Have you ever explored a town and discovered a little gem of a place? Maybe it's a storefront, or maybe it's a restaurant. Or maybe it's a cute little yarn shop and you still regret not buying that wool…. Oh well. I guess I'll just have to go back to Rovaniemi. Aw, shucks. Anywho… walking around Rovaniemi after leaving the yarn shop empty-handed, we found Roka. At that moment, Roka was closed with no hours were listed. I was intrigued. Not knowing much about Rovaniemi food, Roka looked to be a small and authentic Lapland restaurant.
Using the magic of the internet machine, we found the hours of Roka and headed into city center for a meal. At the time, in September 2015, Roka only had 5 reviews on TripAdvisor, all 5 stars. In a town with few restaurants, we knew we had to check it out.
Ravintola is the Finnish word for restaurant (I think…) and Roka is a small, 25 seat, boutique eatery in the heart of Rovaniemi. We had no idea what to expect when we arrived, but Sanna, one of the proprietors, took excellent care of us and provided us with an English menu. While starters were available, we went straight for the main courses.
Dad stayed true to his competition mindset and chose a wild mushroom risotto. He's not a vegetarian by any stretch, but he appreciates a good meat-free meal, especially when he's preparing to compete. He graciously shared a bite with me and it was creamy and thick without being clumpy. Well-seasoned and full of umami… wow. My mouth just started watering. I could have easily gotten the risotto and been very happy. The wild mushrooms picked north of the city, prove Rovaniemi food is as fresh and authentic as it comes.
The hubby & Mom got fish and chips. You know how most women marry men like their fathers? Well, I married a man just like my mother… what does that say about me? Don't answer that… Regardless, they both got the fish and chips, which was delicious. The fish (cod, haddock? Can't remember) was perfectly breaded and fried. The breading stayed on the fish without being greasy and the fish was perfectly cooked and flaky underneath the breading. A match made in heaven. The chips were also awesome, golden brown, not too salty, but bursting with yummy Scandinavian potato-y goodness.
But then came the real star of the entrees. The pulled pork sandwich with harissa yogurt sauce. It was delicious! As a die-hard fan of Eastern NC barbeque, I felt anxious excitement about pulled pork from Finland. No offense, Finland, but no one does pork better than Eastern North Carolina. However, any uneasiness going into my meal went away the minute I saw this juicy, saucy pork sandwich. And you can't smell it! Oh my friends, it smelled heavenly: spicy, a little sweet, slightly meaty, everything you could ever ask for in a pork sandwich. And I didn't share ONE. SINGLE. BITE. Sorry not sorry, family.
But then came the churros. Okay, I know what you're thinking. Who eats churros in Finland? FINLAND? Well, I've had churros a lot of places around the world and the folks at Roka know how to make a damn good churro. Light and airy, fried perfectly, and drenched in the perfect amount of sugar. Served with a hot and melty chocolate sauce, we gobbled up these churros so quickly, it was easy to spot the Americans in the restaurant.
Rovaniemi is a gem of a town in Lapland. The food there is outstanding and it moves at a much slower pace than large cities. The Laplanders love to share their culture and food, so be open to whatever combinations of ingredients you find - you'll be pleasantly surprised. Also, ask the locals, like Sanna, for recommendations. Rovaniemi food is spectacular from the fine dining to the boutique restaurants like Roka. Also, all the dishware is from Ikea. #lovescandinavia