Ever since I was five, Dad and I have been going to sports events together, mostly hockey and soccer games.
My earliest memories: the smell of the arena, a young boy selling popcorn by yelling “pooooooooooooop cooooooooooorneeeeeeeeeeee”, goalies looking weird, wooden benches, ads being projected onto the ice during intermissions, a huge cloud of cigarette smoke hovering close to the ceiling that was supported by thick cables, and a friend of Dad’s buying, and eating, ten sausages.
When I got a little older, not much, but old enough to roam around the arena by myself, and with my buddies during games, I quickly learned two tricks. One, I’d spend the first period looking for empty seats on the other side of the rink and then claim those for the last two periods, ready to move if somebody bigger and stronger showed up.
And two, I learned that if you went to buy sausages at the end of the second intermission, or when the third period was just about to start and all the lines were gone, the sweet lady would always give three, or four, or five, for the price of one. Sometimes, if I was lucky, and alone, and looked especially cute, I could get three or four sausages for free.
I like hockey, we’ve traveled together for a few decades, mostly hand in hand, even if there have been times when we’ve given each other some space. Nothing wrong with that. So, if I come across a hockey rink on my travels, I usually take a peek inside, and have a cup of coffee, while watching the action and reading the bulletin boards.
Well, when I say “a cup of coffee”, what I actually mean is a sausage. Or five.
I remember the first time Wife saw the sausage counter in a Finnish grocery store. She was so impressed that she took a photo of it. Now it’s an annual tradition, every summer she snaps a photo of a Finnish grocery store with all its sausages.
What can I say? Finns love sausages. Different kinds, different shapes, different sizes. We grill them, we use them on our sandwiches, we eat them as is, or, as a friend of mine, with a green apple so she could mix the sourness of the apple with the general mushiness of the sausage.
When we moved to another town, the sausages were also different. Instead of the steam cooked, ten centimeters long nakkis that look like short hot dog sausages, the hockey club in Joensuu served thicker, grilled sausages. The mustard was fantastic, the sausages almost as good, but not quite the same as the ones in Helsinki.
They’re so good that last week I skipped lunch because I knew I’d be going to a game at the old arena, and that I’d get those sausages. What made me even more determined was the fact that I had been to a game two days earlier, but hadn’t had any sausages. Made a rookie mistake and had a big, and late, lunch. This time, though, I would get my sausages.
I laughed out loud when the girl at the concession stand tried to sell me regular hot dog sausages. That was like asking for sushi, and instead, getting an order of fish sticks. I wasn’t going to take that deal. Sure, the dogs were twice as long, but they weren’t real nakkis.
“Wait, don’t you have your five nakki for four euro deal anymore?”
“I don’t have those, but there’s a stand on the other side that has nakkis,” she said.
“Oh, thanks,” I replied, and dashed off like the sausage hound that I have become.
I got my five for four and drowned them in mustard. Then I climbed back up to the stands. The Helsinki arena wooden benches are gone, the goalies haven’t switched sides in the middle of the third period in ages, there are no slide shows between the periods, and most people stand in line to get pizza, nachos, hotdogs, and beer at the arena.
Over the years, I’ve had traditional Karelian pastries in Helsinki, meat pastries in Lappeenranta, sushi at the Madison Square Garden, chocolate cookies in Stockholm, and many, many a grilled sausage in various Finnish arenas. I even tried a corn dog at one point when they were sold at the old Helsinki arena.
But nothing beats the Helsinki arena sausages.
Five nakkis for four euro. And if you’re lucky, and cute, maybe five for two.