Spanish food and other solace in Turku

I love Finland, but one of the hard things is that once you leave Helsinki, it gets hard to find restaurant reviews in English–even at the level of “what kind of food does this restaurant serve.” So I have been thinking I should do a bit of that as I have the time and inclination, for other travelers in that direction–and frankly to encourage other travelers in that direction, because Finland is great. Everyone spoke English, but no one expected American travelers. Basically we didn’t hear other American voices between the Reykjavik airport and Stockholm. But we heard a lot of English, because English is what a German speaks to a Finn.

Or in this case, what a Spanish restaurateur speaks to two very hungry Americans who have stumbled into his restaurant on Ascension Day.

When I looked at the list of Finnish holidays before we left, for some reason Ascension Day was not listed, even though many things are either closed or close early and many (most) Finns get the day off. (This is true throughout the rest of the Norden also. Look out for Ascension Day.) The thing that was not intuitive to my American mores was that some restaurants stay open all afternoon and then close at what I would consider the beginning of supper hour: 5 or 6 p.m. (1700 or 1800 hours). So when we were wandering around Turku in the late afternoon, plenty of things looked open and we didn’t worry about it. In the US a restaurant that is open at 4 p.m. will likely be open at 7 p.m.; a restaurant that is closing for supper will close right after lunch. So when an earlyish suppertime rolled around and we were peckish from lunching on just gelato (Cafe Harmonia, go do that, it’s got salads and pita and a play area for children as well as quite creditable gelato), we kept going into restaurant after restaurant that said, “Oh, so sorry, we’re about to close.”

And then there was Torre, which is a lovely, lovely Spanish restaurant, and the lovely, lovely Spanish man who was running it was appalled at the very idea that he might shut down at 6 p.m. And appalled that we were so hungry. There was a little bar filled with olives and salads and bread! We must have this immediately! And wine! And a couple of kinds of gazpacho! Before we had our real food, even!

So we did. Friends, we did. And then our real food, which was full of all manner of seafood and saffron and I don’t even remember what else, it was beautiful Spanish food of all manner of flavors, there were all sorts of things on the menu we couldn’t order because we were only there once. We seriously considered not even trying another restaurant in Turku because all the saffron and seafood and gazpachos and goodness. They had a tapas tasting menu that required at least four people. Go to Turku with at least three friends, my dears. Accost two random Finns on the street if you must, and promise not to talk to them through dinner, because that tasting menu looked sublime. Unless there is some reason why you absolutely must eat traditional Finnish food for every meal when you are in Turku, Torre is where you want to eat, scallops and little perfect peppers, or lack of peppers if you need that, and they will leave you alone to enjoy your meal at leisure into the evening as the sun doesn’t go down on the river, because May in Turku, the sun isn’t going down for awhile, and you can walk along the river and it will be grand, just grand.

I love Turku. I love the fact that they built a modern art museum on top of their medieval history museum. I love that they let you play the harpsichord in the Sibelius Museum. I love that there is someone in Turku who leaves a wreath of white and blue flowers for Mikael Agricola and another for Anne Brahe. I love the street fair down along the river filled with all manners of excess except for excess of pushiness, never that. I love the sun on the river and the benches in the middle of the pedestrian bridges. I love the different eras all piled on each other willy-nilly in Turku Castle, because history came late to the north, we had quite a lot to do, so there is the crude labyrinth pattern scratched in the wall next to the large window to confuse evil spirits in the room next to the most blue-painted and ship-hung Reformation chapel you could wish. I love climbing up the riverbank to Turku Cathedral looming. I love the giant daisy and the glistening fishtail sculpture in the water and all of it, all of it. When I wrote about Helsinki, I was saying a thing that I knew many of you would do. I have no confidence that more than one or two of my readers will go to Turku, if any but oh, my Åbo, yes, of course yes.

But Finland was all made of yes for me.

If you’re just passing through to eat, eat at Torre, though. It’s nice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *