Last week, part of the Boston Ballet went on tour to Helsinki, Finland. Although I traveled quite a bit while I was competing as a Rhythmic Gymnast, going on tour with a ballet company is very different. From point A to B and back again, all logistics are taken care of. It is amazing! Of course, you have your responsibility as a performing artist while you are there, but within that, you get to visit countries you might not otherwise have a chance to see.
As a foodista, I love experiencing a country's culture through food. I knew hardly anything about Finnish food before this trip and although it was fairly short, I did manage to learn a thing or two...
Seeing as this was a performance tour, the building we got to know the best was the Finnish Opera House (Spelt 'Oopera'). I believe it has been quoted one of the most beautiful and well designed Opera Houses in the world...a few days in this place and I completely agree!
The entire company was blown away by the size of the stage...what a treat to dance on it in front of sold out houses!
The Opera House is located right by a river and park that runs alongside one of the main streets. At this time of year, everything is so green and beautiful. Looking out of the Opera House to this view is an inspiring setting in itself.
As I mentioned earlier, I did not know much about Finnish food culture prior to my arrival. I was very surprised and excited when I saw a 'cold smoked reindeer' pizza at one of the Italian restaurants near the hotel....of course I had to order it!
It had an interesting flavor, subtle and almost sweet when prepared this way. Unfortunately I did not manage to have true reindeer breast which they traditionally serve as a stew over boiled or mashed potatoes...but that I can save for next time:)
As with many European cities, one of my favorite things is the way they do bread. In Finland, they have this fantastic pretzel-like bread which was served to us in a huge basket, each piece drizzled in olive oil and big chunks of salt. This meal we had on our first night in Helsinki, after a long, long travel day...needless to say, the whole basket disappeared in no time:)
One thing I had heard about the Finnish however, was that they love their Saunas, with a population of around 5 million people, they have 2 million saunas...those are pretty strong odds! In our hotel, the sauna quickly became a hot commodity (pardon the pun!) and a daily ritual.
My friends and I made it a habit of going down for a contrast between the hot and dry sauna and the freezing bath of water they had by the pool. As awful as that may sound, it does wonders for your circulation and inflammation:)
The Finns also love their berries, which they use in many things, including as an added layer of complexity to salads. This goat cheese salad made my night as I had spent the evening walking around the City Center with my dad, who was visiting.
I love checking out regular grocery stores in new places, it is always so interesting to see what locals make a part of their everyday eating routines. Apparently, in Finland, Angry Bird sodas and gummies are commonplace...:)
I would be amiss if I did a whole blog post and neglected a special mention of their baked goods and licorice-like spices. Although two things you would not usually pair together, most Finnish bakeries produce these incredible pastries that are sweet with cinnamon, but with a hint of cardamon. This may sound strange, but I can assure you, that paired with a fresh cappuccino it makes for the perfect treat, anytime of the day.
There are so many other interesting things I encountered in Helsinki, from Donkey Salami at Muru, a Michelin Star restaurant, to the most extensive selection of licorice and gummies, which I came fairly close to depleting:)
The trip was a success from all angles, from the interesting and welcoming city we visited to the performances we gave and the standing ovations we received. There are few thing I love more than exploring new places, particularly places that are so rich in color, culture and taste:)
As we near our 50th Annivesary Season at the ballet, I think we can expect more tours to come our way!