All photos in this blog were taken by Juha Laurila
Food is the great unifying theme for all people and cultures. The amazing thing about Southwest Finland is that, relative to its size and population, there are a tremendous number of high quality restaurants to enjoy and interesting producers to explore. During this series I will be highlighting and reviewing as many as I can, but to kick off the food section of this blog is the Taste of Åland archipelago cruise.
The cruise was held aboard the well-known S/S Ukkopekka, an old, traditional steamboat that has been a fixture of the River Aura landscape for 30 years. One of the most iconic things to do during summer is to take an evening cruise out to a rocky island called Loistokari, dance on the pier to traditional Finnish music and feast on a smoked fish and barbecue buffet. Aboard the boat is an authentic dining salon, oozing with traditional atmosphere, which provided the setting for our archipelago cruise.
The purpose of the cruise was to celebrate the wonderful success enjoyed by the restaurant scene and food culture of Turku, but also to draw attention to the oft forgotten Åland Islands that lie between Stockholm and Sweden. For those who aren’t familiar, the Åland Islands have a proud sense of identity, and their food culture marries together the best of Swedish and Finnish culinary traditions. Officially part of Finland, the islanders primarily speak Swedish but seek to emphasise their individuality from the influences of both their neighbours.
The head chef for the evening, Michael ‘Micke’ Björklund from Smakbyn restaurant, was a wonderful character. After being asked to describe the archipelago tapas he had prepared, he had fun playing on his inability to speak fluent Finnish, giving us the most basic of detail.
For those interested in a more sophisticated description, here is what we had:
Baltic Herring – No self-respecting chef from the archipelago would miss herring off the menu, and the sample we were treated to, marinated in vinegar and sugar, was garnished with salmon roe, dusted with fried archipelago breadcrumbs and accompanied by a dollop of crème fraiche
White Fish – This was marinated in salt and butter, topped with a sweet mustard and decorated with cubed cucumber with a side of potato mouse
Cold Smoked Salmon – This was seared on both sides with a burner and garnished with diced carrots and swede and accompanied by an egg butter
Pike Terrine – My favourite, this was a combination of a fresh textured terrine garnished with lightly cured boneless pike and a delicious creamed horseradish
To wash everything down we had some of Smakbyn’s own apple wine, along with bottles of Stallhagen beer, a brand that has been recreated from bottles discovered in a 170-year-old shipwreck, and recreated through micro biotic analysis. For me it was definitely a good vintage and I stole a couple of bottles to take home!
Finally, guests were nearly forced to jump overboard as the chefs from Smakbyn revealed an ordinary Edam cheese, made extraordinary through experimentation that entailed leaving it in a box in their cellar for an unhealthy amount of time. To be fair, I have tasted worse, and fortunately their Ålvados brandy was so good it provided the perfect palette cleanser.
The Åland Islands are only a few hours away and you can reach them via daily routes aboard Viking Line and other cruise ships.