My flight from Lviv left at 04.00 am, which mean't no sleep the previous night. I then had to wait 2 hours in Riga and catch a connecting flight from there to Helsinki, witnessing some of the most bizarre and beautiful cloud formations intertwined with morning fog... it was magical:
Bags dropped off, into town to try the first of three bowls. Before food matters were to be settled, a beer was in order. First stop was Heinahattu, as usual. After a couple drinks we headed down to another bar straight out of an Aki Kaurismakki movie:
Most tourists don't really get to see this side of Finnish culture, the dark, depressing bars where people fumble through flirtations pumped full of expensive beers and spirits, finally confident enough to approach another human without crippling self-doubt and insecurity... seeing the ritual of connection played out in stutters, spills and self-deprecation. We lingered for a few beers watching the car crashes of courtship in real time, before deciding it prudent to get some food.
We walked around for a half hour or so, the rain was increasing in it's severity. A Vietnamese restaurant stood on the next corner promising warming Pho for our freezing bones.
Most of you know that Pho and Ramen are two of my favourite dishes, so I judge them punishingly hard based on 30+ years of gorging on one type or another, in their native countries and various others. Sometimes you find a jewel of a Pho place in the strangest corner (like Odesa) but this was not one of those cases.
We descended into the basement where a very hip crowd of mostly white people sat stuffing their faces with Vietnamese fare. I automatically worried. The service was decent, the prices rather insane, and the atmosphere slightly tacky. Beef pho with meatballs and rare steak.
All in all the meat was decent, though some pieces had a rather mealy texture to them, the noodles were standard, the accompaniments all the usual (deep fried shallots too), but the main problem was the broth. Overly sweet, not balanced at all. The type of broth you take one spoonful and think this might be promising and then its all downhill after. I wouldn't return. It really was that sweet, and at 14 euro a bowl, the price didn't hold back either.
Lunchtime the next day we headed out to the food market (Hietalahti Market Hall) where Fat Ramen was illuminated in print online promising "Authentic Japanese Ramen". They proudly stated that they are Finlands first ramen bar, heralding from the ancient age of 2015!
You just knew it when you entered the place that these people had no clue about Ramen.
Look at that broth? Looks like dishwater. Pulled Pork? Squeeze of Sriracha or some other generic hot sauce? Overcooked egg, huge chunks of spring onion and a dusting of sesame seeds? NO NO FINLAND!
You have to do better than this. My soul was crushed under the weight of potential being squandered in the most evil manner. THIS is what Finnish people will now consider Ramen to be! This is false advertising, this is missionary work of the most sinister kind. Pray! Flee people of Finland! Never enter these doors again.
Sullen and altogether depressed at the state of affairs, we headed to Fafa's to eat some falafel since at least the quality there was consistent, and they had some spicy sauce to add.
Our final attempt at finding a good ramen place in Helsinki was going to have to wait till tomorrow.
Sleepy and rested, tea ingested, shoes and clothes dressed, we headed out full of vigour and belief that today would be the day! On the list: Momotoko Ramen!
Having been there once before a few years ago, and not overly impressed, I was informed that they had definitely upped their game since then.
The first time I visited Momotoko was their other downtown branch, and left with a slightly let-down feeling. The broth was a bit insipid, the pork, eggs, noodles were all just that bit average.
Rumours had it that they improved so we decided to give them another shot. Drove out there with the cousins and piled in our orders before hiding in the corner (I ordered mine without corn of course). The next 10 minutes proved that progress is possible. All the elements were better than last time, even tho the broth still needs a bit of depth, umami. Overall it was a good bowl of soup and one that I would have again if in Helsinki and suffering cravings. It proved that oldest or hippest definitely doesn't mean best. Hunt long enough and you'll probably find a good bowl in most cities.
That's if you care at all.....