Eat Out like a Finn (for less)

by Amber Musgrove-Benford (University of Helsinki, Finland)

One of the first things anyone will realise post arrival in Finland – whether as a tourist or to study – is that eating out is expensive.

Where once I was enjoying a hearty meal (and maybe even a drink) in the Northern Quarter for under £15, I was now in Kamppi, or Kluuvi, where prices can range from €15 to, at worst, €20 plus for food alone.

But have no fear! The following will ensure you a chance of exploring the amazing food scene in Helsinki, all whilst not making too much of a dent in your student budget.

Get Used to Eating out at Lunch

Any walk through the streets of Helsinki at noon will show you one important thing: it is much more popular to eat out at lunch time than at dinner. Cafes, restaurants, and bars are busy at lunch for two reasons – firstly, because lunch discount cards are the most popular employee benefit in Finland, and secondly, because, most importantly for students, many restaurants offer a discounted menu during the lunch period.

Restaurants that serve meals of €19 at dinner will serve them for as little as €10-€12 at lunch, with many other restaurants offering buffets during the lunch period for very affordable prices, meaning that it’s definitely worth dragging yourself out of bed a little earlier to rally your friends and scope out the best deals in the city.

Revel in the wonders of UniCafe

Introduced to me through the Tutoring system at the University of Helsinki, UniCafe is easily one of the best places in Helsinki to eat as a student. With prices subsidised between 60% and 70% by the Finnish government, it’s really not difficult to see why these canteen-style restaurants are so popular.

A meal in one of the multiple city restaurants sets a UH undergrad back just €2.60 or €2.70 depending on what you choose, and the food served is usually good and filling. Working in a buffet style, each individual restaurant provides vegetarian, vegan and meat/fish options, as well as a salad bar.

A classic UniCafe meal

UniCafe also allows you the chance to try classic Finnish food – think pike balls, Finnish meatballs, and munavoi, a Finnish egg butter – and at such a cheap price, it doesn’t matter if you hate it. Luckily, menus for each restaurant are available online during the week, so it’s possible to see what will be served and where if you really want to avoid one of the options.

Tucked within the law building, the UniCafe in Porthania is in a great location when you are studying on campus, but often, it’s incredibly busy for this very reason. The Kaivopiha branch is another good option for both lunch and dinner as it has much later opening hours – 19:00 compared to Porthania’s 14:30 close – and is located in central Helsinki, rather than on campus, saving the walk on your days off.

Search for Deals

Luckily, when I first arrived, a €10 menu campaign was in full swing throughout the city. It’s always worth searching for deals like this one – aptly called Syö-Menu (it literally means “eat-menu”) or others. For example, a large amount of restaurants in the city also offer 10% off for take-away food, or offer student discount, both of which are well worth taking advantage of if you’re busy or too tired to cook. With the first few weeks in Helsinki dominated by Fresher events which entail both huge amounts of walking and full days of activities, it’s the perfect time to search for deals that make grabbing a bite to eat on the go much less painful for your bank account.