Saturday, 4 May 2013

Dining and w(h)ining in Helsinki: Soi Soi

My former flatmate from Jerusalem was visiting a little while back. Judging by the thick pullover and the winter coat Finnish spring didn't make much of an impression on him... Trying to find a venue where to eat and catch up turned out to be equally fickle - he keeps kosher and would only eat in kosher or vegetarian-only restaurant. The number of kosher restaurants in Helsinki: 0. The number of vegetarian restaurants: unknown. To someone like me anyway.

For those not in the know about kosher, here are the key points: There are foods that are parve, a.k.a. neutral, such as fruit, veg and nuts. These can be eaten with any foods. Then there are animals that are, by their nature, trefa (= forbidden). The most famous example of these would be pork. Then there are animals that, as long as slaughtered according to the religious laws, are kosher. Lamb and beef belong to this group. But these, too, cannot be consumed with dairy products. After consuming dairy, one has to wait for half an hour and consume something parve before being allowed kosher meat. After consuming meat the waiting period before consuming dairy is (depending on the branch of Judaism one follows) 3-6 hours. Fish is largely kosher and doesn't require any specific butchering technique. Shellfish on the other hand... devastatingly trefa.

As a result people who keep kosher usually have 2 sets of cooking and serving dishes and utensils: one for meat and the other for dairy. Restaurants are labelled either kosher bashari (meat serving) or kosher halavi (serving dairy and fish). 

In Israel keeping kosher is no biggie. In a city like Helsinki finding a restaurant that would meet my friend's standards was a major biggie. In the end we settled for Soi Soi in Kustaankatu, Kallio. We knew that it was going to be a fast food fare so culinary expectations weren't high. And they certainly weren't evoked by the ascetic, though at times strangely homely decor hiding behind the scaffolding.

The menu isn't exactly extensive, yet manages to offer variety of different options from salads to burgers. I went for seitan, which was a first for me. Seitan, made of wheat gluten, surprised with its texture which reminded me of Bologna sausage. So its texture had that density that I love so much about meat. I had heard the dish being criticized as overly salty and fatty but seeing how I can only assume it was supposed to act as a vegetarian version of shawarma it did the job well. Peppery relish provided a nice kick to the dish. I liked.

My friend had Hello Missy- burger, the pattie of which is normally made of blend of soy and hemp. Unfortunately hemp had already ran out for the day, so today it was all soy. And pineapple. And halloumi cheese. Roasted onions provided a nice crunch to both dishes. I longed for the herby potato chunks to have crispier exterior but then again I'll be dead long before the vegans will. With seriously more clogged arteries. Though not sure if I'll be any less happy...

The burgers come with 3 choices for bread from which you can choose yours based on the desired amount of bran. My friend's verdict was unequivocal: the best veggie burger he's ever had. I had to agree. And apparently so did the cook. As we commented on the burger being fantastic, his comment was: "and don't we know it". 

My friend went for seconds for which he was given a choice between the soypattie and fava bean one. He stuck with soy.

The beverages warrant a special entry - especially their home-made carrot-ginger-lime juice.

And no, I did not have to stop by at McD on the way home...

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