In 2000, when Helsinki celebrated its 450th anniversary as the European Capital of Culture the city initiated a project called the HelsinkiMenu. The aim of the project was to bring global awareness to Finnish cuisine, introduce the world to the quality of ingredients here and to the expertise of Helsinki's chefs.
The HelsinkiMenu typically features fish from the thousand lakes, berries, mushrooms and game from the forests as well as special produce from small farms. In essence, the idea is to provide diners with a chance to experience the tastes and flavours from throughout Finland in one city, and at present there are 16 restaurants taking part.
The success of the project was such that a host of other Finnish towns and cities were inspired to emulate their efforts. You can now also enjoy an EspooMenu, HankoMenu, JoensuuMenu, JyväskyläMenu, KirkkonummiMenu, KuopioMenu, OuluMenu, RaaseporiMenu, RovaniemiMenu, and TampereMenu, with over 30 restaurants now providing Taste of Finland city menus. All the restaurants can be recognised by the Fork of Plenty symbol that was chosen to symbolise the versatility of the menus.
Additionally, there are now 17 restaurants gathered under the Taste of Finland Province banner, with four regional variations, each with its own distinctive charecteristics that adapt to the local ingredients that are seasonably available. Taste of Finland Province restaurants feature one of four menus, the HämeMenu, KainuuMenu, SatakuntaMenu or VellamoMenu.
HämeMenu: This menu covers the Hämeenlinna, Forssa and Riihimäki regions, where the unique nature of the cuisine is partly inspired by the influence of its historical manors and vicarages dating back to the Middle Ages. An area of fertile fields, forests, and fresh waters provides the rich variety of ingredients which HämeMenu chefs combine to create unforgettable gourmet meals. Visitors should try the bream and, when in season, the crayfish, as well as the caseroles which are a particular favourite with people in this region.
KainuuMenu: The Kainuu region lies in the centre of Finland, bordering Russia in the east, Lapland in the north, and Ostrobothnia to the west. The landscape of Kainuu is one of forests and fells, lakes and rivers, much of it unspoilt wilderness. The cuisine is famed for its local fish, game, berries and mushrooms, oven-baked cheese, and for the wide variety of its breads. Menus typically feature elk, lake perch and delicious soups of reindeer, salmon or cep, and there are also unusual tar flavoured foods to sample.
SatakuntaMenu: The food traditions here have been influenced by its neighboring provinces, particularly Häme to the east and Southwest Finland. It is a region that produces a lot of poultry and pork, as well as root vegetables, but is famed for its fungi – in fact, Satakunta is known as the mushroom region. The three main mushrooms are shiitake, oyster and button mushrooms, and these feature prominently in the regions dishes. Fish and game are also key ingredients, with Baltic herring and whitefish being particular specialities, while Satakunta's many hunters ensure restaurants don't lack for venison, moose, and waterfowl. Visitors to the region should try the local specialities, such as Rauma lapskoussi (a form of lobscouse), Eura rinkilät (a sugar-sprinkled pastry enjoyed with coffee), and the delicious lampreys of the Kokemäenjoki which are sold in local markets.
VellamoMenu: The region of Päijät-Häme is considered to be the gateway to the Finnish lake district, with both the Vesijärvi and Päijänne lakes teeming with fish, and the surrounding forests providing an abundance of wild berries, herbs and mushrooms. This bounty allows local chefs to create dishes with highly distinctive flavours using locally sourced ingredients. Visitors should keep an eye out for menus that include wild boar and moose, and pumpkin when it is in season. The VellamoMenu takes its name from the buxom woman that appears on the Päijät-Häme coat of arms.