Some of you may have wondered whether A Hamburger Today accepts submissions from readers. We do. We're happy to bring you one such review, below, this one from Justin Henry as he visited Finland's own Hesburger. Thanks, Justin! (If you would like to submit a review or post, e-mail adam (at) ahamburgertoday (dot) com.)

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUSTIN HENRY | While taking care of some business in Helsinki this past week, I asked some native Finns for opinions on where I should go to obtain "the Finnish hamburger experience." The unanimous suggestion was Hesburger. Founded by native son Heikki Salmela, Hesburger is Finland's largest chain of fast food hamburger outlets. I'm not sure that there was really any other choice, as I didn't see anything else that passed for a hamburger joint besides the ubiquitous and unavoidable McDonald's.

Finland's most popular food for grilling during the country's rather short summers is a type of sausage, so it's not surprising that Hesburger is on all accounts, the Finnish equivalent of McDonald's in terms of food, service, and atmosphere. Not to be discouraged, however, I staked out a Hesburger location in Helsinki two blocks from my downtown hotel and stopped in for a visit on a Saturday afternoon.

I could have picked pretty much any time of day or night for my purchase, as this particular Hesburger was open until 5 a.m. on Friday and Saturday to serve the bar-hopping crowds that still-filled the streets at that hour. The staff consisted mainly of young women who quickly thwarted my attempts to order in Finnish with responses in English. The chain's beef-based sandwich offerings include about six different configurations, the most expensive and largest of which is known as megahampurilainen, or "megahamburger." With a design roughly similar to a Big Mac, this monster contains more than 1,000 calories and 72 grams of fat. My order was for a mega-ateria, or a megahamburger combo meal consisting of the traditional add-ons of fries and soft drink.

I ordered this for "take away" even though I planned to eat it right then and there, because I was curious to see if the packing job, an important aspect of U.S. fast-food, would be any more considerate than the usual greasy-bag pile-up from McDonald's. Of note was a fiberboard drink container that fit perfectly inside the bottom of the bag and several napkins wrapped around the packet of fries to prevent them from making the bag greasy or falling all over the place, thus eliminating the American tradition of fighting over the loose fries in the bottom of the bag. The convenience of a drink carried inside the bag was not lost, but I suspect it would have affected the temperature of the burger and fries if left inside for very long.

The megahamburger was considerably wider than a Big Mac and included lettuce, mayonnaise, pickles, tomatoes, and cheese. The noticeably high quality of these toppings helped mask the two thin and tasteless beef patties that made up the rest of the sandwich, apparently about all you can expect to get in a €7.3 (about US$9.30) fast-food meal.

One considerate touch that Americans might find annoying is that Hesburger fries are not salted by default. You are offered salt along with your ketchup, and you apply it yourself. Other than that minor difference, the fries were consistent with McDonald's. Speaking of ketchup, Hesburger supplied me with four very large packets of ketsuppi, one of the rare times that the cashier-supplied ketchup supply outstripped the demand—either too much ketchup, or not enough fries.

Overall, Hesburger felt like one step up in food quality and service from McDonald's, but at a rather steep price. Sure, the Scandinavian-designed interior with wood tables and chairs was nice, but I'm not sure I'm ready to pay almost US$10 for a fast food meal. Finns seem to disagree, as this place was packed even at 3 a.m. on a subsequent visit (there was even a bouncer on hand).

Hesburger is so popular that they have a frequent-eater program called bonusklubi with airlinelike eater levels of silver, gold, and platinum. Hesburger has also incorporated traditional Finnish food into its menu by offering something called a ruisfilehampurilainen, which is served on traditional dark rye bread and topped with onion rings but doesn't qualify for this review due to the glaring fact that it's a fish sandwich.

Hesburger clearly succeeds in meeting the expectations of Finland's fast-food burger eaters, and the quality of service is excellent, but there's not much reason in Finland to strive for anything more than simply "better than McDonald's" when you're the only other burger game in town.

Location: Mannerheimintie 18, Helsinki, Finland (downtown Helsinki). Locations throughout Finland and a handful scattered throughout Latvia, Estonia, and Germany. One location in Syria.
Phone: +(358 9) 612 3321
Cost: €6 to €7 for a combo meal
Short Order: Megahampurilainen for a bigger than Big Mac with American fast-food quality.


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