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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Helsinki's Market Squares

My friends Debbie and Todd were here for the first two weeks of May, and Todd is an AVID photographer.  How avid?  Well, when he downloaded his images of the two-week trip onto my computer, I counted close to 1,000 pictures.  And that's less per day than he took when we were in Rome several years ago.  In any case, while I gulped at the amount, I love to have them, and they're going to be the heart of my blog entries over the next month of so, I'm sure.

One sight that's picked up again now that spring has faded and summer is coming are the outdoor markets, and we spent their first full day in town wandering around getting the lay of the land.  Since the produce's colors makes for such striking pictures, Todd had a field day in the markets.  Me, I was just having flashbacks to strawberry daiquiris parties on my porch, although at 5 Euros for a small basket these strawberries were way too valuable to be doused in rum, Quantro, and sugar!

I must admit that I was actually surprised to see such a wide selection of produce at the open air market down by the ferry docks, especially because just the week before I hadn't seen anyone.  Unlike real summer markets, though, these appear to be more variable; for example, a few days later in the middle of the week were were taking a ferry to Tallinn and it was raining quite hard.  When we cut through the market square on the way to the ferry, not a stall was to be seen!

Gardening fever has also seemed to strike, even though gardening in Helsinki is confined to balconies and small patches of land.  As I looked at these beautiful stalls full of flowers I was so, so tempted to buy a few planters and hang them on the balcony for our floor!  Much to my amazement, too, many of the plants were the same or at least recognizable.  I don't know why, but I expected slightly different plants, more localized varieties ... that sort of thing.

Here I really was having flashbacks to the huge displays outside Home Depot, Woodley's, and a bunch of other places in early March.  Of course, it was early May here.  Then again, the Finns haven't had to worry about a late freeze destroying their flowers, unlike us overly-enthusiastic southern gardening types.

The main markets, though, are these enclosed market halls, and there are two main older ones: one down near the ferry terminals and the other about 10 minutes walk from campus in this neighborhood called Hakaniemi.  The pictures here are a mix from both market halls, since they have very similar styles; I'd say that the main differences are that the one near the ferries is much more geared towards tourists and prepared food while the one in Hakaniemi is larger (2 stories instead of 1) and focuses more on raw materials.  The general line I've gotten from my Finnish friends is that, if you can't find it in the Hakaniemi or Stockmann's markets, it isn't to be found.

So here's Debbie and me (large black shadow in the distance) wandering through the one near the ferry terminal.  This picture makes things seem much more spacious than they felt; inside it seems crowded and bustling, although far from the chaotic feeling I've had at some of these markets in France.  Just more about maximizing space than cramming things together.

I think I may have finally found my bakery here in Finland!  (One of my weird predicaments this year has been that I can't find bread that lasts more than a day or two, and it kills me to pay several Euro for a loaf of bread when I'm going to throw most of it away!  This is particularly weird because I like rye bread, the traditional bread style in Finland, and rye bread is supposed to last longer than regular wheat bread.  I blame it on the construction at the Towers! :-)   )

This is the traditional style rye bread, which I really like.  One of my other problems, though, is that the loaves are so big and that, unlike some other styles, they don't seem to sell these in half loaves.

This one stall in Hakaniemi has the most elaborate display of sauces from all over the world that I've ever seen in a market stall.

Of course, we can't forget the jams!  Seriously, I'm amazed at the variety of berries the Finns have--or at least have access to.  I mean, at home you can expect strawberries, raspberries, cranberries at Christmas, and blueberries, but here they have at least 6 other types commonly available in stores during the summer and additional ones I've never seen before made into jams and jellies.  Not surprisingly, I have yet to run into one I haven't liked, even the supposedly really sour yellow one that was used as a flavor base for some cheesecake I recently had.  My Finnish colleagues were waiting for me to pucker up, but all I could say was, "Yum!"

Once Todd stopped drooling at this stall, he took a lovely picture. :-)

See what I mean about the variety of produce available in these stalls.  Now I do get what Anna meant when she told me how expensive things got in the winter and how their taste wasn't as good because they were imported from a distance, and she was dead-on right.  But if you're willing to pay ... and, remember, things are always more expensive in Norway!  (I can see that I'm going to have absolutely NO control over my food budget once I return after a year of paying Helsinki food prices!)

I was sorely, sorely tempted, especially since the skins were so soft, but the cost of shipping them home would be as much as the cost of the skin itself!

Everything a knitter needs in neatly organized storage cubes.  Makes me wish I had that kind of skill! Actually all of upstairs in Hakaniemi was full of shops like this: downstairs food, upstairs housewares, clothing, nick-nacks, etc.

And if the food inspired you or the shopping exhausted you, scattered throughout both markets were stalls selling ready made food and little cafes.  The ones that always astonish me are the miniature sushi bars.  On the one hand, the idea of just buying sushi in something as bustling and messy as these markets makes me wonder about the sanitation; on the other hand, if the fish is coming from the stall next door, you can't get much fresher.

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