While Finland is known as the land of a thousand lakes, the Philippines is known as the country of a thousand islands. The archipelago is reflected in what people eat. “Lots of fish, especially grilled, but most of all different flavours. Each island has a slightly different cuisine,” says Justine Caioibes, one of the founders of two Philippine restaurants in Helsinki.
Philippine cuisine has recently gained a lot of popularity in Helsinki. A big thank you for this goes to a group of friends, all of whom had worked as professional chefs for years in different restaurants. Their first restaurant, Pobre, opened in 2019 in the Kamppi Centre followed later by a second, larger restaurant, Paisano (pictured), on Korkeavuorenkatu near Esplanade Park. Paisano's name is derived from John Steinbeck's book “Tortilla Flat”, the pages of which decorate the restaurant’s lamps, among other things. The unique interior was created by the staff.
The story behind Pobre and Paisano is closely linked to Helsinki's urban culture. The three founders of the restaurants explored the popularity of Philippine food on Restaurant Day in 2012 and 2013 and a couple of years later with a pop-up restaurant. Based on the enthusiastic feedback, a permanent restaurant began to feel like a feasible idea. “Helsinki is a good place to be an entrepreneur. You get a lot of support here,” Justine praises.
It is also easy to find the ingredients for making Philippine food in Helsinki. Iro Uwagboe, who works as restaurant manager, says customers are curious and open about new flavours. “We have also started experimenting with local ingredients, such as parsnips. Our meat also comes from a nearby farm,” say Justine and Iro. Pobre focuses on lunches, while Paisano is more of an evening socialising restaurant. Both want to offer customers a relaxed and high-quality experience of the food culture of the archipelago country.
The disruption caused by the covid pandemic has been challenging for restaurant operators, including the entrepreneurs behind Pobre and Paisano. However, home delivery services and take-away sales, as well as various innovative ideas, helped them get over the worst.
In the end, the most important factor in coping with the difficult conditions has been the team spirit among the restaurant’s employees. This afternoon was scheduled for the afternoon, as lunch time is dedicated to the restaurant’s own staff: “We share a ‘family lunch’ every day. We also celebrate birthdays and other special occasions together. At the same time, we are constantly training new professionals in the field. This is our family.”
What to order at Paisano?
“Our menu says that here you get ‘7107 flavours on one plate’ – the same number as there are islands in the Philippines. So it’s worth coming with a group and ordering the entire menu together. Socialising is a big part of Philippine food culture, and sharing portions is part of this. If you have time, you could try the ox tongue. Many are a little hesitant at first but fall in love after trying. Our version of ceviche is a favourite among many. And our seasoned rice – there can never be too much rice in the mind of Filipinos! We love sweet flavours, so dessert shouldn’t be missed. For example, our citrus calamansi with white chocolate and sorbet is worth tasting. Cocktails are the bravura of our chef Paul.”