Well, I am back in Finland again. This time it is in Oulu which is the most northerly of the bigger Finnish cities; however if you look at the map you will realise it is roughly halfway up the country between NE and SW extremities... a lot of Finland is Lapland. Oulu has more than 100,000 inhabitants and is growing fast with a major technology park (reason for my business trip). It is up at the top of the Gulf of Bothnia but still a bit south of the Arctic Circle. I have only been here twice before. I am in a Sokos Hotel - a good chain in Finland - but they always have the same restaurants; Fransmanni (Frenchman), Amarillo (Tex-Mex), etc.
I decided to look outside and walked through the town centre towards the water. There were some old 19th century wooden buildings there most of which were bars and restaurants. All seemed to be piping out music but were dead. Yesterday it would doubtless have been different with 1st May being a big Finnish celebration.
Inside there was just one couple in the bar. I ate alone in the first floor dining room....boring!
I decided to try something I could not get at home. I chose braised reindeer with mashed potatoes, gherkin and "lingonberries"; the same berries are sold at Lidl as "wild cranberries" and are in my flower book as "cowberries"!
I have had reindeer steak a few times before in Stockholm and Helsinki. This though tasted rather dry and boring...however, I was hungry after a 4 o'clock start in the morning. Perhaps other things on the menu would have been a better choice; but I could not watch what other guests were eating and thereby guage the alternatives.
In May 2003, it was over 30 degrees and the whole town seemed to be sitting out in cafes and getting sunburnt! We took some customers out on a boat trip along a peaty river outside Oulu and had a barbeque later on the riverbank. On the boat there was a little bar and my Finnish colleagues said I should try the local tar liqueur.
I thought this sounded pretty dreadful! I had visions of people scraping tar off roads and feeding into a still. My colleagues patiently explained that there was a local tar industry making tar from birch logs. It sounded a bit like making charcoal but gathering the tar (resin-based) in a special vessel.
It actually tasted quite good. It was smoky like a Laphroig whisky and slightly sweeter. It's not something I would want to drink often but would be a handy thing to surprise guests with. Another unusual Finnish liqueur is salmiakki which looks and tastes like liquid liquorice. The tar liqueur tastes fine at room temperature but salmiakki tastes best if kept in the freezer.