the reindeer milk version of this cheese, but it’s only available in Lapland. “The reindeer – they only make a coffee cup full of cheese a day,” Tuula explains. I just simply will have to go back to Finland.

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