I got my first taste of why Turku – Finland’s oldest city – has become a new Nordic food hotspot by sampling its 19th-century market. The beautiful red-brick building is located one block from the Aura River, which flows through the city and empties into the Turku Archipelago – the largest archipelago in the world, where approximately 40,000 islands stretch across the Gulf of Bothnia to Sweden.
At fishmonger Herkkunuotta, owner Johann Helsted presented a plate of whipped pike roe in sour cream mousse. “When pike roe is raw, it’s not so good – people throw it at seagulls,” he told me. “But this was cold smoked for three days in a traditional smokehouse made by fishermen. It gets a great flavor. And so, we’re changing something from not so good to really good!”
The pike eggs lay on black bread from the archipelago (saaristolaisleipä), a local culinary icon flavored with malt and syrup and prized for both its delicious taste and long shelf life – once ideal for accompanying islanders through the winter. Next, on the plate, a small pile of herring went perfectly with slightly tart local strawberries from the start of the season.
A few stalls away, the cheeses of Turku were tingling heaps at the nose, from which I tried a local version of red-spotted brie, as well as a Nordic version of halloumi called leipajuusto that the lady at the counter assured me that it’s delicious fried. At the end of another aisle, a vendor held out a piece of pork sausage sprinkled with raisins (rusinamakkara). When I asked how non-traditional Nordic ingredients like raisins got into a traditional Turku sausage, my guide Annamari Laine offered me a lesson in commodity history. “As a major port, Turku was a very international city since medieval times. So they would have brought raisins here,” she said.