Every year in early October, Helsinki’s harbor and Market Square transforms into a lively, colorful, maritime-themed set, complete with wooden fishing boats and good-looking traditional sailing boats. Fishermen from Finland’s archipelago and coastal towns and little villages, bring their latest fish catch to Helsinki to take part in the capital’s annual Baltic Herring Festival (“Silakkamarkkinat” in Finnish).
This autumn the Baltic Herring Festival takes place from October 5th to October 11th.
The “queen” of the festival is of course the Baltic herring, prepared in many imaginative ways: pickled, fried, smoked, fermented, or even raw…
There are also other local fish on sale, such as arctic char (a personal favorite), salmon, vendace, whitefish, or flounder.
Baltic Herring Festival – An event with a long, fishy history
The Baltic Herring Festival was first organized in 1743, making it the oldest traditional event held in Helsinki. Those days, the Finnish capital was one of Baltic sea’s major trading hub.
Apart from fish products, the local fishermen trade also woolen garments and handicrafts, as well as traditional archipelago bread (“saaristoleipä” in Finnish), for which I have eventually acquired a taste.
I bet you didn’t know the following about Baltic Herring
The European Union has acknowledged that the Baltic herring is not the same as the larger herring found in other northern seas. EU fisheries ministers agreed to grant the Baltic herring its own classification even though it has the same Latin name, Clupea harengus, as its bigger relation.
The EU now defines the Baltic herring as a herring that is caught and landed north of latitude 59.30 degrees north. All of Finland’s fishing waters are above the designated parallel. To meet the criteria for intervention the Baltic herring must weigh more than 31 but less than 85 grammes, a weight range characteristic of the fish.
(source: Embassy of Finland in Brussels)
Baltic Herring Festival – A family event
Helsinki’s Baltic Herring Festival is not only about trading herrings and stretching your culinary limits to the extreme. There is also a stage for music performances, cooking demonstrations, contests and a kids concert.
And for those who don’t regard herrings as the epitome of culinary enjoyment, there are plenty of schooners and stalls offering fried vendace or hearty salmon soup (again a personal favorite).
And the highlight of the Baltic Herring Festival was (for me at least)
Well, you know by now what an incurable foodie I am, so what else could be my highlight of the Helsinki’s Baltic Herring Festival than a deep plate of piping hot, chilly flavored salmon soup served with rye bread and a pint of Helsinki Porter, enjoyed inside one of those traditional sailing boats, together with good company, ?
Have you ever tried pickled herrings and survived to share your story?
For herring recipes, please click here.