One of my favorite local events—and certainly the most tasty—is the week-long Baltic Herring Festival, which kicked off yesterday in Helsinki. Over 30 fishermen come from around Finland, mostly the archipelago, to sell fresh produce directly from their boats or kiosks.
Ordinarily, I attend opening day, but due to Sunday’s rainstorm, I waited until today. A handful of heritage ships served lunch on their sun-drenched decks with Helsinki and Uspenski Cathedrals providing the dramatic backdrop. No complaints! Sometimes, even Santa puts in an appearance.
Despite the recent increase in new coronavirus infections in Finland, the market square was bustling with visitors, many wearing masks. Each vendor offered hand sanitizer and most had erected plastic barriers between them and their customers, ensuring a safe purchasing experience. The festival has been an annual tradition since 1743 and is used to adapting to new and unusual circumstances.
Now for the tasty part: the fish! You can find an assortment of herring swimming in an array of sauces: sweet mustard, Matjes (with cream), blackcurrant, garlic, juniper berry, pickled, and sea buckthorn. These are best served atop saaristolaisleipä, a hearty “archipelago bread” heavy on malt and syrup.
Many styles of salmon (cured, smoked, raw) are on offer, as well as thin slices of whitefish (ahven and kuha) served with onion and egg slices. Fried vendace (a small freshwater fish) is also a market staple.
In addition to fish and bread, sea buckthorn juice is popular for its “liquid gold,” thought to boost one’s immune system. (One berry contains 15 times more vitamin C than a whole orange.) The berry is also featured in sauces, jellies, skin creams, and oils. Last year, I bought a jar of herring in sea buckthorn sauce and saved it for Christmas Eve. A healthy holiday treat!
Speaking of which, I’m returning to the market later this week because today I was so consumed with eating that I neglected my shopping duties. I can’t wait! If you live in Helsinki, come and check out the market, which runs until Saturday the 10th at 3 p.m. Otherwise, plan to attend another year, always the first week of October.