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Guerilla Eats and Bicycle Espresso. The Changing Contemporary Food Culture of Urban Helsinki


The Finnish urban food culture traditionally differs from continental European traditions. Restaurants, bistros, eateries or street food have never been similarly integral to everyday life as perhaps in many world cities. In Helsinki, the relatively young urban history, strict regulations on the sales of food and alcohol, diminishing food traditions, modernist urban planning and strong public control of the cityscape, have all contributed in limitations regarding urban food culture. However, since early 2000s, demand for more diverse urban food and restaurant culture has surged among the younger generations along with a rediscovery of domestic culinary traditions. Public debates and activism concerning the rigid bureaucracy related to food culture have resulted in culinary culture strategies and re-considering food as part of the urban culture, contemporary practices, and development of urban districts. For Helsinki, the relative success of these changes has been integrally connected to citizen campaigns and information distributed in social media, as well as previous stagnation of both urban food culture and public policies. The paper looks into small-scale citizen-led cases of urban food culture development in Helsinki over the past years, with focus on the story of “Restaurant Day”, its origins as an illegally organized temporary event turned into a global phenomenon – before its obliteration in a post-temporary reality. The cases are set against histories of Finnish food culture and current viewpoints on foodways as generators of urban groups and new identities. By reviewing the handling of contemporary Helsinki-based food practices, especially in media and public documents, the paper evaluates how urban food culture and the sense of ownership in public space and the city at large have activated communities and created actual policy changes.

Pages:95 to 112
Section: Society
How to Cite
Savela, M. (2016) “Guerilla Eats and Bicycle Espresso. The Changing Contemporary Food Culture of Urban Helsinki”, The Journal of Public Space, 1(1), pp. 95-112. doi:

Author Biography

Canadian Centre for Architecture
Canada Canada
Mika Savela is an architect, curator and co-founder of Selim Projects, a Helsinki-based practice. His PhD research at the School of Architecture, The Chinese University of Hong Kong studied the contemporary Chinese urbanization in recent curatorial discourses. Currently he teaches at the Aalto University in Finland, and is a Mellon Researcher at the Canadian Centre for Architecture 2016-17.


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