Category: Food

Sea Horse – a Local Establishment

I can’t tell you how many times I was planning to write a post about Sea Horse, but there were so many questions to address that I’d always postpone it. For example, what shall I call it? A restaurant serving traditional Finnish food? A place with a long history? A destination in the Japanese guidebooks on Helsinki? Would that be enough? I decided the best way to deal with this challenge is to share with you the Sea Horse’s story. I hope this way you’ll get a very good picture of what kind of place it is 🙂


The restaurant opened in 1934, and changed a couple of owners before it became famous in 1959. This was the time when Mrs. Paukku and her husband bought this place. They updated the menu and attracted new customers, among which were many artists as Mrs. Paukku was a patron of the arts. There are a lot of legendary stories surrounding her “ruling”. According to one of them, Mrs. Paukku cooked a home-made mustard for the restaurant and for the customers. “She lowered a bucket full of mustard to the kitchen window for customers to buy it to their homes. The same method was used after every business day. The cash of the day went up with her bucket every night.”

After Mrs. Paukku retired in 1988, the restaurant was sold. There were good times and bad times, but every time the place managed to survive and continue to stay in business.

“Leave the title to the doorman”

This famous motto comes from Mrs. Paukku. She believed that all clients should be treated the same way, no matter what rank or position in the society they have. This approach is the cornerstone of the restaurant’s philosophy in present days too. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do and where you came from. You will be treated as a customer, exactly the same way as others.

Also, there is actually a doorman. He works in the evening, and he handles the cloakroom charging for his service 2 euro. Sometimes I wonder if it’s really necessary, but it’s part of the tradition and the experience, I guess.


The interior is from 30s and it never really changed. In 2000s the restaurant has been renovated. Artist leaving in the same building, Kimmo Kaivanto, helped with fixing the painting and also designed and painted a new restaurant room, Black Horse Cabinet.

The painting of sea horses in the main room is what you see the minute you enter the restaurant. It’s not clear who painted it originally and there are quite many different stories offering possible explanations. Mystery surrounds this place.


Although the sea horses painting is quite beautiful, I think I could leave without pink lights in the windows. And fixing old lamps on the walls would also be nice. But many local customers prefer to see this place exactly the same way it has always been and don’t want any changes. It’s a matter of preferences.


Sea Horse serves traditional Finnish dishes: creamy salmon soup, potato hash brown skillet (pyttipanna), cabbage rolls (kaalikääryleet), and of course, famous baltic herrings – stakes or whole fish. As all portions are very big, my advice is to eat as little as possible on a day of the visit 🙂

I liked all the dishes I tried. Vorshcmak maybe is the only one where my expectations didn’t quite meet the reality. My favourite one is the salmon soup.

What do I think about the place 

It’s difficult to express:) I love the food, I hate the pink lights. I like the cozy atmosphere of the restaurant, but I’m not so excited when locals are having some extra drinks and being loud. Overall, this is not your average place to grab a dinner. It has a character and a story, and this is partly the reason why so many locals are loyal customers for decades and more.

Runeberg Cake

I’m not a big fan of sweet pastries, but in Finland I became addicted to one particular type, the Runeberg’s cake (Runebergintorttu in Finnish). Who is Runeberg and why this cake is named after him? Johan Ludvig Runeberg was a famous Finnish poet. The story … Continue reading Runeberg Cake

Bakery Ekberg and Alexander’s Cake

Today I want to share with you a story of the oldest bakery in Helsinki and its founder.

Fredrik Ekberg was an orphan boy learning an art of watchmaking. He didn’t really like it, and was looking for other options. He ended up being an apprentice to Master Baker Shulin in Helsinki. He learned the baking craft and travelled to St. Petersburg, Viborg, Hamina and Riga to hone his culinary skills. In 1852 after he was done with the trainings and the culinary exam, he founded bakery “Ekberg” in Helsinki.

Couple of years later, Ekberg applied for a license to open a coffee shop. At the time, one could buy a cup of coffee in Helsinki only at the market tents in summer, and the idea to open a “designated” place where one would go just to get coffee was surprising. The authorities denied his request saying that no one would go there except for “poor widows”. Ekberg appealed the decision and finally opened his first cafe “Gropen.” It was a huge success as students and government officials working nearby became a permanent customers.

But Ekberg didn’t stop there. Later he built a three-store building in the center of the city – bakery, bread shop and cafe, all in one place. He also founded a spirits factory and invested in tobacco business. Interestingly enough, these investments actually saved the bakery and cafe during the time of financial troubles in 1869.