Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Travels with my garlic crusher

(c) Colette Copeland, from my travel-writing archives.

There's a man in Helsinki, Finland, who calls himself a friend of garlic. One day he had the bright idea to open a restaurant for the friends of garlic of the world (fiends of garlic might be a better description), and hasn't looked back. Every dish on the menu, a mixture of Finnish, French and Russian cuisine, has garlic in it; this is not as unusual as it may seem because the dishes are classical, like bouillabaisse, which take garlic anyway. What is unusual is that this restaurant, called Kynsilaukka/Garlic (the second word added for the benefit of the rest of us) has somehow got the reputation--all the way to New York--of adding garlic even to the desserts.
So when I found myself heading for Finland, I wanted to check out this curiosity but had no idea of the restaurant's name or location. In a karmic twist of events, a colleague from New York who had called on some other matter the day before my flight, gave me the name and address of a restaurant she highly recommended. It turned out to be the garlic restaurant.
The first thing I did when we arrived was to pull out a map and locate the place. The garlic karma was still working; it was as if the owner, Jan-Erik Berg, were waiting for me. I told him of the accidental way in which I'd found him.
"We've never advertised," he explained. "We don't need to."
"So you depend on word of mouth?" I offered.
"In a manner of speaking," he said, without missing a beat. "When you leave here smelling of garlic, you're advertising us."
I decided he was probably a garlic health-nut and voiced my assumption that Kynsilaukka was born out of garlic mania. Jan-Erik Berg put me in my place with disarming honesty. "No. It was a great marketing idea," he said, adding that his experience until then had been in marketing and real estate.
He opened the little jars that sit on every table and showed me their contents, made in their kitchens: a garlic/parsley relish and marinated whole cloves, for the fiends who want to add even more garlic to their food. Then he fetched his piece de resistance. "Garlic jam," he announced, placing a large ceramic jar in front of me. It looked like jam alright, but it smelled of lovely, spicy garlic. "We don't market it, and don't intend to, but I do ship it to two families in Sweden regularly," Jan-Erik Berg said. "They have to have it, apparently."
This "garlic jam" is what's given rise to the garlic dessert myth. The desserts are normal, not a whiff of garlic about them, but the odd maniac adds a dollop of "garlic jam" to his ice cream, and bingo, a rumor is born.
On the properties of garlic, Berg gets serious for a moment. He respects it, he admits; he has asthma and ever since he started eating garlic regularly, he feels his condition has improved.
Along with leeks, onions and chives, garlic belongs to the allium genus of the liliaceae (lily) plant group, and for thousands of years it has been used as a folk remedy. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, doctors were prescribing it as a drug and an antiseptic. It is still thought of as nature's antibiotic; in fact, garlic contains a compound called allicin which, along with various sulphides, is released when it is crushed or cut. Nowadays its therapeutic qualities have begun to be accepted in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Garlic apparently thins the blood, helping to prevent clots and blockages in the blood vessels; it lowers cholesterol, helps to reduce blood pressure, and like Aspirin and olive oil, seems to have anticoagulant properties.
The Anglo-Saxon world, and the Irish, have tended to share the English aversion to garlic, but this is changing. A lot of the aversion probably comes from the fear of smelling, something that's easily corrected.
I come from a dynasty of garlic-eaters who rarely smelled of it. When cooked it doesn't smell anyway and it's still good for you, but we often eat it raw, crushed into a salad dressing of olive oil and lemon juice, or mixed into plain yogurt as a sauce for anything from rice to roasted vegetables. If your digestion is healthy, brushing your teeth is enough; if your toothbrush is out of reach, chew on some fresh parsley. If your digestion is not so healthy, try chewing an aluminium-free antacid.
The easiest excuse for eating garlic is aioli, the mayonnaise that originated in Provence, which uses large, juicy garlic cloves. (Once you taste your own mayo, you'll never look at the bottled stuff the same way again.) This aioli is lighter in texture than the traditional, and as delicious a sauce for cold chicken, fish, hardboiled eggs and vegetables as it is for bouillabaisse.

3-4 large cloves garlic, peeled
2 fresh egg yolks at room temperature
45 mL (3 Tbsp) milk
15 mL (1 Tbsp) lemon juice
2 mL (1/2 tsp) salt
1 mL (1/4 tsp) black pepper
75 mL (1/3 cup), plus 175 mL (3/4 cup) virgin olive oil
25 mL (2 Tbsp) fresh lemon juice
25 mL (2 Tbsp) heavy cream

Place the garlic, yolks, milk, vinegar, salt and pepper in a food processor (or blender) fitted with a metal blade and blend until thick. Now add 1/3 cup of the oil, drop by drop, while the machine is running. Continue with the rest of the olive oil adding it in a thin stream, then quickly add the lemon juice and cream, and blend. Turn the aioli into a bowl or jar, cover well and refrigerate. Use within a few days.


  1. erika tysse2:39 p.m.

    num num! We use aioli a lot here, but it is the store bought kind, delicious... Really good with fish! If and when I get over to Finland, which is just a hop, skip and a jump from Norway, I will check out the restaurant. Right up my alley!

  2. Mmmmm....garlic! I have never tried Aioli before. Read and came across the recipe enough, now you have inspired me to make it!

  3. i haven't made aioli in a long time.

    great post.

    fellowette garlic lover

  4. I really enjoyed your entry on garlic because I love it. The only problem is that it's 11:30 p.m. and I feel like making some aioli...and then eating it of course (maybe with some cold salmon).

  5. Very interesting. There's a restaurant in San Francisco called The Garlic Rose that's been serving dishes infused with garlic - including ice cream - for years. It's delicious, but not a place one wants to visit very often!


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