Sunday, 23 February 2014

Dining and wining in Helsinki: Zaafran & Co

So, a vegan and a Jew were looking for a place for a lunch in Helsinki. No, this is not a joke. As personally I prefer the setting of an Irish bar and a rabbi...!

Fafa's, a slightly better fast food place in Helsinki specialised in freshly made, quality Middle Eastern fare (the best falafels in town!) just opened third venue in Helsinki, but they're not the only ones in that line of business. Just a couple of streets away from their joint in Kamppi there's another contender for a great lunch: Zaafran & Co kosher deli. Located next to the synagogue in Malminkatu this deli offers a delightful lunch for anyone looking for kosher feast, vegan lunch... or just fresh, well-made Middle Eastern food.

I happily accepted an offer from theowner, lovely Lee to come check out the selection.

The venue used to house another kosher deli, but in its current form Zaafran has charmed those in the know for over 3 years now.

Zaafran serves lunch, but also has a shop stocked with kosher goodies imported for instance form Israel and they are the only place in the country where you can buy kosher meat. Finland doesn't have a kosher butcher, so the meat is brought in from mainly Central Europe. As mentioned before, the trial slaughtering turned out to be such a success, that soon they will carry kosher reindeer , too!

Zaafran's feast reflects its owner's Moroccan roots. Everything but the bread is made from scratch on the spot and you can taste the freshness. The use of spices and fresh herbs instantly makes holiday mood kick in, but Lee, who, in addition to freshness and taste also focuses on the healthiness of the food reminds of the health benefits certain spices and herbs have.

The name Zaafran by the way means saffron.

The bread comes from Fafa's own bakery, with some special tweaks required by the kashrut regulations.

My lunch got off to a good start with Moroccan style olives in tomato sauce, slowly stewed eggplant and peppers and (well, how else!) hummus and pita. I've OD'd on hummus to the extent I've not felt any temptation to even try it since my last trip in the region but the distance has definitely made the heart grow fonder - I actually bought some to take back home, too.

In accordance with kosher regulations (kashrut) the food served here is either meat, fish or veggies - dairy cannot be served with meat. So overwhelming majority of the food is also suitable for vegans and/or lactose intolerants.

My meze platter had all sorts of goodies. Like home made lamb kebabs. And excellent, wonderfully spiced tuna-veggie patties (gluten-free, too!). But the best part were probably the vegetarian choices. They were balanced, well seasoned and genuinely good and fresh - not some bland afterthoughts. But then again, Middle Eastern dinner tables are famous for their abundance of fresh salads.

There were aubergine slices drenched in flour and fried in oil, very reminiscent of those Andalusian specialties Berenjenas Fritas which in that part of the world are served with local cane honey. So good! Quinoa salad was wonderfully nutty and herby. Tabbouleh was fresh and Israeli couscous... like coming home. Coleslaw and red cabbage salad are staples in my kitchen too and will, without a doubt, eventually make it on the blog, too. 

The pasty's puff pastry shell hid an excitingly sweet and spicy onion and pepper filling - this is I've got to learn to make myself, too!

The shop stocks all sorts of treats to medicate home sickness/ longing back to Middle East like pickles, juices and jams. And Bambas; wildly popular (and only marginally weird) peanut snacks. And other pantry necessities (right?) such as gefilte fish, rugelachs and chocolate-covered matzo.

There are plans about Mediterranean cooking classes and you can count on me signing in as soon as they'll be launched. Zaafran offers catering services too, around which that Israeli friend of mine for instance built his trip to Finland. And, seeing how they're the only kosher deli in Finland, they also deliver their goodies to customers all over Finland. 

Stomach full of home-cooked love I headed back home. With bags full of Bambas and matzos and fig preserve and kosher pastrami and kosher salami and quinoa salad and veal hot dogs and a fresh batch of pita breads... oy, what a Shabbat Shalom I had!




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