It took three visits to Finland for me to discover allotment gardens. I don’t think that Finns are trying to keep allotment gardens a secret, but perhaps they are unaware of how unique these gardens are. On a recent press trip to Finland I got to visit an allotment garden outside Helsinki and I was fascinated and delighted to learn about this part of Finnish culture.
I have visited Finland three times so far, and each time the experience has been completely different. One reason for this is that Finland seems like a new place with the change of each season. You will do hugely different things in the Spring verses the Winter. The other change is that with each visit I have dived deeper into Finnish culture.
Luck and a series of fortunate co-incidents led me to an allotment garden just outside Helsinki. I had first learned about allotment gardens the day before.
There were two reasons for this trip to Finland, the visit was to to attend the premiere of East and West Side Story, a 13-minute short film created by two directors to tell a story of Finnair and the Helsinki Airport bring people from the East and West together.
Finnair brought a group of 100 bloggers, photographers, and writers together for the premiere.
The second purpose for the trip was to appear in a video being put together by Finnair. Finnair created trios of people from the East, West, and Finland to highlight Finnish food and design. I was asked to appear in a video about food alongside Top Chef Finland host Pipsa Hurmerinta and Wun Ling Li, a blogger from Hong Kong who authors Chocolate Mui Mui. To prepare for the video, I watched a cooking show on my Finnair flight from Chicago to Helsinki.
As I lounged in my luxurious Finnair business class seat I watched Sara’s New Nordic Kitchen. On the episode that I watched Sara, the host, visited her friend’s allotment garden and picked garlic. It would be inaccurate to describe an allotment garden simply as a community garden because the image in your mind will massively underestimate what it is.
In Finland, allotment gardens are large. These aren’t small plots of land where locals grow two rows of vegetables. Each individual allotment garden plot is about the size of an entire community garden in Chicago.
The alloment gardens are so big that they each have tiny homes. These homes have beds, tiny kitchens, and space for eating and lounging – they are similar to the tiny homes that are currently trendy in the United States, but they aren’t built on trailers. Some Finns spend their summers living in their tiny homes and for others it is just a place to frequently escape the city in the summer.
The garden that Sara visited on her show even had a sauna! I am told that it is rare for an allotment garden to have a sauna – but it does show how some of these gardens are homes away from home. It is hard to get an allotment garden – some are passed down from generation to generation.
My father was equally fascinated with the concept of allotment gardens and wanted to know about what people grow in their gardens. He was surprised when I described gardens with small homes surrounded by flower beds, apple trees, and rows of vegetables.
The gardens did each have several row of vegetables, people grow things like kale, garlic, leeks, beans, and root vegetables. But much of the space at allotment gardens is dedicated to growing flowers and fruit trees.
I was excited to meet Pipsa Hurmerinta, a former model and host of Top Chef Finland to hear her perspective on the current culinary landscape in her home country. She says that she thinks that vegetables are the future – and I could not agree more. I had noticed the way the vegetables are emphasized on menus in Finland, and the abundance of vegetarian meal options.
The culinary scene in Finland is booming. The restaurants all seem to be impeccably designed, and the food is creative and sophisticated. Local pride shines through as locally sourced ingredients are proudly used. Many new restaurants have popped up in Helsinki and Turku since my first visit in 2016. Places like Yes Yes Yes, Lolyl, and Bassi are pushing the Finnish culinary scene forward.
While we filmed we snacked on bean hummus with a yogurt from one of Pipsa’s favorite restaurants, Maannos. This highlighted how to Finns are able to follow culinary trends while making them all their own by using locally sourced ingredients.
We also talked about how Finnish chefs are able to balance staying true to their ingredients with innovation. The meals I enjoyed during the trip included a roasted cauliflower at Naoa, duck breast at Smör, and lemon butter seared pike perch at Löyly (pictured above), proving that Finnish food is far more than salmon, dill, and potatoes.
If you make your way to Helsinki, I highly recommend dining at Olo, Yes Yes Yes, Löyly, Roster, Ravintola Nokka, Bronda (pictured above), Kappeli, and Juuri. And if you go to Turku – and I hope that you do – do not miss Smör, Nooa, Bassi, and Pinella.
You can read more about Finland in these blog posts:
This trip was sponsored by Finnair, but the opinions are all my own. You can learn more about Finnair here.