Helsinki: Finland may not have many Indians, but Indian restaurants have certainly made a mark in the Scandinavian nation, luring tens of hundreds of Finns as well as other Europeans. There are around 10 restaurants offering Indian cuisine in Helsinki and Finns are all full of praise for the food.
"I really like Indian food. I go to Indian restaurants very frequently with my family. I love Indian cuisine, especially 'malai kofta' and chicken cooked in Indian style," said Hanna Kouri, communications manager of Cleantech Finland.
"Though, initially, I found it very spicy I have gradually developed a taste for it. Maybe in the future, I would also try my hand in learning the recipes," she said.
Hanna said she had friends who had also tried Indian food and developed a liking for it.
Jaana Kivela, who runs a souvenir shop and is another fan of Indian cuisine, said: "My son, who works with Nokia, has gone to India several times. Whenever he comes back from his trip, he has a new story to tell about Indian food. So we also went to an Indian restaurant here called Mini India to try the food and found it simply amazing."
"Now we are going there regularly. I am fond of Indian breads (naans) and my husband likes masala and butter chicken. Their menu is very elaborate and royal. We have also learnt some Hindi words like 'namaskar' (greetings) and dhaynavad' (thank you) from the owners of these Indian restaurants," she said.
Helsinki, situated on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, has a population of around 580,000 in a country of about six million people. It mainly sees tourists come here from other parts of Europe but very few from India.
Another fan of Indian cooking here is not deterred by the extra calories and is willing to exercise more so that he can indulge in it.
"I regularly go to an Indian eating joint named Gandhi restaurant. Though the food is full of spices and oil, I can't resist the temptation. I do not mind spending some more time jogging and in the gym to compensate for the extra fats and cholesterols," Timo Sipila, a student at the University of Helsinki, said.
The owners of the Indian restaurants are quite happy with the response.
"We serve only Indian dishes at our restaurant. You just tell us your choice and we would serve it. We have two Indian chefs in our kitchen and they are expert in cooking every Indian dish," said Shahid Reaz of Samrat restaurant, one of the most prominent Indian restaurant in Helsinki.
"Our menu included cuisine of all Indian states, snacks and sweets. Most of our clients are local people and tourists who come from central Europe. Very few Indians come here. Our restaurant is jam-packed during the weekends and on public holidays," he said.
An employee of Nepalese restaurant Everest stated that Indian food is very popular in Finland.
"There are around 10 Indian food restaurants in Helsinki and all of them are doing good business. There are times when you will find queues outside our restaurant. Besides Indian chicken, Finnish are also very fond of our vegetarian dishes," the employee, who did not want to be named, added.
However, he noted the restaurant caters more to local people than Indian expatriates.
"Indians come to our restaurant very rarely and most of the time it is occupied by local people."
Helsinki also has an Indian restaurant called Govinda's, where vegetarian food is served in pure Indian style and one can even sit on the floor and eat with one's hands.
However, Indian expatriates in the city find these restaurants very expensive.
"Yes, there are Indian restaurants in Helsinki but we seldom go there. They are very expensive and you cannot afford to eat there that frequently," said Amrish Bhatt of Mumbai, working with French IT company Capgemini and in Helsinki for the last two years.