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Only a few of us residing in Finland have heard of Zanjan, a city of nearly 400 000 inhabitants in the northwest of Iran. The image we attach to it has little to do with reality -a rich heritage of astonishing handcrafts and an incredibly tasty cuisine. Too often the scandal-oriented media shapes our worlds and defines people’s destinies. Vahid Mortezaei, a Zanjan-origin food designer residing in Helsinki, knows that it takes colossal amounts of courage and determination to break these stereotypes.

A little variety of rice would be nice

It may seem counter productive to go back to the basics after discovering all the joys and weirder wonders of the Asian store. But you must learn to walk before you fly little grasshopper, so let me introduce you to the most basic, and yet arguably the most important of Asian foodstuffs: rice. Rice is the basis of any meal; it is the backbone, and the first and last thing you would eat as an Asian. The very first of solid foods fed to babies, and the very last thing served at banquets. Rice symbolises fertility, plenty, good health, luck, bounty and all things good. Surely you wouldn’t want to neglect such an important guest at your dinner table?

Helsinkians can rest easy – everything they’ve ever needed now in one place.

“ONE DAY, it was the 12 of March, Paolo [Morcucci] came to my place,” begins Stefano Metta. It was a Friday and the two of them were living in Mazzano Romano, a small medieval town close to Rome. “I’m the owner of some restaurants and bars, and he told me why don’t we open something in Finland? I said to Paolo, why not.”

Are you still buying your lentils and pulses in a normal grocery store?

STOP! Step away from that box of overpriced lentils and come with me. To where lentils are sold in kilogram bags, where you are not limited to two varieties, or to sad colourless beans floating in slime. Come to the Promised Land, where you buy your lentils in kilograms and pay the same price as you do in the normal store.

A new locale for Helsinki’s Jamaican flavours.

PIDGEONS, grey office buildings, a Lidl at the corner, a busy street swarming with busses and pedestrians. Dark windowed bars waiting to open their doors for the early birds. The location is as Kallio as you can get. Yet stepping in to Jamaican Mamas I suddenly feel far away from the notorious Helsinki district. A beach hut. A soft Bob Marley ballad. The smell of cinnamon and spices, and happy chatter coming from the corner. A green, black and yellow flag is on the wall. Am I still in Finland?