Monday, 28 November 2016

Bulgaria - glimpse of hope in the dark years of Holocaust

* * * 

Bulgarian people's brave resistance during the Holocaust saved the country's Jews from certain death. The story is incredible... and true. 

* * * 

Only a couple of days after my trip to Tampere I find myself in a plane, surrounded by people from Tampere. This time members of the local wine club.

As the plane prepars for landing, the view outside the window is brown and autumnal. Dull looking suburbs; run-down countryside scenery. You could almost smell the cows, still lazily grazing on the nearby pastures.

By latest the ladies' extravagant sense of aesthetics reveals which part of the world we've just arrived. Fur-trimmed boots (with 4 inch heels, of course); sunglasses adorned with plastic diamonds. Welcome to Bulgaria!

As the rest of the party collects their luggage, I head over to the nearest kiosk in search of cigarettes. I'm startled to discover how expensive they seem: the price tag is almost the same as back home! It isn't until later I realize that despite the fact Bulgaria, too, is an EU member, they're not part of the Euro. The local currency is leva and with the current exchange rate euro prices are less than half of their leva equivalent. 

Boy at the kiosk smiles shyly and greets me with "shalom". I'm confused until I remember the star of David necklace I'm wearing. Instinctively my hand grabs it, wondering if it's such a smart thing to be wearing after all. Should I hide it in my bag instead? One can never know in these parts of the world, what with the antisemitism back on the rise again. 

synagogue door_star of David

Bulgaria is quite a different matter, though, as her extraordinary history shows. While most of the Eastern European Jews faced their death either in the local ghettos they were rounded up in or in concentration camps they were eventully shipped to, the story of how Bulgaria rescued their Jews from almost certain destruction is nothing short of miraculous.

It is as true as it is incredible and is one of the few glimmers of hope of that dark decade.

Sofia synagogue

Bulgaria having allied with the Axis powers, more and more restrictions were imposed on the Jewish population here, too. In 1943 the country signed a secret treaty according to which 20 000 Jews were to be sent to concentrations camps in the occupied Poland. 

The transfers were scheduled to start on March 10th. As the carriages started to arrive, however, the Bulgarians took a stand.

mezuza_Sofia synagogue

Normal people and religious leaders alike staged protests across the country and threatened to stop the trains from leaving, even if it meant throwing themselves on the tracks. Bulgarian government was flooded with petitions demanding the plan be dropped.

10 commandments in Hebrew

Three wise men in particular are to be thanked for all this: Former Minister of Justice Dimitar Peshev, head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church Stefan I and the Metropolitan Kirill of Plovdiv.The last one had his clergy forge thousands of baptismal certificates in a bid to stop the Jews from being deported.

Together the managed to overturn the head of country's ruler; Tsar Boris III, who in turn convinced Messieurs Hitler and Eichmann that Jews' contribution in the labour force was essential.

talliths at synagogue

One can only speculate the reasons for the extraordinary bravery of the ordinary Bulgarians. 

Why here of all the places?

Why wasn't similar resistance seen anywhere else?

Oh, what a difference it would have made...


One reason was, without a doubt, the Jews' long presence in the country. There have been Jews here at least since the 2nd century AD and the coexistence between dfferent groups of people has been peaceful. Jews have, in fact, a longer history in the region than Bulgarians themselves.

Another reason, why it has been estimated that the Nazi ideology failed to generate support here, is Bulgaria's own history. Apparently more than half a millenia under the oppression of the Turks made it that much more challenging to get them behind yet another hate-mongering machinery.

Obviously in a perverse way, the collaboration with the Jews' biggest enemy helped to keep the Jews safe. Allying with Germany gave Bulgaria better chance at defending their own Jewish population it would have had, say, under the German occupation .

But, sadly the story doesn't have a happy end for everybody, namelu the Jews of regions that were occupied by Germany but under Bulgarian administration such as Greek Trachea, Eastern Macedonia and Serbian Pirot. 11 000 of them were rounded up the night between March 3rd and 4th, a week before the Bulgarian transfers were set to take place.

Through Lom on Danube in the North Western Bulgaria and then Vienna they eventully reached their final destination: Treblinka. 


11 days later all but roughly a dozen of them were dead.

* * * 

PS. In case you, too, are interested in the Jewish history of my travel destinations, do check out the following:


* In collaboration with Viinitimo and European Trade House Ltd *



   Tukholman Suuri Synagoga_Stockholm Great Synagogue7   


Sharing is caring Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Hella ja Huone in Tampere - when there's just too much

Hella ja Huone is an excellent restaurant in Tampere... but sometimes there's just too much of the good stuff.

* * * 

The highlight of our most recent excursion in Tampere was, quite obviously, sampling the local restaurants. Having just finished the manic cooking spree that is my book, the thought of somebody else doing the cooking for a while couldn't have been more appealing.

The choice for our Saturday night's dinner was Hella ja Huone ; a restaurant White Guide Nordic ranks the #2 in the city - Bertha holding on to pole positin this year, too.

Despite the fact we'd skipped lunch the full 16-course tasting menu (95€) seemed a bit too much. But, as we wanted to sample everything on the menu, we went for it anyway. Luckily the kitchen was willing to accommodate our request to share it. Thank you for the consideration!

As it was a date night and all, I didn't bring my camera with me. 

But as I clearly can't take a night off, I just had to get some ohotos anyway. So, sorry for the crap quality! 

Hella ja huone Tampere 1

Beverage package (34€/ 58€/ 80€) we couldn't share, so we each went for Full Monty. 

We kicked off the evening with Champagne (Champagne de Castelnau Réserve Brut) and congratulated ourselves on a clever choice. But little did we know what we were up against...

Hella ja huone Tampere 2

1. Little Nibbles 

Rice crisp accompanied by divine lemon mousse and Steak tartare which was beautifully complimented by the carraway seeds in the crisp bread...

... followed by heavenly Jerusalem artichoke soup.

Hella ja huone Tampere 3

Hella ja huone Tampere 4

2. Pucker Porridge

Buckwheat porridge and incredibly intense onion broth, crisp kale and cranberries.

And to drink some Charles Joguet Les Petites Roches Chinon. Oh, yes. 

3. Hallusinating Mussles

Another great dish... though the use of kohlrabi was a bit odd. As it doesn't have much flavour, it just seemed like an undercooked potato.

I also would have appreciated if the insistence on using English in the names would have been followed by correct use of it.

Being a sherry lover, I was thrilled to discover dish had been paired with Tio Pepe. Surprising and well executed move.

Hella ja huone Tampere 5

4. Pike Perch walking in the smoky forest

Delightful dish in which the forestey notes were courtesy of spruce shoot syrup. 

A delighful wine pairing, too: Pierre Cherrier's Essentiel Sancerre

5. Snailie, snailie, shoot out your horn

Hands down my absolute favourite all evening. A snail ravioli bathing in a dreamily fluffy celeriac broth migt not look like much but it was such an elegant dish I ran out of words trying to describe it.  So, I hugged the sommelier instead. 

Hella ja huone Tampere 6

At his point there was an inexplicable break in the service that went on for so long we thought we'd been forgotten. Not that we were hungry anymore, anyway. We decided to stick around and eventually food started flowing back.

6. Chicken Dance

With great curiosity I observed the date's reaction to this dish: liver being the one thing Gothenburger refuses to eat. Unless it's chicken liver mousse served in a fine dining restaurant in Tampere, apparently.

"Totally different thing", was his impeccable analysis. And who am I to dispute that...

7. Una cerveza para mi cerdo, por favor!

Another wonderfully presented dish accompanied by another cretaive beverage pairing: a Trappist beer.

Hella ja huone Tampere 7

8.Ox's Afternoon Tea

A tad too salty consommé was served with flatbread which, while boasting a charmingly crunchy exterior, was still raw in the middle.

9. Pumpkin it up

Art on a plate that just screamed being Instagrammed. As it contained cheese, the date got to have it all to himself.

Hella ja huone Tampere 8

10. Fish & Chips

The beurrre blanc of this dish was sheer perfection. As was the wine pairing: Charles Baur Pinot Blanc from Alsace.

11. Tongue & Neck

Based on the name alone this was the dish I looked forward to the most. Unfortunately at this point of the culinary tournament we were so exhausted with all the food we actually felt nauseous.

But, after the pumpkin dish it was my turn to take one for the team. Excellent dish with great textures... but I could only finish half of it. 

The amount of food was starting to feel absurd - and there were two of us to share it! And one of them has, for the past months been eating for four! (no, not because I'm pregnant, but because of the recipes I've been testing for the book).

Wine pairing for this was Cabernet Franc from Loire Valley: Domaine de la Perruche Saumur Champigny.

Hella ja huone Tampere 9

12. Say Cheese!

Rather self-explanatory, right? Yes, this was cheese. Which I apparently even forgot to photograph. The date ate it and teh date liked it.

Then it was off to desserts!

13. Nordic kind of sour milk

We liked. Not too sweet and playful textures. The beverage for this was another surprise: pear cider from Normandy.

14. Snow White's Venom

We liked this too. But, we were seriosuly halfway into coma by now so I've not manage to record any analysis on this. 

Tykättiin tästäkin. Uupumus alkoi tosin voittaa, eikä mitään merkittäviä muistiinpanoja ole enää jaksanut edes yrittää saada aikaiseksi.

With this dish we had bubbles from Limoux: Antech Limoux Méthode Ancestrale Doux et Fruité.

15. Ficus Carica Cacaotica

Figs. Chocolate. With Taylor's port wine. Good.

Hella ja huone Tampere 10

16. Crêpe Fraiche

The photo was so crap, I'm going to spare you from it. By now, 4 hours into the dinner,  we were just happy to be alive. 

There was no way we could finish all the drinks either. So, we wobbled back to hotel, crashed in the bed and stared each other in disbelief. Man vs. food. Food won. 

The following morning I skipped breakfast - for the first time ever. We still couldn't even think about eating.

Hella ja huone Tampere 11

Hella ja huone Tampere 12



      Viking Line joulubuffet 2016_mäti


Sharing is caring Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This

Thursday, 24 November 2016

What to do in Tampere - tips for history buffs and foodies alike

Tampere is a cosy and quirky town with things to see whether you're a history buff or a foodie.

* * * 

Tampere - Finland's answer to Manchester (I kid you not - city's nickname is actually Manse. Even their football team's called United).

The cradle of industrial revolution in Finland. 

Working class town dominated by old red brick factory buildings.

The third largest city in Finland.

Gothenburger's job took us to Tampere again. Right on time to celebrate city council's historic vote to build a tram network. 

Trust me - they didn't take the decision to join capital Helsinki as the second city in the whole country to operate trams lightly. They wallowed over it for more than 10 hours and the passionate debate evoked some curious commentaries. 

One council woman expressed her concern over the deaf. Apparently tramsthese days are so quiet, they are a veritable death trap to hearing impaired. I wonder if it never genuinely occurred to her that higher decibel levels won't make them any less deaf. Or unable to use their vision, which by all accounts is usually intact. 

And I can't remember the last time I saw Helsinki newspapers report yet another gruesome fatality involving a murderous tram and an inconspicious deaf. 

Congratulations to Tampere in any case - though standing at the forefront of modern technonology is by no means new to you.

For instance the first ever electric light in Finland went on in Tampere in the Finlayson factory in 1882. Tampere was in rather a glowing commpany back then. Before that such fancy invention had only been seen in 4 European cities - none of which was Helsinki.

(Paris, Strasbourg, London and Milan, if you must know). 

The region around Tammerkoski rapids has been inhabited since 7th century and it was granted city rights in 1779. Back then the population didn't even reach 1000. 

The founding of Finlayson cotton factory in the early 19th century ushered in the era of industrialization which saw the population quadruple by the mid-1800's. By the beginning of 20th century Tampere boasted a population of staggering 36 000.

100 000 inhabitants were reached in 1950's and 200 000 was exceeded in 2003.

With being an industrial hub, came also significant role in economy and politics. Socialist and women's movements were active: hardly a surprise considering most of the population consisted of factory workers and women. 

For a glimpse of the lives of the common people of the time, check out workers' quarter museum at Amuri or museum Werstas. 

Museum Milavida on the other hand catalogues history of von Nottenbeck family, branch of the Finlayson family who owned the cotton factory - showing how the other, fancier half lived.

Tampere had the dubious privilege to act as the venue of a first ever meeting between two men that changed the course of the world: one Lenin and a guy called Stalin. The brain child of that secret meeting was a recolution that led to the creation of the Soviet. I bet all those millions of subjects that went either missing, ended up in labour camps or faced persecution and/or torture just can't thank them enough. 

Tampere is home to one of the most peculiar museums in Finland: Lenin museum. Espionage museum is another oddity and was, when it first opened, actually first of its kind in the whole world. 

During the Civil War that followed Finland's independence of 1917 Tampere was the reds' stronghold and eventually the scene for many of the crucial battles between the white and the red.

Vapriikki, a museum complex located next to Tammerkoski, hosts a permanent exhibition on the topic, well worth the visit!

Tampere cityscape is still very much defined by those iconic red brick factory buildings spreading around Tammerkoski, with their high chimneys piercing the skyline. As the production has increasingly moved to cheaper countries, most of the chimneys no longer push out the thick clouds they were once famous for. 

Instead the factory area has been restaured and converted into a lively quarter peppered with museums, cafés, small shops and restaurants. One of our favourite addresses is beer house and brewery Plevna, whose wide selection of beers they make themselves offers rather a jolly way to spend an afternoon. 

And if German beer house atmosphere is what you're after, you should make some time for Alsatian restaurant Wistub's specialty: Tarte Flambé/ Flammekueche.

If you're a foodie, your first stop is probably the local market. Tampere market hall is located right in the centre, but this gem lies somewhat hidden in a slightly deceptive newer facade.

More than 100 years old, the market is not very big, but it more than makes up for it in quality.

Based on readers' recommendations I discovered restaurant 4 Saisons, a French delight you can't beat for lunch. 

Day we went the menu featured wild grouse among other things. Divine! Great value for money and hey - while in the hoods, don't forget to check out their deli's delicious selection of home-made sausages. And patés. And other treats. Such as these British-style pasties that practically moved me to tears, being the closeted English that I am. 

Other joints worth making time for? Fish shop Nygren and Mediterranean deli Mama's Corner

The indigenous population didn't fail to impress me with their robust, folksy approach to life this time either. 

As I was enjoying my cigarette at the terrace of our hotel's rooftop bar I was approached by one of the natives who'd just returned to his beloved home town after decades abroad.

"Have you any idea just how pretty you are, lass?" he asked me, gazing at me admiringly. Taken aback with this unexpected praise I didn't know what to do. 

"But you'd better head inside, you know - you'll freeze your p***y out here in the cold!" 

By now I did know. 

I left. But Tampere - we'll be back!





Sharing is caring Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Meatballs á la Lindström - beef and beetroot meatballs with rosemary are comfort food at its best (gluten-free)

* * * 

Meatballs á la Lindström are cooked in beetroot sauce. Juicy, vibrant and packed with herbs they're comfort food at best!

* * * 

So... winter has arrived at my side of the hemisphere. Not cool. Or well, too cook for me. I'm not cut out for cold and snow yet every single year I find myself equally amazed by this regularily occcurring phenomenon. This year, however,  I'm setting an alarm for next year. 

Brace yourself.
Winter is coming. 
Leave the country and never return. 

In the meanwhile I'll just try to make the most of it. I'll light the candles, hide under my duvet with Netflix (Gilmore girls - you can't hit that screen soon enough!) and keep myself warm with this comforting dish.

Which, in all honesty, is sort of exactly what I have been doing this past week already...

See you guys in 6 months!

Meatballs á la Lindström:

depending on the size 22-24 pcs

1 small onion,finely chopped
400 g ground meat
2 large beetroots (á 150 g), boiled and peeled
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (or thyme)
2 tbsp finely chopped cornichons (or capers)
1 egg
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Butter/ oil for frying


1 small onion
1 beetroot (á 150 g), boiled, peeled and pureed
2 tbsp tomato concentrate
1 tsp sugar
1/2 l stock (stock cube disslved in beets' cooking water)
2 sprigs of rosemary (or a couple of sprigs of thyme)
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt

In case you're using raw beets,start by boiling them first for about an hour until done. Don't discard the water - dissolve the stock cube into it, adding water as needed. Let the beets cool down a bit and pull off the skin. Grate two of them and pure the third. The easiest option is, of course, to use pre-cooked ones if you can get your hands on them. 

Sauté onion in butter or oil in a pan or coated pot until soft and translucent. Let cook and combine with the rest of the meatball ingredients. Knead into a smooth dough and leave to set in the fridge, covered, for half an hour. In the meanwhile prep the sauce.

Sauté the remaining onion in butter or oil in a pan or coated pot until soft and translucent. Add pureed beey and tomato concentrate; herbs and sugar. Stir until smooth and add stock. Bring to boil and season. 

Roll the mixture into evenly sized meatballs and drop into the sauce to cook. Simmer, covered, for hald an hour. Serve.

And what better to serve this with than  the perfect potato mash that will make you cry which you'll find on the previous blog post.

For a wine pairing you'd do well with this New Zealand Pinot Noir I paired with my previous beef á la Lindström recipe!

And don't forget to share: what are your secret culinary weapons in warding off the cold? 




Sharing is caring Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

So good it makes you cry: secrets of perfect mashed potatos (gluten-free, kosher)

Secrets to my perfect mashed potatos? Browned butter and caramelized onions. The result will have you in tears.

* * * 

Out of all the comfort foods I can't think of anything more comforting than mashed potatos. But sure enough, there are mashes and there are mashes. A couple of tricks will make even those just-add-water-instant-mash-powders edible, but let's face it: the best one is always made from scratch.

You'll find my love letter to my Dad's mash on the blog over here. It has made an impression on all the diners I've brought home over the years, though sometimes with some reservations: "Just look at that colour! Exactly how much butter's in that?!". Just enough, I say.

My Nan's mash on the other had was nothing short of a culture shock. It's texture couldn't have been further away from the kind of dreamy, silky cloud you just want to dive and frolick in. See, she put onion in hers. And trust me, not the kind that'd been finely minced to oblivion. I doubt it was even sautéed first. Sure, onion does lend the mash some flavour. And funky texture, too - if testing your gag reflex is what you're after.

Over the years my mash has evolved into this. It pays homage to both of my Dad's and Nan's mashes, but with my own twists. There's butter alright, nutmine is browned. There are quite a bit onions too...only caramelized and puréed. And the result... oh, yes. Usually it disappears from the table just like that.No mains needed. 

Secrets to perfect mashed potatos are simple. Right potato variety (the floury one), steaming potatos dry after boiling them and using potato ricer - a contraption that looks like a huge garlic press. Oh, and browned butter, hot milk and caramelized onion. 

Not everyone's the kind of pathetic cry baby such as I am (even 6 Nations rugby tournament's ads reduce me to tears...) but this is a mash that will have you in tears twice: first when you're slicing the onions and then when you tuck in the mash.

The perfect mashed potatos with browned butter and caramelized onions:

1 kg (floury) potatos
3 smallish onions, peeled and finely sliced
1,5 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tsp mustard
2 tl salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
150 g butter
1,5-2 dl milk (full fat), heated

Peel the potatos and, dpending on the size, cut into 4-6 pieces. Steam or boil in salted water until done. In the meanwhile caramelize the onion in a pan over medium heat in a couple of tbsp of butter. 

Once the potatos are done, drain them and steam dry. Purée onion in a blender with thyme and mustard until smooth. Add a couple of tbsp milk to ease the process if needed.

Brown butter in a pan (or a coated pot) over medium high heat until it stops to bubble and the aroma becomes nutty and toasty.

Crush the potatos through a ricer. Combine with rest of the ingredients and beat until smooth. Check the taste and add more salt and/or pepper if needed. 

Oh, and what to have with this? Well, how about

Or, my latest confort food love: Lindström's meatballs! 

PS. What are your comfort food favourites? And where do you stand on mash: with or without onions?





Sharing is caring Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This