The Revival of Restaurant Day in Helsinki Was Better Than Ever

Restaurateurs at Esplanade Park during the Restaurant Day in Helsinki, Finland on May 20, 2017. Picture: Meera Sivanathan for Finland Today

Saturday saw the city of Helsinki turn into a food lover’s paradise as over 200 pop-up restaurants dished up delicious cuisine as part of Restaurant Day. Back in its original formand back by popular demand, it marked the first of four Restaurant Day’s to be held over the next 12 months.

Hundreds of people, kids and adults alike, seized the opportunity to put on their chef’s hat and fulfill their dream of running their very own restaurant (even if just for a day). The sun was shining as I walked through Vanha Kirkkopuisto and the atmosphere was lively and jovial, somewhat opposite tolast year’s Restaurant Day in Helsinki.”I’m so happy that Restaurant Day is back to four times a year. An opportunity to share my food and passion for cooking with the city is a wonderful feeling, but knowing that there will be people coming to the event, lining up and buying the food is even better,” said one of the restaurateurs.

There was a queue building at one tent so I decided to check it out. The guys from Hakuna Matata pop-up restaurant have been serving authentic Tanzanian cuisine at Restaurant Day for several years now. I spoke with Phesto Mwakyusa, co-owner of Hakuna Matata pop-up. “For us, it’s a good thing that Restaurant Day is back in its original form, but it’s not just about selling food. For Restaurant Day to work, you need different people. People should gather, it’s a special day for that,” he said. “For me, Restaurant Day is a place where we can meet people; show them what we eat back home.”

“For me, Restaurant Day is a place where we can meet people; show them what we eat back home.”

The menus on offer were extensive and spanned many continents. It was a phenomenal display of Finland’s multiculturalism. Whether you crave fresh, modern, exotic or homely flavors – you’re guaranteed to find whatever your taste buds desire at one of the many pop-up restaurants scattered throughout Helsinki on Restaurant Day.

As a self-proclaimed foodie, I savored the day bite by bite. After all, these pop-up’s would disappear by sunset. Traditional Finnish roasted pig, chickpea and chorizo stew from Mozambique, potato filled ‘Dosai’ from India, Lebanese mezze plates, hipster hot dogs and vegan cakes were just some of the mouth-watering dishes up for tasting. To combat the summer rays, ice cream and mocktails were also crowd pleasers. “Our ginger, lemon and rose mocktails have been a hit, we sold out way sooner than expected . . . . We were actually up till late last night squeezing the lemons to make sure our mocktails are super fresh,” said Ed and Mandi, owners of the “Chill Out Mocktails” pop-up. With many restaurateurs up until late the previous night, there was no doubt that it takes a lot of time, preparation and passion for setting up a pop-up restaurant.

Mother and daughters selling popcorn. Picture: Meera Sivanathan for Finland Today

Walking around the city center, it was impossible to ignore the way in which the sharing of food brings people together. Everywhere people tasted, sampled and talked to restaurateurs about their food, heritage and culture. As Antti Tuomola, chef and co-founder of Restaurant Day, so correctly said, “The food is a part of the experience, but just a part. Everything else is important as well. In Restaurant Day the communal experience and being part of something larger is the most important aspect.”

From humble beginnings in Helsinki, Finland in 2011, the Restaurant Day concept and brand has since grown to become the largest food festival in the world and is celebrated four times a year in over 75 countries. Thanks to Restaurant Day approximately 27,000 pop-up restaurants by over 100,000 restaurateurs have whipped up and served delicious cuisine to over three million customers over the past six years. “We like to think that the growth [of Restaurant Day] is a result of giving people the freedom to do what they want with their city,” Tuomola said.

It’s clear that the food festival gives people in participating countries the power to cook, create, share and experience food with one another. More importantly, Restaurant Day brings the community together and encourages people to learn and foster an appreciation for what’s cooking in their neighbor’s kitchen. It’s the perfect recipe for a deliciously good day.

 

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