A weekly menu ensures a different global cuisine is always around the corner in Tampere.

Tucked into the ground floor of an old wooden house in the historic neighborhood of Pispala, Tampere, Café Pispala is a bit of local secret, still a hidden gem. Founded by Bostonian Yvonne and Finn Vesa Leppälä, the café opened its doors in June this year. It exists as the culmination of a lifelong love of cuisines of the world, and was also born from the desire to share these flavours with the eclectic people of Pispala.

“What we do isn’t an exact replica of dishes, it’s our take on the things we’ve tasted and loved,” explains the affable Yvonne. “We wanted to share these flavours we’ve tasted on our travels to different places – whether it’s Peruvian, or Vietnamese, comfort food from the South, Mexican – even Asian fusion.”

This love for food explains the ever-changing menu, which switches out every week. Yvonne laughs, explaining that “the kitchen guys want to try new things, you know? And maybe this week one guy wants to do kimchi burritos, then next week someone else wants to serve up Peruvian ceviche. This way we get to mix things up and keep things interesting. People seem to love it too!”

It’s definitely an ambitious undertaking, but Vesa is an old hand in the restaurant business, having previously headed kitchens staffed by hundreds. Yet, the atmosphere in Café Pispala is that of a close-knit community project – best summed up by the simple chalkboard sign written in Hawaiian hanging over the kitchen space. Ohana. Family.

Flavours for all tastes

As we sit and chat, the café is buzzing all around us – there’s a line out the door and almost every wood topped table is occupied. Families sit side by side with young hipsters in their bowler hats and older couples chatting as they devour their American styled breakfasts. Here thick, fluffy pancakes topped with a scoop of butter and a side of bourbon-flavoured syrup are a definite favourite. Strips of crispy bacon and impossibly fluffy hotel-style scrambled eggs, along with glasses of freshly squeezes orange juice all come out the kitchen in a steady stream.

Vegans and vegetarians are well catered for as well, with fresh fruit bowls and a very respectable tofu scramble served with a side of colourful potatoes. The blue Peruvian sweet potatoes for this week are specially ordered in.

“Yeah, we’ve really been surprised at the enthusiasm our customers have had for our revolving menu,” Yvonne reflects. “They come in already knowing what they want, having checked our Facebook page. Some come in weekly, sometimes even two days in a row. They’ll enjoy the breakfast and then pop in for dinner!”

The neighbours have been really happy that the old neighbourhood finally has a dedicated restaurant. “Pispala has always had a shops, whether a butcher, cobbler, and a corner store. We’re just so happy to be able to share this place where people in the neighbourhood can come and maybe get a bite to eat too.”

Sweet temptations

Yvonne, who bakes the ever-popular scones (buttery and impossibly tender), stout cake (which incidentally, tastes just like an Oreo cookie), the American style cheese cake and blueberry muffins with a streusel topping, loves chatting with the customers and tossing in a free cookie or muffin. “It’s always a hoot when we offer our customers something on the house. They’re like, ‘What? For me?’ That’s what I love about this café. It makes people happy.”

Slowly, the crowds start to dwindle as the brunch service winds up. The fresh flowers adorning each table are refreshed with water and the floors wiped down in preparation for dinner. A lovely touch is the old newspapers that wallpaper certain parts of the café, with stories dating back to the early 1900s. But, enough of that – this week it’s New Orleans turn to shine, so the menu is full of Louisiana charm and flavours. My plate is full of colours and tastes, with sofrito rice (cooked with the New Orleans “holy trinity” of onions, green peppers, garlic and herbs cooked in olive oil), served alongside purple sweet potato, white beans, kale and corn.

The kale is pleasantly chewy and salty enough to hold up against the sweetness of the corn and white beans. There is a sneaky bite of passionfruit pulp garnishing the serve, and the sourness is fantastic against the richness of the flavours. I find myself laughing as I eat; it’s playful, delicious and bold. The serving is also generous. The iced water is complimentary, though the homemade lemon ice tea cannot be missed. For dessert I have a parfait, which truth be told, is pretty sweet. But with coffee it works well, and the boysenberries, strawberries and blueberries in the middle are delicious. Also on the menu this week is gumbo with shrimp, chicken, and chorizo, which I hear, is delicious.

Café Pispala
Pispankatu 30, Tampere
Open: Wed - Sat: 11:00 am - 8:00 pm
Sun: 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
tel. 040 7011603


Building anticipation

If one had to say something bad about Café Pispala, it would be the occasional wait for your meals. With the small kitchen turning out all dishes to order and with everything made from scratch, things may take a little longer than in other places. But the atmosphere and the quality of the food more than makes up for it – and the repeat customers attest to this.

“We wanted to give the neighbourhood somewhere they could go, and just relax, chat, read the paper, get a bite to eat, whatever,” Yvonne states. “Since food is our passion, its really great we get to share what we’ve experienced with people here.’ So, what’s next for the café? ‘We’re going to keep on exploring! And if people like it, we’ll just keep going!’ The eclectic neighbourhood of Pispala has just gotten a little bit spicier, and all the better for it. Note that the café doesn’t take brunch reservations, but if you come early enough on Saturday you’ll be sure to find a spot. The menu changes weekly, but the cakes, muffins, parfaits, American breakfasts and pancakes are set. Be warned that the portions are generous but requests for doggy bags are welcomed.

Café Pispala is closed on Mondays, open for dinner Wednesday to Fridays and on weekends do fantastic brunches from 10 am to 3 pm. Check out their Facebook page for more information on their menu this week.

Text and image Tania Nathan.