Named one of the best new restaurants in Helsinki, Pobre, a small Filipino restaurant in Finland's capital, has successfully introduced Filipino cuisine to the Finns.
The restaurant, which is located at the fifth floor of Kamppi Shopping Center, was opened by six Filipino chefs in January 2018. And since it opened, the small restaurant has been full of customers, mostly Finns.
Recently, Pobre was named one of the best new restaurants by My Helsinki, a local website guide of the Finnish capital. It has also received positive reviews from local food writers and bloggers.
“It is very humbling to get such positive feedback and a warm welcome to the Finnish food scene. Most Finns have no clue what Filipino cuisine is and that makes it exciting for us to share our culture, through food and service, with them,” said chef Rob Desalisa.
According to Desalisa, there are about 4,000 Filipinos living in Finland, and the food scene in Helsinki has been steadily growing in the last five years. Asian restaurants specifically have been getting the attention of Finns.
The restaurant has been in the making for four years. Desalisa along with five other Filipino chefs, namely Michael Fernandez, Ralph Medina, John Paul Jesus Tello, Justine Caoibes, and Xian Punzalan, started selling their food during Restaurant Day in 2014. The chefs were working for various restaurants back then.
“We started doing Restaurant Day back in 2014, a quarterly event for amateur/home cooks to sell their goods at public parks or even at their own homes,” he said.
And because of the positive feedback they've been getting, they started doing pop-ups in 2017. Then they finally decided to open the first full-service Filipino restaurant in Helsinki.
“Pobre is a cheeky nod to our humble roots (pobre=poor) and a tribute to our fellow countrymen who are still struggling to achieve their dreams. Pobre is the first full-service Filipino restaurant in Helsinki, Finland,” Desalisa said.
The chefs describe their food as “New Filipino Cuisine” which is a modern take on the classic Pinoy fare. The restaurant imports essential Filipino ingredients and using them with local produce and meat.
“We like to describe our food as New Filipino Cuisine, leaning more towards contemporary rather than fusion. Fusion cuisine has been taking a bad reputation, it can be confusing and gimmicky sometimes. We at Pobre try to re-imagine Filipino dishes without making it too pretentious while still preserving the integrity and essence of our cuisine,” he said.
The restaurant has a lean menu—22 items—keeping the food more focused. And so far the bestsellers are the seafood sinigang, beef kare-kare, and pork binagoongan.
“To our surprise, pork binagoongan is one of our bestsellers. We thought that a combination of pork, shrimp paste, and mangoes will be a bit too exotic for the Finnish palate but, oh we were wrong,” Desalisa said.
“Another strong item in our menu is the sizzling sisig -- braised pork neck, mixed with chilis, garlic, onions, soy and vinegar, topped with 65-degree egg, chicharon and chives served on a lettuce leaf,” he added.
Aside from the bestsellers, the menu contains other classics like bistek, pansit canton, okoy, among others. But what makes Pobre's food different is how they serve the food. The plating is more modern to appeal to modern diners.
The restaurant also has a “Turo Turo” option for 40 euros, where customers can pick two appetizers, one main dish, one side dish, and one dessert.
To celebrate its first anniversary last January, the restaurant introduced its own beer, the Pobre Calamansi Pale Ale.