Spicy street food in the centre of Helsinki

Published in SixDegrees 30.10.2014

New restaurant brings some Mexican sunshine to the office quarter near the railway station. Eatos has rapidly secured its place in the hearts of food lovers, with even the Ambassador of Mexico as a fan.

1. Eatos logo

It is probably the most ideal time of the year to discover some Mexican sizzle in the city of Helsinki. The polar nights are upon us and as the general gloom of November sets in, every means for keeping the winter blues at bay will be needed. Well, here is one top tip: go to Eatos.

I myself visit the place in the quietest time of the day, after lunch, and get to enjoy the full attention of the Restaurant Manager Roshan Salwathura whose sunny appearance is guaranteed to make you forget about any possible worries.

“Eatos has been open for six months now and I have been working here right from the start,” he tells me, smiling.

Right from the start translates as months of work before the doors of Eatos were even opened, as Salwathura was fully involved in the founding process.

“The owner of Eatos, Rama Velagapudi, had come up with the idea of founding a Mexican restaurant in Helsinki during his trips in Berlin where he ate in several such restaurants and fell in love with the Mexican tastes. As a result, the concept of Eatos was born: authentic Mexican street food elevated to the next level,” Salwathura tells.

And it seems that it’s been worth it. Often, all the 70 seats of the house are booked.

“I strongly recommend booking if you wish to come here after 5pm. It’s quite remarkable that we have managed to become so popular in just six months. In fact, we couldn’t have hoped for a better start.”

Starter Tostadas de tinga de pollo.

Healthy starter Tostadas de Tinga de Pollo.

Salwathura says that locals have found the place quickly and many of them have already become regulars. Among the fans of Eatos is the Ambassador of Mexico.

“She thinks that this is the best Mexican restaurant in the country,” he reveals.

“Good food doesn’t have to be expensive”

Reading the menu, one faces a difficult choice between tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, and burritos with varying fillings. Luckily, Salwathura is more than happy to help and brings me a variety of his own favourites to try.

For starters, I have tostadas de tinga de pollo, a deep fried taco with chicken stew, black bean puré, chevize, iceberg lettuce, red shallot, crème fraiche, and coriander. It’s so good: the combination of ingredients works and the deep fried taco’s crispy texture differs satisfyingly from the soft filling. I also try a vegetarian starter, flautas de camote. It contains sweet potato wrapped inside a corn tortilla, as well as crème fraiche, chunky salsa, iceberg lettuce, and cheese crumbs. Both starters are very much satisfactory: good, pure tastes, which make you feel curious about what the kitchen has in store for the following courses.

“We always use fresh ingredients here, and everything is hand-made from the scratch. Microwave oven is completely banned,” Salwathura remarks.

I believe him. The level of effort that has been put into food can always be tasted, and everything here is so rich in taste and just has that je-ne-sais-quoi that only really well prepared food can obtain. Furthermore, the prices are strikingly low, with the most expensive dishes costing only 14,90€ and everything else falling under that. To find something so good and affordable in the centre of Helsinki feels unreal.

Main dish Taco Carnitas

Delicious main dish Taco Carnitas.

“We don’t want to over-price our food. Good food doesn’t have to be expensive, it’s that simple,” Salwathura explains.

This is further proved by the main courses that swiftly arrive to the table. First, I try taco carnitas that can also be ordered as a starter. Taco carnitas are corn tacos that come with grilled pulled pork, herbs, spices, and iceberg lettuce. On the side, there are small cups of salsa roja and salsa verde. Out of all the food I taste during my visit at Eatos, this one is my absolute favourite. In terms of tastes, every ingredient seems to compliment the next. To me, it’s just the perfect dish – delicious and healthy.

Next up is taco pescado, by no means a disappointment either. The beer battered cod with chunky salsa, ice berg lettuce and chipotle cream is almost up there with the taco carnitas, in my books. Salwathura himself names taco pescado as one of his own favourites. Based on my experience at Eatos, it seems that whatever you choose from the menu, you can’t really go wrong.

There’s barely any more room left in my belly at this point but somehow I manage to squeeze in the dessert, too. It’s flan napolitana, a Mexican cream caramel pudding with a hint of rum and Kahlua reduction that is topped with pan-fried hazelnuts. The sweet, soft flan is perfect alongside a cup of roasted coffee – I feel like I’m being well and truly spoiled in this place. And it’s not just me.

Perfect ending to a meal: Eatos' Flan Napolitano.

Perfect ending to a meal: Eatos’ Flan Napolitano.

“Every customer is equally important to us. Our rule is that customer is always right and we want absolutely everyone to leave this place feeling happy,” Salwathura says.

After my experience at Eatos, I cannot but warmly, enthusiastically recommend the place. It’s an escape to a land of delicious, exotic tastes where you can visit pretty often, too, as it’s really not a great burden for the wallet either.

ADDITIONAL INFO:
Eatos
Open Mon-Thu 11-22, Fri 11-00, Sat 15-00
Address: Töölönlahdenkatu 3, 00100 Helsinki
Tel: 020 734 6955
Website: http://www.eatos.fi, also on Facebook.

Mainokset

House beer and legendary burgers

Published in Helsinki Times 25.9.2014

Delicious food, tasty beer, friendly service and affordable prices – what more could you ask from a restaurant? With the microwave oven chucked to the bin, Kuja is driven by love for food and pure tastes.

On its website, Kuja is being described as a combined bar and bistro. The name Kuja, meaning ’alley’, further implies that this is not a place for fine dining but rather an informal and laid-back restaurant that provides on a cosy atmosphere and good food.

As we arrive, it is late afternoon. Kuja has just passed its busy lunchtime period and offers a variety of free tables to choose from, as well as an opportunity to view this month’s photo exhibition featuring bicycle-themed pictures on the walls of the restaurant. A brick wall paired with plain wooden floor boards and simple, black lamps hanging from the ceiling give the place a rough, industrial feel, yet the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming.

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Studying the menu, we find that there is a lot to choose from, with meal options stretching from salads and burgers to crêpes and steaks. In the one year and five months the establishment has been open, the burgers – described as legendary – have gained something of a reputation.

“I can’t actually put my finger on what it is that makes them so special. Maybe it’s the quality that comes with food being home-made”, says Kuja’s head chef Mika Launivuo.

”A lot of people have told us that they’ve had their best burgers here.”

Fresh and self-made

The website declares that the chefs have thrown away the microwave oven “because you would end up using it if it’s there”. In addition to that statement, talking to Launivuo one gets an impression that the kitchen staff really is determined to offer authentic, fresh, self-made food without exceptions.

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Lunch is served from 11am to 2.30pm and the menu changes every day. However, bread baked daily, fresh salad and tea or coffee are always included. The dinner menu is more permanent, changing just three times a year. Furthermore, an extensive brunch is served on the weekends. Regardless of the day or hour, the kitchen staff put their best efforts into the preparation of all of their food. As a head chef, Launivuo holds the main responsibility in putting the menus together.

“I draw inspiration from cook books and create dishes that are suitable for a bistro. It’s not unusual to have a twist to the food, with either American or Finnish influences,” he says.

“The definition of a bistro for us means making this a place where food is prepared by skilled professionals in a relaxed manner. A laid-back atmosphere with easily approachable staff is also an essential part of it. The key idea is to offer top quality food at affordable prices.”

Kuja seats approximately 60 people, and the terrace holds a further 20 during the summer season. Launivuo says that people from all age groups seem to have found the place, with the clientele stretching from toddlers to the elderly:

“There’s no typical customer.”

Nurtured by art and gigantic burgers

The food arrives swiftly, and is beautifully presented. My choice of meal is smoked salmon, which comes with asparagus, early potatoes and white wine sauce. The sauce is light and foamy, adding a luxurious feel to the dish. The salmon is tender, the asparagus compact. Apart from the white wine sauce, the meal doesn’t surprise with any unusual elements but is perfect for those who love the pure taste of smoked salmon and asparagus. You get exactly what you expect.

smoked salmon

My companion opts for Kuja burger, which proves to be a bit more adventurous choice. The Kuja burger is a gigantic construction made of bread, a beef steak, bacon, fried egg, Cheddar and Emmentaler cheeses, pickled cucumber, tomato, onion, coleslaw, rucola and garlic mayonnaise. The whole creation is only just kept together by a knife stuck through it, and it is exactly as hefty as the list of ingredients would have you expect. In other words, there’s no longer need for wondering why the burgers have gained their legendary reputation. Along with the burger comes also a side order of one’s choice, with an option for either salad, raw root vegetable sticks, deep-fried sweet potato, French fries, or crisps. Mildly put: as our burger arrives with French fries, there is no chance of either of us leaving the place feeling hungry.

We wash the delicious meals down with the house beer, Kujan Ipa, that has been special-made for Kuja and its sister restaurant Café Bar No 9. The ale is of good quality, and sipping it on the sunny terrace tops off the whole experience.

Kuja burger

Launivuo tells that the place is, in fact, specialised in beers, providing an extensive list of ale to choose from:

“The staff has specifically been trained to assist the customers in choosing their beers.”

According to him, August has been the busiest month so far.

“On a daily basis, we get busy during the lunchtime, and then typically around 7 o’clock in the evening.”

Apart from serving hefty meals, Kuja has profiled as a supporter to different forms of culture. In addition to the monthly changing photo exhibition, it took part in the Art goes kapakka event in August.

“Generally, we’re open to all kind of suggestions for co-operation when it comes to events and culture,” Launivuo says.

ADDITIONAL INFO:
Kuja Bar and Bistro, open Mon-Tues 11-22, Wed-Thu 11-00, Fri-Sat 11-2, Sun 11-21
Address: Hakaniemenkatu 7, 00530 Helsinki
Tel: 0400-461 008
E-mail: info@kujabarbistro.fi

Favela flavours

Published in SixDegrees 28.8.2014
http://www.6d.fi/6d/index.php/columns/59-appetizer/854-favela-flavours

A breath of South American air in Töölö.

Favela facade

Favela brings the street food trend to Töölö.

It’s Wednesday evening and restaurant-bar Favela is buzzing. Having been open for only a day, the amount of people is almost surprising. The age span of the clientele seems to stretch from twenty-somethings to middle aged and beyond. And most importantly, everyone seems visibly in good spirits.

As the name implies, the new restaurant takes its inspiration from Southern America. The place is painted in bright colours and spreads into three different rooms, seating around 70 people. In addition, there’s a terrace outside by Mechelininkatu.

“The menu is also influenced by South American tastes,” manager Niko Peltomaa confirms. Favela has replaced his previous fine dining restaurant in this same location. In Peltomaa’s own words, the fine dining has turned into fun dining.

“We wanted to keep it simple this time – relaxed, easy, no fuss. Everyone’s welcome. Also, street food is something different in this part of town. In Kallio there are already lots of places riding the street food wave but Töölö was still missing its own.”

Favela entrance

The funky restaurant takes inspiration from South America.

The Favela menu consists mainly of sandwiches and salads. With the sandwich, there are three different options: beef, salmon and bean. I opt for the beef, which proves to be a great choice. The bread is of great quality: firm, yet soft, and soy-chilli sauce compliments the beef filling wonderfully. A perfect snack for when that late evening hunger hits you, or when you’re out for the night and need something sturdier than just liquids to fill your stomach with.

“We bake the bread here ourselves every morning from a sourdough starter so it’s always fresh,” Peltomaa tells.

Apart from sandwiches, the menu offers beef or crayfish salad, fish soup and a bean and rice dish. Peltomaa specifically recommends the soup.

“It’s got a twist to it, definitely not your average salmon soup.”

And average it is not. The spicy, zesty taste can be tamed with some mint yoghurt that comes alongside the dish with a piece of white bread. With the sandwich and soup priced 6€ and 7€ respectively, I would say the quality easily meets the price. If you also crave for something sweet, there’s a healthy fruit salad for dessert.

Fish soup

Salmon soup with a twist for those who like it spicy.

“In terms of food, we wanted to bring something different to Töölö. We ourselves like the South American flavours and thought that those cultural vibes would add something fresh to the already quite extensive restaurant scene of Töölö,” Peltomaa says.

A young woman walks in and interrupts us by asking if you are allowed to bring your dog along. Peltomaa replies that taking your pet with you is not a problem here.

“Great, then we will definitely become regulars!” the woman beams.

In the near future, Peltomaa would also like to see live gigs played in Favela.

“We have been thinking about arranging acoustic nights or getting a DJ here at some point.”

View on the street

The atmosphere in Favela is laid-back and everyone’s welcome – even dogs!

The street food has become a bit of a trend in Helsinki of late. Peltomaa says that the usage of lower parts of the carcass has generally become more popular in restaurants due to the economic situation.

“The recession has definitely played its part in the transition, as the street food style of dining and food making is quicker and more cost effective.”

However, the Favela crew think that calling it a trend is an understatement. Although brought on primarily by the current economic situation, Peltomaa himself sees that the fun dining has come to stay.

“I think that the whole eating out habit has taken a new shape recently. People don’t cook at home so much anymore but go out to eat more regularly. Dining out in Helsinki is not such a big deal anymore as it used to be. People are more relaxed about it and we have responded to that easy going mentality.”

Full plates in Kamppi

Published in Helsinki Times 5.6.2014

Cafferino Oba is a welcome addition to the Helsinki coffee house scene. Forget about hastily put together, soggy sandwiches and the over-represented caesar salad. This small, cosy tent provides simply delicious food with the perfect surroundings for the tired and stressed to unwind.

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Mediterranean-inspired Cafferino Oba has opened in Kamppi.

Thursday afternoon at Cafferino Oba is quiet as the hectic lunchtime has just passed. I quite enjoy the calm in the middle of my hectic workday although the owner Bayram Baran eagerly awaits for more customers to appear. The interior design of the place is relaxed yet stylish, Southern Europe springs to mind. Colourful cushions and lanterns add an oriental feel, music plays low in the background.

Baran is not a new beginner in the field: he’s had several restaurants in the past.

“Starting Cafferino Oba, I didn’t have a clear image of what it was going to be like but I wanted to do something different to my previous places. And then it all came together as I went. This place offers a mixture of Mediterranean tastes, as the food from that area is light and healthy, yet delicious.”

The menu consists of different salads, filled and grilled pitaninis, soup, sesame bagels, baklava sweets, and a variety of coffees. Baran himself has a very international background, being Turkish and having lived previously in Switzerland and Norway, and has put the menu together combining some of his favourite ingredients. The place has been open only for a couple of months now and is slowly but surely growing its clientele.

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The cosy interior attracts a passer-by to pop in.

“Those who have been here seem to return. Generally, I’ve received really good feedback. I wish I’m going to get a lot more regulars through curious first-timers. This place is, after all, quite close to the centre, once you find it.”

Fittingly, in walks a smiling young couple.

“We came back as it was so nice last time,” the woman gushes.

Entrepreneurial efforts

Baran tells that the most popular choices at Cafferino Oba are pita bread filled with spicy Turkish sausage and mozzarella, and a grilled chèvre salad. He makes everything himself from scratch, using fresh ingredients. For example, he bakes the bread and the baklava cake, smashes chickpeas for the humus paste, and roasts the chicken in the kitchen.

And it all results in a fabulous culinary experience. I start with a latte, which meets my demands in taste, texture and temperature. Soon after, the spicy sausage and mozzarella pitanini with a side salad and a selection of aubergine, tzatziki, and humus pastes arrives on my table. The side salad is a mixture of bulgur, aubergine, roasted peppers, olives, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and a pomegranate-vinaigrette dressing. The food is an excellent proof of how simple ingredients can make a top quality meal when skilfully put together – I can’t recall last time when I would have been so impressed with food served in a café. Everything is delicious and the meal very filling. So filling that I need to take a half an hour rest before the dessert.

oba.food

Cafferino Oba’s food is an excellent proof of how simple ingredients can make a top quality meal. The spicy sausage and mozzarella pitanini comes with a side salad and a selection of aubergine, tzatziki, and humus pastes.

Baran himself is very welcoming and friendly, and happily keeps me company while I digest the pitanini meal. He tells me what it’s like to be an entrepreneur in Finland.

“Being an entrepreneur has a reputation of being difficult in this country. I say it’s not difficult if you’re prepared to do a lot of work. Let’s put it this way: you’re definitely not going to have problems with what to do on your spare time, since there is none! In a long run, with a lot of hard work, you might become successful.”

It’s time to try the baklava. The pastry originates from Turkey and has a very sweet, nutty flavor to it. On top of it is sprinkled something that looks like green powder. Ground pistachio nut, Baran reveals. Baklava is an excellent choice for hard-core dessert lovers, it effortlessly satisfies any sweet cravings one might have.

oba.dessert

The baklava dessert is sweet and goes down perfectly with some basil-flavoured water.

“Oba is a Turkish word and refers to a small tent, or a cosy home. In the old days, farmers would sometimes be away for months with their herds, and oba would provide them a much needed resting place,” Baran explains.

There is no doubt whether this place could be warmly recommended to anyone fond of good quality, self-made food. The food is great, simply put. And Baran a very good host who looks wonderfully after his guests. Cafferino Oba really lives up to its name: I might not be a farmer but I feel like I have been provided with a well needed rest from the huzzle and buzzle of my everyday life in this cosy café.

Cafferino Oba can be found on both Facebook and Twitter for more information.

Coffee, Art and Tunisian Treats

Published in SixDegrees 22.5.2014
http://www.6d.fi/6d/index.php/columns/59-appetizer/811-coffee-art-and-tunisian-treats

An exotic Northern African café in Helsinki welcomes people to take a break from their hectic lives and try drinking coffee sitting on a floor. If you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth or are a fan of art and design, ChoFé is the place for you.

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The trendy Punavuori district has got a new addition to its growing number of cafés in the form of a Tunisia-inspired coffee house. Founder Karim Ben Chouikha comes himself originally from Tunisia, but has also lived in Germany and France, before finding his way to Finland where his long-time dream of running a coffee house has finally come true.

“There are so many cafés already in Helsinki that I wanted to do something a bit different to stand out,” Chouikha tells.

“So I came up with the idea of opening a Tunisian art café with a French twist. This is the only place in Finland where you can buy Tunisian sweets.”

The interior decoration of the place mixes up Finnish vintage and Tunisian styles with a hint of French countryside. The DJ decks are placed on top of an old Singer sewing machine table next to a wooden rocking chair, while a big wooden chest by the window contains exotically coloured mats that, Chouikha says, people can sit on if they really want to go for the Tunisian experience. For more traditional café-goers, however, there are also chairs.

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Chofé is an ideal place for light lunch or for those moments when you just need something sweet. The café offers small snacks, such as paninis and hand-made French and Tunisian sweets.

“I order the bread daily from a French bakery and make the paninis myself. The coffee sold here is organic, and milk too. You really do notice the difference with organic products, they taste so much better. The organic coffee we serve here has a really nice rich, chocolaty taste to it.”

Popular tastes

Chouikha picks out the most popular Tunisian sweets: a pistachio sweet, a small nut pastry and one that looks like a Moroccan hat. Among the most popular delicacies is also a foamy white chocolate pudding from France. The Tunisian sweets are truly sweet and compliment the coffee fantastically. To the Nordic taste, they are definitely something different and exotic. The French white chocolate pudding is simply divine in both taste and in texture.

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After satiating one’s appetite, there is an opportunity to nurture the soul as the coffee house also hosts an art exhibition. At the moment, they have a contract with Lapland University whose students sell their designs at ChoFé.

“My wife is a designer and selects the art. The exhibition changes regularly so every month we have something different here in terms of art and design.”

The multi-national café offers service fluently in English, French and German, as well as in Finnish.

“I can do the customer service in Finnish but I only speak it when I absolutely must. The language is so difficult,” Chouikha laughs.

In the near future, he would like to see the café securing its place in Helsinki coffee lovers’ hearts as well as hosting more events.

“Currently, I’m planning on starting poetry and music events here. It seems to me that those who come here once often come again so I’m hoping that as many people as possible would find this place.”