Eat This Now: Finnish Cardamom Buns at Rowhouse Grocery
Also known as pulla, these tender, not-too-sweet baked treats from a new kind of South Philly corner store are perfect with your afternoon coffee.
South Philly has one of the widest varieties of global cuisines of any neighborhood in the city. Within just a few square miles, you can dine on Indonesian, Filipino, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, French, Dutch, British, Mexican, Italian, American, or soul food.
But you probably didn’t know that one South Philly shop is serving pulla, a sweet specialty straight out of Finland.
The treat comes from the childhood of Jenn Holman, co-owner of Rowhouse Grocery at 1713 McKean Street along with Allie Hauptman and Travis Weissman. The trio opened the shop-slash-cafe, which also includes an upstairs event space, back in November.
Holman grew up in an area of Massachusetts with the second-largest population of Finnish immigrants in the U.S. Finns are the largest consumers of coffee per capita worldwide, and an afternoon coffee break with baked sweets is an everyday tradition there.
Although each tender, cardamom-infused bun is dusted with sugar before baking, pulla are different from the typical sugar bombs served alongside coffee drinks in the States.
“It’s a bread, not a cake or a cinnamon bun. It’s almost like a challah dough,” Holman said. “Making this stemmed from a selfish need to be able to eat it here in Philly.”
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These sweet Finnish breads typically come in an array of braided, shaped, and twisted loaves, depending on the time of year. But since a large loaf tends to stale quickly, Holman said, she and Hauptman, who produces Rowhouse’s in yeasted breads, decided on outsized individual rolls. The chefs also use granulated sugar, since that’s how Holman remembers them growing up; in Sweden and Finland, larger bits of lump sugar are used.
Each golden-baked bun is substantial enough to hold you over until dinner without spiking your blood sugar sky-high. The ground cardamom in the dough is pleasantly subtle, and it’s fun to, er, pull each pulla apart and dip the tender chunks of pastry in your coffee.
Even better? They’re just $2 each.
When they first conceived of their business back in 2016, Holman, Hauptman, and Weissman made a point to complement the offerings of the longstanding mom-and-pop corner stores in their South Philly neighborhood, offering fresh coffee and baked goods, affordable produce and prepared meals, and a few harder-to-find items like tinned fish, tahini, and natural cleaning products.
“Because we’re owner-operated, we can bring in things we enjoy on a personal level,” Holman said. “And if other people like them, that’s all the better.” That includes pulla as well as the challah that Hauptman bakes each Friday.
Get pulla every Tuesday at Rowhouse Grocery — the buns are usually out of the oven by 1 p.m. or so — and get more info about their open house on April 13th here.