Hieman kaduttaa, että lupasin, mutta täytyy pitää lupaus. Katumus perustuu siihen, että olen pitkään vältellyt asioimista mainitussa grillissä. Välttely taas perustuu henkilääkärini Eevan tiukkaan suositukseen - määräykseen? - että minun pitää syödä omenoita ja pysyä etäällä nakkikioskeista (eli snägäreistä, kuten minua urbaanimpi väki niitä kutsuu).
Eeva-tohtorin määräyksen takana ei suinkaan ollut huoli siitä, että joutuisin nakkikioskin jonossa tappeluun, mikä sinänsä on alituisesti vaaniva vaara Jaskan grillinkin öisessä jonossa kuten Suomen kaikkien nakkikioskien jonoissa. Nakkikioskitappeluthan ovat, kuten tiedetään, pysyvä osa elävää suomalaista kansanperinnettä.
Eeva-tohtori oli huolissaan kolesterolistani.
Niinpä en ole pysähtynyt Jaskan grillille pitkään aikaan, vaikka siitä ohi usein kävelenkin, sillä se sattuu sijaitsemaan kotimatkani varrella keskustasta Töölöntorille. En ole tarkistanut asiaa, mutta olen aika varma, ettei siellä myydä omenoita.
Grillin omistajan kaupallisesta hoksaavuudesta todistaa, että asiakaskunta on hyvä myyntivaltti. Niinpä ruokalistan annosten nimet ovat osa suomalaista poliittista historiaa. Viereinen kuva ei ole kovin terävä, mutta klikkaamalla sen saa suuremmaksi ja ehkä lukukelpoiseksi. Tutunnimisiä annoksia löytyy.
Muutama vuosi sitten satuin lukemaan New York Timesin matkailutoimittajan Helsingin-reissulta kirjoittaman jutun. Hänkin oli päätynyt yöllä Jaskan grillille. Tallensin kirjoituksen mutta en tullut merkinneeksi muistiin päivämäärää enkä ehdi nyt etsiä. Liitän jutun tähän:
Helsinki´s Grub Club
Each night in Helsinki, Finland, a random assortment of people, from celebrities to the living dead, line up in front of a tiny metal hutch tucked behind the Finnish parliament building. Inside the kiosk sits an old woman sporting granny glasses and a Soviet-era dye job that tints her hair an iridescent tangerine. Two outsize condiment dispensers hang, udderlike, from the ceiling; meat patties in puck form are lined up in front of a grill. The Finns have a word for their proudest national characteristic: sisu, or, roughly, “guts.” It takes sisu — a lot of sisu — to eat at Ykkos Jaskan Grilli.
I first learned about Jaskan Grilli at a bar called Tori, in the Punavuori district, Helsinki's pleasantly chill answer to Manhattan's West Village. Lotta, a stylish young Finn, explained the basics: The Grilli has been around for about 25 years, it opens at 7:30 p.m. and closes at 4:30 in the morning, and it's where everyone goes when the bars close. It's known for sandwiches crammed with ambiguous meat stuffs and covered in outlandish quantities of raw garlic. “If you were to hang out at Jaskan Grilli for two weeks, you would meet the who's who of Finland,” she said. “And the who's not.”
Lotta's boyfriend and his mates, a boisterous group ranging in age from 22 to 50, tried to convey to me the peculiar genius of Jaskan's. Apparently there are two traditions. You buy a half liter of milk to wash down your sandwich. And you fight. Fight? “Yes, normally, there is always a fight,” said one of the friends, a television cameraman in his 40s. “A good fight. Then you hug a little bit, and go have some sausage and milk.”
“It's drunk food,” said a banker. “Gourmet crap, I call it,” chimed in another. They all started talking at once. On many nights, some farmer will drive from more than 100 miles away just to get his fix. On weekends, the queue can extend more than 300 feet. One time the filmmaker Renny Harlin supposedly offered to buy everyone a sandwich if he could jump the line. “Everyone is in the same mood,” a Swedish businessman said. “A lot of after-parties start there. Place to pick up girls, also.”
At 2 a.m., we headed over. Lotta began to translate the menu. The first item is “hot dog.” After that, things get esoteric. There is the famous Jaskan Special (meat pie, beefsteak, ham patty, sausage), and the infamous Kannibal (big meat pie, beefsteak, fried egg, two ham patties, ham, sausage and all 14 condiments), from which I'm told no one has ever returned alive. The other items are named after celebrity regulars: the Tarja Halonen, for the Finnish president; the Kansalainen, after Tapani Kansa, a Finnish crooner; and my favorite, the Salarakas, or “Secret Lover,” in honor of the salacious tabloid speculations surrounding a prominent Finnish businessman.
The ancient server, Aliisa, chatted with us. Old Jaska, who started the Grilli, sold it 16 years ago. (Where is he now? “He likes to go on vacations in Thailand.”) Aliisa has seen year after year of Finns sidle up to her window. “They come to tell me they're pregnant, to show me their baby. Now their children come.”
At that moment, a middle-aged man in a two-tone windbreaker wandered up. He wouldn't have been especially notable but for his young companion, who held up an umbrella for him, sheltering him from the rain. “He is the Dr. Phil of Finland,” Lotta whispered. “He had a TV show for a few years, but they canceled it, because no one in Finland has any problems.” I asked him about his Grilli habit. “I come once a week,” he said. “What they do here is garlic. Fresh garlic. You eat it and can never speak to another person thereafter.” He quickly became grand. “Before McDonald's came to our country, it used to be there was a grilli on every corner. Every country has its own fast food that was destroyed by American cultural imperialism!” He laughed, then bade us good night.
My experience in the notorious queue had been so civilized. But I'd been warned that times had changed. Fights at Jaskan Grilli were rare now, the milk on offer lactose-free. I shouldn't have worried, though. Two hulking Mafioso types exited a taxi and lurched toward us. I turned and thanked Aliisa and started to walk away. “Thank you very much,” one of the men mimicked, in an admirable approximation of my mid-Atlantic wheedle. I wanted to turn and give him a special greeting from Brooklyn, but I kept walking. My sisu failed me, I suppose.