For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

July 29, 2012

Classics Die Hard

The sun is making my eyes squint, the air stands still. I hear people laughing; talking about how we should enjoy the nice weather while it last – very Finnish. I’m about to walk into the marketplace in my little hometown, Porvoo. I can’t remeber the last time I’ve been here. It was probably years ago when I used to sweat my ass of selling ice cream in a tiny kiosk that felt like an over-heated sauna. All that feels light years away now, but everything has remained the same somehow. The same Thai-food tent, the same fisherman, the same jolly old woman selling strawberries, home baked bread and pastry… Some things are better just the way they’ve always been. It’s kind of soothing in a way.

As I make my way through what seems like a crowd on a Finnish-scale, I find myself overwhelmed with nostalgia. In some unexplainable way everything smells and tastes so perfect. I can’t tell whether it’s the sun, the heath or the simple fact of being so close to my roots that make me so utterly sentimental. As I try to interpret and make sense of my emotional roller coaster, I suddenly understand the elderly people’s ritual of sitting at the torikahvila – the market place café – even better .

As a matter of fact, the torikahvila is something special to me too.  The fondest memory related to it is that of me being 19 years old, newly enrolled at Helsinki University and commuting every darn day between Porvoo and Helsinki (1h car ride) with my Dad. My Dad worked in the capital region at that time so it was pretty convenient to ride back and forth with him. The only down side to it was that my Dad is a funny creature, who starts his day even before the birds start singing. He had nothing against dropping me of at the campus, but I was obligated to abide with his daily routine. There are only a few things that I love more than lazy, slow paced mornings, so my Dad and I had to come up with a tempting enough carrot to make me get out of bed in time.

My Dad had a suggestion that suited both parties like a glove. Not horribly off track of his normal route to the office and a reasonably short walk to Helsinki University’s main campus there’s a very nice torikahvila. According to my Dad, this market café offers the best sweet (possumunkki) and savory  (lihapiirakka) Finnish style doughnuts in Helsinki. The coffee itself is nothing to brag about, but it’s more about the ritual, the location and the idea than about the actual quality of the "sock juice" a.k.a Finnish filtered coffee. Sitting there in a cozy tent, having it together with a delicious possumunkki when the majority of the inhabitants of the hectic city are still sound asleep. The possumunkki – literally "pig monk" – is a typically Finnish, slightly pig shaped sweet yeast dough fritter, most often filled with apple jam and topped with sugar. In my opinion, it’s at open-air markets that you get the freshest and the best possumunkki.

At first, seeing the legendary torikahvila or more truthfully, an old bus turned into a torikahvila on Porvoo Market Square made me extremely happy. In a minute though, a deep sadness tore me apart. I realized that there was no way I could relive those sweet memories of going in and buying the best possumunkki I know, eating it like a pig and washing it down with "sock juice". It made me realize that it had been a while since I had been there the last time – I haven’t had wheat or sugar in almost five years now. Luckily, I was accompanied by a loyal friend and my eager doughnut eating Dad, both of whom wouldn’t protest me making them eat a couple for me. Problem solved!

Maybe you think I’m lying, but I’ve seriously learned to enjoy food through others, watching them relish something my intolerances prevent me from eating. So I sat back, relaxed and indulged myself with the Finnish coffee. It actually wasn’t nearly as bad as I had recalled. And with the fresh possumunkki smell softly tingling my appetite, I could – after all – relive the grand torikahvila classics.

Long live "sock juice",possumunkki and Porvoo Market Square's bus café!

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