Sea buckthorn berries and sauna in Finland

Sea buckthorn berries and sauna in Finland

All of my Finland experiences so far are thanks to my good friend and colleague Chef Jani Lehtinen from Bucco. I will tell you in a future occasion how we actually met; but Jani essentially took me for o whole week around the city of Pori and proudly showed me every little crease and cranny of this baffling culture.

Before I was going to Finland I was already day-dreaming of their ingredients, I was fascinated by the various unheard-of types of berries. One of them stood up more than the other ones: Sea buckthorn berry. One morning we drove off to the coast of …. and he showed me the bushes in their natural habitat. They were growing in small patches of soil, between massive rocks right next to the voracious Baltic sea. If these berries could speak they can sure teach us a thing or two about climate inclemencies.

Maybe just as life can squeeze the best out of you under extreme challenging moments, so could it be that a Sea buckthorn berry can develop such concentration of flavor, intensity and power out of their habitat; very likely that’s how it is. The fruit is a vibrant bright orange color almost fluorescent, the flavor is a very potent mixture of persimmon and a kumquat all reduced to the size of a large raisin. I was baffled by it’s habitat, the fierce sea, the salt water, the cold air and the strong winds.

After my first experience, feeling the leaves of the bushes and tasting my first one I harvested some to take for our pop up dinner that evening. Eventually that evening they would end up as a sea buckthorn berry chutney which I made with a little bit of brown sugar and onions and we paired it with a wild duck breast and jerusalem artichokes.

Next, we headed to another side of the coast for one of the most cherished rituals I’ve been looking forward to since I arrived to Finland: Sauna. 

We arrived to a cottage-like structure with lots of glass and an open grass right next to a much calmer baltic sea. Our friends Wili, Heikki, Mikko and Riku were waiting for us with the sauna heating up and a beautiful buffet. We all got naked into the hot sauna and off-we went talking about women, hockey and life. We jumped back and forth from the hot sauna into the freezing sea a few times.   Its amazing how one can be freezing cold all wrapped-up in clothes having a conversation outdoors and minutes later after the hot sauna be naked in the baltic sea swimming. Several rounds later we all changed back to our clothes and headed to the buffet table for some food.

A few days before Jani and I had stopped by the Kala Valtanen fish factory and after a tour of the plant we were given lots of products for us to taste. I will write about the Kala Valtanen visit in a different post; but the spread was memorable: 

Kirjolohen Mati, Tyrnisilakka, Suutarinlohi, Sillikaviaari, Valkosipulisilakka; complex words to describe simple food like pickled herring with garlic and spices; Baltic herring with sea buckthorn berry; different types of hot-smoked and cold-smoked fish; raw pickled salmon, white fish spread, cured fish, two or three different fish eggs and of course excellent Finnish bread. All of that drinking some bubbly and local beer. It is amazing to experience the variety of products Finnish cuisine has out of pickling, smoking and curing fish. To top it off we also had the simplest fish soup with just fish, carrots and onions, served hot, flavorful; fantastic.

After the sauna and lunch, freshly renewed we headed back to the restaurant to finish out our mise en place for our first pop-up dinner at Bucco.

Stay tuned for more Finland blogs coming up!