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WHEN IT COMES to eating out, vegetarians in Helsinki have had it rough. This is somewhat surprising, considering the city was once on the cutting edge of vegetarian culture in Europe back in the early 1970s with the introduction of the legendary and much missed Kasvis restaurant. Today the capital boasts only a handful of completely vegetarian eateries, one of which, Vegemesta, is exploding in popularity.

This tiny take-away in Sörnäinen has been going strong for two-and-a-half years serving tasty veggie burgers made from soy, tofu and hemp, with the Kippari being their most popular menu item. With each burger comes a choice of bun types and various toppings. They also serve vegan schnitzel and fried potatoes with Thai spices. The menu may be limited but what they do, they do well.

WHEN IT COMES to eating out, vegetarians in Helsinki have had it rough. This is somewhat surprising, considering the city was once on the cutting edge of vegetarian culture in Europe back in the early 1970s with the introduction of the legendary and much missed Kasvis restaurant. Today the capital boasts only a handful of completely vegetarian eateries, one of which, Vegemesta, is exploding in popularity.

This tiny take-away in Sörnäinen has been going strong for two-and-a-half years serving tasty veggie burgers made from soy, tofu and hemp, with the Kippari being their most popular menu item. With each burger comes a choice of bun types and various toppings. They also serve vegan schnitzel and fried potatoes with Thai spices. The menu may be limited but what they do, they do well. There is a surprising variety in each type of burger so return customers can always get a new flavour with every order. Their entrées range from €5 to €8, with a selection of exotic drinks such as ginger beer and bionade on offer to round out the meal. Nowhere else in town can you find such a combination of convenience, nutrition and delicious taste for such a low price.

The whole concept started in the summer of 2007 when owner Robert Ramstedt first opened a veggie burger café on Suomenlinna and then moved it to Vaasankatu in the autumn of that same year. The budding entrepreneur actually had no interest in starting a restaurant, but decided to give it a go after receiving so much encouragement from friends. He packed in a career in the IT/mobile world to see if contributing to Finnish vegetarian culture might be more his thing. Commenting on the state of vegetarian options in Helsinki, Ramstedt agrees that it is “quite poor, but if I compare it to other areas in Finland then I could say it is heaven.” With opening hours on Friday and Saturday until 3:00, Vegemesta aims to pull in some of the late night munchie business and offer something different from what the ubiquitous run-of-the-mill hot dog stands dish out.

So with more and more people choosing to go vegetarian, why are there so few alternatives? One reason according to Ramstedt is that “there is almost no vegetarian education for chefs. I want to be realistic and believe that day by day I have more options but it is clear that our culture doesn’t support vegetarians. Nowadays I can find something to eat if I’m lakto-ovo-vegetarian but to be vegan is very hard if you don’t want to eat at home everyday.”

Vegemesta

Vaasankatu 6
00500 Helsinki
Tel. 09 6898 8888

Opening hours:
Monday-Thursday
12:00-23:00
Friday-Saturday 12:00-3:00
Sunday 14:00-18:00
www.vegemesta.com

Vegemesta’s meals could be considered nutritious fast-food. One of the “beefs” (no pun intended) that vegetarians usually have with meals ordered at regular restaurants is that they often seem to be just side-dishes of vegetables made into a main course without the meat. Ramstedt has noted this lack of understanding or concern about what constitutes a proper vegetarian meal and adds, “in such cases there is a lack of protein and we can be sure that we will still be hungry after eating.”

About 70% of Vegemesta’s customers are meat eaters according to Ramstedt, so it is clear that the market for such a restaurant extends well beyond the strictly herbivorous. Vegemesta’s next franchise is already slated to open in Kamppi this spring. After that one gets off the ground, Tampere and Turku might be next when the time is right. “I’m sure that we have potential [to expand to] all the big cities in Finland,” believes Ramstedt, adding, “but why not also in the future go worldwide?” Could it be that the humble Finnish veggie burger will one day conquer the globe? Get one while they’re hot!

Robin Dewan
Tomas Whitehouse

Based on an interview by Alisa Nirman on 3.10.2016

Interview

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