During our day and a half in Helsinki I found my new favorite food. Actually, it was all my favorite foods conglomerates into one delicious pie.
I don't think that pickles on pizza is a local custom by any means. In fact, I doubt it's found many places at all. But with the Scandinavian's love for pizza, and a strong Russian influence coloring Helsinki's roots, this amazing pizza has become very popular at at least one spot in the city.
We visited Pizzeria Nikolai's while touring Suomenlinna Sea Fortress in Helsinki. The group of islands was founded by the Swedes in 1748, as Finland was part of the kingdom. Only a few years after the main buildings and defenses were constructed, Suomenlinna was overtaken by the Russian Army in 1808. It was only after the Russian Revolution in late 1917 that Finland declared independence.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site for it's military architecture, Suomenlinna is a tourist destination for visitors to Helsinki. While the visitors arriving by ferry enjoy the landscapes, museums, fortress tunnels and cafes, there are over 900 permanent residents living as a functional community.
We took a brief 1 hour tour of the main route through the sites, but my main intention was to visit Nikolai's to try their most popular namesake pizza.
After the short history lesson, I understood what this Russian pizza place was doing on an island in Finland. As much of Helsinki's architecture is resembling St. Petersberg, of course the cuisine would appropriately reflect the culture as well.
Conveniently, we found Nikolai's easily at the end of our tour, nearby King's Gate. I didn't know what to expect. Would we be getting a flatbread covered with sour cream and pickles? When we saw the menu, we found the "Nikolai" pizza first on the list: metwurst, pickled cucumbers, mushrooms, capers and sour cream. All my favorite things! Except we will delete the wurst both because of pregnancy and a vegetarian diet. But we still didn't know what to expect.
The combination and the pizza were better than expected. It was basically a very good thin crust with marinara and well-cooked mozzarella with the above mentioned toppings.
The pickles were finely chopped and tasted like the semisweet "bread and butter" pickles you find in a jar for topping sandwiches in the US. Not overly salty, no dill or garlic. So they didn't overpower the flavor of the pie. The sour cream was placed in the center to use or discard at will. The mushrooms and capers were salty like those from a can.
We devoured the entire pizza easily. It was sooo good. All my favorite things: thin pizza, pickles and mushrooms! I now understand my food preferences, making the connection that I am almost half Italian (from Rome) and a quarter Russian (from Belarus). It must be sheer luck that my Indian partner shares in these tastes.
I'm sure I will be recreating this pizza soon at home. Finding new delicious inspiration is my number one favorite thing about world travel. Being able to re-experience a great meal is better than photographs or trinkets.
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