Helsinki: Curry Up, Finland!

Slightly over five million.

That, my friends is the population of Finland; though rather large in area and containing thousands of freshwater lakes and proudly preserved forest, it is still a very small country; and still quite a homogenous one at that

Finland is changing; slowly and somewhat reluctantly from my standpoint but globalization is becoming inevitable and summer after summer I see a more diverse populace as well as more international concepts seeping into Helsinki; however I also see the skepticism that comes with such foreign influence

Skepticism is in the Finnish genes; we are wary of anything different and sometimes it can take an ice age and a half to eventually warm up to it; but usually once that warmth is achieved we become wholeheartedly obsessed with whatever that “different” thing is (such as brunch to use a lighthearted example from my prior post).

Of course, I would like to add a caveat that I am not trying to generalize or stereotype the mentality of an entire ethnic group; but rather explain our “collective mentality.”

I won’t get political since this is not that type of blog; but I will say that as a half-Finn with a distinct ethnically ambiguous non-typical-Finnish skin tone, I still have some rather disheartening experiences when in Finland that leave me feeling ostracized. Immigration is a sensitive subject here and has increased dramatically in recent years due to Finland’s acceptance of many refugees from Somalia and there are still some (not all) citizens who are not particularly accepting of the increases in diversity and the impact of minorities with differing beliefs and traditions.

I am far used to getting stared at here by some members of the older generation; something I try to perceive as curiosity as opposed to hostility but I also on occurrence experience being ignored/cut in queues, having canvassers shun me (oh well, not that I’m complaining…but of course it’s the principle of it), and sometimes rudeness or “suspicion” from shopkeepers.

This particular trip I had an experience that left me a little shaken; there is almost no feeling more grimy than that of being treated like a lesser being; again I would like to reiterate that I am not bashing my fellow Finns or Finland, because like any place there are both close-minded individuals as well as an abundance of warm and welcoming people...

…I was at Stockmann, a massive department store, perusing some clothes on the racks in the Mango (the brand, not the fruit) section. Coats, skirts, woolen shift dresses, and even  purses were dangling on the hangers; then at the end of one particular rack was a red leather purse with a chain link and naturally I assumed it was part of the display. I started to reach for the surface of the purse; you know to feel whether the leather was genuine and before even touching it; a woman marched out of nowhere and snapped at me in English, “That is mine! Don’t you dare even think you can do that!”

Startled, my heart jumped into my throat when I realised that the woman had left the purse hanging there as she wandered to another section to try on a coat and I immediately backed away.

“Oh, I’m sorry! I thought it was one of the bags in the collection.” She gave me a disgusted condescending look, grabbed her purse and marched off. And right then I felt like every ounce of moisture was sucked out of my skin.

Did she seriously think I was trying to STEAL her purse? Or steal something from it? Really? If I had been a white blonde (or fake dark-hair-dyed) more typical looking lady would she have snapped at me in such an accusatory manner? And why was she even speaking to me in English? Because I don’t look like I could possibly understand Finnish? It’s not like it was the way I was dressed either; i was wearing a sharp black blazer, a pair of black Cheap Mondays and my Burberry tote- quite a common ensemble on the streets of Helsinki; but even if I were dressed in something else that would still not make it okay. Again, I am not generalising the entire Finnish populace because most of the people here are wonderful and good-hearted (albeit initially poker-faced); but this particular experience left me shaken the rest of the day. It left me feeling like a pariah, like I had no chance at ever truly being seen as a member of my father-country. By looking at me it’s obvious I am not 100% Finnish, but I still get treated worlds differently when with my father or grandparents, or when the shopkeeper sees my surname on my credit card and hopefully doesn’t assume I am a mail-order bride.

So much I can say on this subject, but I don’t want to bore you all, so let’s get on to a side effect of increased diversity that Finland is DEFINITELY enthusiastic about:

Butter Chicken Lunch Special with basmati & dahl

Tandoori Chicken Salad with mint and tamarind chutney dressing

Besides Koti Pizza (which I swear is the best pizza ‘chain’ in the world…or at least Northern Europe); my favourite Helsinki-based fast food chain has to be Namaskaar’s Indian Express; in the past several years they have blossomed to multiple locations throughout the city of quick, cheap, and delicious Indian food with rather enticing lunch specials. And they are ALWAYS busy with hungry, Hugo-Boss suited Finnish execs on their lunch break.

Speaking of the subcontinent, Nepalese food is ridiculously prevalent in Helsinki; I can only assume that we have a decent sized Nepali population by the massive number of “Nepalilainen Ravintolas,” but hey, I’m not complaining. In fact there is one called Everest across the street from my flat…can you say convenience?

Marta: Coriander and cumin chicken with raita, basmati, and pickled paprika salad

Me: VERY spicy chili-infused chicken tikka masala (not cream based, which is wayyy better); also with pickled paprika salad, basmati, and raita

Freshly baked tandoori butter naan. Yum.

Additionally, many of the new “modern” restaurants popping up around Helsinki have been experimenting with “ethnic” influences and ingredients in their dishes; while this concept is rather standard in the States and other parts of the world (fusion), it is quite new here, but Finland seems to be liking it

Case in point; a dinner at the hip restaurant/bar/lounge, Glöd (it used to be called Mecca, but they for some reason haven’t changed the website name yet)

Chicken “Roasted African Blend” (I know, I know how orientalist): Charcoal grilled breast of corn-fed chicken, vegetables with lentils, and mango chutney

This was actually delicious; the chicken was succulent and juicy (as most Finnish chickens are), and the lentils and veggies were draped in a spiced turmeric-enhanced sauce with a kick of mango chutney; not bad, not bad- I would certainly eat this dish again. Happily.

And a little curried something-something which has been mainstream “Finnish” cuisine for a while now? The tasty and hearty “Kanapatonki”…or curry chicken baguette:

Grainy photo; but my delicious patonki from Cafe Esplanade- rye baguette with chicken tenders, some sort of a “curry” sauce, cukes, tomato, greens. Curry sandwiches and salads are rather common nowadays, though don’t expect it to be your typical Indian/Thai/Japanese curry- it’s rather Finnish-ized and not spicy, but rather tangy.


I love this country dearly, and as both a Finn and a global minority I recognise both sides of the predicament of the changes in Finland’s societal scape; however a prevalence of discrimination and maltreatment based on assumption is only a detriment to a nation’ prosperity.

Have you ever faced discrimination? Been accused of stealing? Treated like a lesser person? How did you feel and react?

What is your favourite curry-enhanced dish/cuisine/meal?

And what’s your choice of fast food?


17 thoughts on “Helsinki: Curry Up, Finland!

  1. ‘however a prevalence of discrimination and maltreatment based on assumption is only a detriment to a nation’ prosperity’—> wow Sara, you write so beautifully! Love your honesty in this post! That scene with in Mango disgusted me. Fortunately I don’t think I’ve been in such a situation where I have been discriminated against but I hate when people automatically assume black/Muslim people are dangerous in comparison to a white person. Racism is so 1930s, people need to realise we are one in the same. Actually while I wouldn’t really count it as discrimination, workers in Mumbai often try to make an extra buck off me because they assume I’m foreign and don’t know better, especially taxi drivers. Just for sake of principle, I always bargain so they realise they can’t walk over me. Also in Nigeria, any time a non-local would walk on the streets, locals would shout ‘Oyinbo’ which means ‘foreigner’…that probably explains why you would rarely see foreign pedestrians out and about!
    Does sushi count as fast food? If so, it gets my vote! I’ve never tried Chipotle but I am all over Mexican lately so chances are it would be right up my alley- woo hoo that it is opening up in London!

    1. Thank you 🙂 Racism is so disgusting, and it’s so disheartening how prevalent it still is EVERYWHERE in the world- the scapegoating and fear of the ‘different’.
      Oh and I totally know what you’re talking about with the taxi drivers…in Bangalore it was SO DAMN HARD to find a taxi because all of them would try to rip you off so much just because you’re foreign- and then they would collectively make fun of you for trying to haggle down to a more DECENT price.
      Sushi can be fast food!!! And I’ve never been to Chipotle, haha, it’s everywhere in the States but I’ve never had the chance to try it though many of my friends rave about it!

  2. You really are a beautiful writer! And I always learn a lot when reading your posts 🙂 Thanks for that!
    Next vacation, I’m coming with you.. no if’s ands or buts about it. Your food looks crazy good (as always)! I want that naan!

  3. People can’t usually tell where I’m from since I’m only half-Indian but I see how my husband and dad are treated and discrimination sucks. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that – I can imagine how embarassed you must have been!

    Indian food in Helsinki? Yet another reason I need to visit there. And soon!

    1. Yes! I think you would like Helsinki; it’s very relaxed…but still needs some better shopping options; they’re slightly improving with the new Louis Vuitton that opened last year (and is always crowded)
      But yes discrimination DOES suck; my mom gets it the worst since she’s the brownest of us all; we’re so glad she FINALLY got a US citizenship because travelling with her Saudi passport before was such a nightmare, and she would always be pulled aside for random checks and asked what her ‘relation’ to us was (she carries her maiden name)…it’s like, she’s my mother DUH!

  4. That experience would have shaken me up too! One time I was browsing a ring shop (a cheap one) and tried one on, then took it off and put it back. When I left the store owner came after me asking to give back the ring, and everyone was staring. She was pointing at my own ring that i had forever, when I showed her she realized it wasn’t one of hers…but it still shook me up!

    I have had experience being discriminated too…being in electrical engineering where I live, the girl to boy ratio in my lecture is around 4:60, and I’m the only caucasian female. The profs never think I’m going to be a serious student…but then I LOVE proving them wrong!

    1. Yes! Proving people wrong is the best- you show them; there’s nothing I love more than negating the stereotypes of ignorance~
      Oh yes and just now when I was travelling, i was looking at a chanel eyeliner at duty free at San Francisco airport; and I was waiting for a shopkeeper to assist me with finding the colour I wanted but she was obviously standing in the way; ignoring me so i just put the eyeliner back in a random place and walked out- then one of the other shopkeepers had the nerve to CHASE ME DOWN to my gate to ask where i put it/if i had stolen it! I was like…seriously?!

  5. I’ve only been to Asia in the past few years so I mean I haven’t felt what it is like to go as a foreigner to a place where diversity is not the same depth as in the US.

    I guess stereotypes are something that the human mind always lean towards when judging an individual….it’s natural for us to categorize to make life a little more structured.

    But being an Indian and the major that I am means that people immediately assume I’m this genius, when really all I am is a hard worker.

    It’s sad that the discrimination you experienced came in the form of accusation of theft but from what I have seen, we experience discrimination in one way or another every day.

    Hahahaha I love how you had butter chicken and naan in Finland. If my mom ever goes there at least I know that she won’t suffer from lack of Indian food 🙂

    1. You’re very right; stereotyping is a very natural human mechanism- I mean we all do it all the time; I certainly stereotype/have my stereotypes because SOMETIMES there is some truth to stereotypes which is the reason why they exist in the first place; but then there are also stereotypes that exist out of fear, ignorance, and propaganda which are the ones I have a problem with.
      And butter chicken is the best 😉 Of course it’s best in India!

  6. ugh racism! It’s always going to be around, I suppose some people are never going to change their views even though the world around them is changing.
    I hear you when you say you get treated differently when your with your dad or grandparents. My dad and I have very different skin tones…i’m clearly quite dark. Most people don’t think he’s my dad, annoying at times but now I’m used to it. Comments are made at times but what can you do!?

    I had butter chicken on Sunday for lunch it was delicious 🙂

    1. I totally feel you- having quite a white dad myself; people always think I’m adopted or not actually his kid (just a few weeks ago my dad and I went to play tennis somewhere and they guy in charge of the court referred to us as a ‘couple’…um gross…)
      And butter chicken is indeed delicious 🙂

    1. I love chana masala! Trader Joes actually has an amazing cumin chili chickpeas packet for 99 cents that tastes pretty legit; I buy it ALL the time when I’m looking for a 90 second meal!

  7. That’s terrible! I’m so sorry for your nasty-lady experience – I think almost all non-100%-white have probably been confronted with some sort of discrimination (and maybe some 100% white people, too) at some point, and I’m no exception. It’s certainly not nice when it happens, but I agree with your attitude – realize that it’s a close-minded *person*, not a close-minded *populace.*

    And maybe they’re a little jealous, since mixed kids are better looking. 😛

    Your food looks delicious and I like Subway and McFlurry’s – or quick sandwiches/parfaits from cafes, if that really counts. 🙂

    1. Haha—-at your comment about mixed kids 😉 Plus it’s kind of fun being ethnically ambiguous; I can just make up where I’m from and no one will argue; actually when I was just in Stockholm a Thai guy approached me and asked if I was Thai or Filipina…now those are two ethnicities I’ve never been regarded as before…I found it a little weird that he followed me four blocks to ask me that so I was just like, “No actually I’m Indian.” Then he left.

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