The Cosmopolitan Melting Pot of Helsinki: Itakeskus Shopping Malls

Written by Gideon Oladosu

Itis and Puhos are shopping centres in Itakeskus. Itakeskus as an area is a fast growing point for businesses of both the locals and the international migrants. There are a lot of manifestations of cultural, ethnic and religious identities associated with this area.

Starting from the excursion, I visited a part of Itakeskus shopping mall (which was Itis). According to Finnish Shopping Centers (2014), Itis was formerly known as Itakeskus and it is the second largest shopping centre in Finland. In terms of location, it is situated in East Helsinki and it is close to Itakeskus metro station and Itavayla motorway. In addition, it was discovered that it has about 150 shops which are cafes, grocery stores and restaurants.

Going straight into my observations at ITIS shopping mall. The shopping mall building looks modern and this indicates good architectural design. This great architectural design also has actually shaped the activities taking place in the mall. In addition to my observation, a lot of activities (mixed activities) were observed; ranging from shopping, banking, relaxation, eating & drinking, and technological display. These activities signify great ethnic and local culture. Also, while taking stock of the uses of the shop outlets, I categorise these outlets into cloth shops, groceries markets, flower shops, restaurants & bars, communication network shops, and a bank (Nordea). The great part of my observation was that these shop outlets manifested ethnic, local and international cultures, and not only the cultures and traditions, but also the languages. These shops were named from different languages all over the world. such as English, Finnish, Japanese among many others.

While trying to see what kind of items are being sold in these shops, and trying to connect them to culture. I discovered things like clothes & clothing materials, housing materials, body ornaments (necklaces, earrings, wrist-watches), and flowers. But, to my amazement, I discovered that only one flower shop and bookshop exist in ITIS. This supports the research done by Hewidy et al  (2022).  However, Hewidy et al  (2022), noticed that many local markets and businesses are diminishing while the foreign businesses are striving, especially through the emergence of big shopping malls. The research also noticed the growth of big shopping malls which belong to private foreign business individuals has pushed the local retail businesses from Helsinki to the countryside, and yet many of these local businesses are unable to survive. This resulted in the final vanishing of these local shops which could have exhibited the local identities and cultures. Going to Itis shopping centre as my case study area, the presence of only one flower shop showed that the local culture is disappearing and the new foreign culture is emerging.

The emergence of this foreign culture and the disappearance of the local culture still shows the presence of mixed cultures and identities. It is very worthy to see that among these shop outlets, the restaurant and bars are culturally diverse, selling  different dishes and drinks that are multicultural and many people of identities identifying their own ethnic shops where they can have delicacies which they were used to. A lot of people from other backgrounds go into those shops that are not from their background to have a taste of other cultural food. Therefore, the visitors to these areas were discovered to be of mixed races. For instance, a lot of Arabs were seen shopping, eating and having fun and they were in their religious and cultural dresses. This displays how the area is culturally significant for this group of people. Also, many Finnish individuals and many other people from diverse backgrounds were found shopping in the grocery shops.

In addition to these visitors to the shopping mall, many of the workers in these shop outlets were found to come from different cultures and races. In addition to my observation, fathers and mothers were seen pushing baby strollers around for shopping. The adults too were walking with the support of their strollers. While interacting with these visitors, which comprises father, mother and the elderly,  the father and mother perspective has been that Itis is a good place to hang out with friends and family to have fun and engaging discussions. Some said it is a place to connect back to their homeland through the delicacies.  Also, the elderly/aged especially the Finnish aged sees it as a place to go when bored at home. In addition, I heard some of the visitors speaking their languages and some of them listening  to their native songs.


ZHAO TEA SHOP (Taste of Japan)

An Art Show room with labellings in Finnish

Verso: The only surviving flower shop

The modern architectural view of ITIS

The Affordances (seats) created for the visitors

The elderly and parents driving the strollers

Finally, in my opinion, I see Itis Shopping mall in Itakeskus as a good place to develop a sense of community. Also, It possesses many affordances for all ethnic groups, and for all ages. Lastly, the presence of these two shopping centres have made Itakeskus as an example of the Cosmopolitan Melting Pot in Helsinki (Finland), and the metaphor of the salad bowl theory of multiculturalism could be seen being vividly manifested.

Finnish Shopping Centers (2014). Finnish council on shopping centres. Retrieved 16.02.2023

Hossam Hewidy & Johanna Lilius (2022) In the blind spot: ethnic retailing in Helsinki and the spontaneous placemaking of abandoned spaces, European Planning Studies, 30:8, 1493-1513, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2021.1932763

How Islam is present in the space – Puotinharju, Puhoksen kauppakeskus

In the Puotinharju shopping mall, Islam was present in the space mainly in the form of clothing, of which at least the women wearing headscarves could be identified as Muslims with a very high probability. Also men with kufi caps were seen. Therefore, the clothing mainly expressed the religious identity of the people we saw in the area, although we still can not be sure if they were muslims only based on the hats and scarfs. On the other hand, as observers, we cannot know who are Muslim and who does not for example recognize scarf as a part of their religious identity.

In addition to that, Islam was very visible in Puotinharju also in the form of food products associated with the religion. For example, the visibility of halal food was very high in the area. On the other hand, pork meat was not seen for sale in the markets, nor was it on the grill located in the area.


Islam could also be seen on posters on the walls of Puhos. We found one poster from The Islamic Rahma Center, which is Islamic community and Mosque in Puhos. The poster was from last year and it was about Islamic prayer Eid Salah. Because of the old age the poster was a little bit broken and curled up. Therefore it was a little bit harder to spot. The other poster we saw was a bigger advertisement of travel agency. The advertisement was about package holidays to the important Mosques for Muslims. On the advertisement there is three big pictures of Mosques, Prophet Mosque, Mosque al Haram and Al Aqsa Mosque. These are considered to be the three holiest Mosques in the world and inside of Mosque al Haram you can find the Kaaba. 

These two posters are targeted for the Muslims and the posters are also making Islam more visible in Puhos. 


The object of examination was therefore the appearance of Islam in the Puotinharju shopping mall. The methods used were observation and taking notes based on the observations. The group also took some photos. Among the literature that helped to understand the phenomenon are Marko Juntunen’s book “Matkalla Islamilaisessa Suomessa” and Mitra Härkönen’s and Henrietta Grönlund’s text “Uskonto kaupungissa – empiirisen tutkimuksen lähestymistapoja”. Also Johanna Konttori’s article “Suomalainen islam eurooppalaisessa kontekstissa” were read. The assignment, discussions and related literature taught new perspectives on the appearance of religion in urban space, and the field assignment also brought a practical perspective to the topic.


Grönlund , Henrietta & Mitra Härkönen (2020): Uskonto kaupungissa – empiirisen tutkimuksen lähestymistapoja. Teoksessa: Saarelainen, Suvi-Maria & Joona Salminen (toim.): Uskonto ajassa ja tilassa. Helsinki: Suomalainen Teologinen Kirjallisuusseura, 93–109.

 Juntunen, Marko (2020): Matkalla Islamilaisessa Suomessa. Tampere: Vastapaino

Konttori Johanna (2022): Suomalainen islam eurooppalaisessa kontekstissa. Teoksessa: Pauha, Teemu & Johanna Konttori: Suomalaiset muslimit (toim.):Gaudeamus Oy

Ari Suokas, Suvi Kettunen ja Jasmin Kauppila


The power of ethnic retail

Written by Eurídice Hernández

How to find a home far away from home? Since I moved to Finland, this unsolved question has been haunting me. Where to find the coziness of a hug, the organized chaos that makes me feel alive in the middle of the dark and cold winter? I am far away from finding the answer. Actually, there is no correct answer; it is more of a process, a constant search to find where to belong in the city. To discover the trim and hidden places that bring me that familiarity. A familiarity can come from hearing a word in your language, from a spice that reminds your favorite dish, a smell that brings you to a restaurant you know, or sometimes just the hustle that brings you back to your hometown.

Belonging is not only connected with ethnic ties; it flourishes through the individual experience marked by several social markers such as gender, generation, class, and nationality. It is about finding a location that can be “experienced through identification, embeddedness, connectedness, and attachments”( Pfaff-Czarnecka, 2013, p.4). Belonging is by nature an individual experience, but it is socially negotiated that aims to find spaces that can become more familiar, intimate, and valuable, being converted, in the end,  into a place (Tuan, 1977).

Ethnic retail shops have been this place for me- an oasis in the city; I find the familiarity and elements that help me belong to Helsinki. In Hakaniemi, I find vegetables that remind me of my grandma’s food; I can get ingredients to make my favorite Brazilian dessert, and if I visit the Brazilian market, I can even have a coffee for a couple of minutes and talk in my language. For me, ethnic markets and restaurants in Helsinki bring the possibility of getting closer to home; they are a portal to a place where all the migrant customers share the same search- the search for our space in this new country. Inside the wall of the retail ethnic markets, someone can take a rest of this journey around things that are familiar to them. When I was allocated to visit Puhos, I got excited; it was the chance of me going to a new area with other ethnic retailers and seeing if the feeling I had about ethnic retails in the city would be the same.

Puhos is a shopping mall area dominated by ethnic markets and retailers, but I had never been there before the field exercise. On my way to Puhos, I reflected on the reasons for it. I frequently go to STOA and the library but never wondered what was behind STOA. It was like an imaginary wall prevented me from exploring the area. This can come from the way I perceive Helsinki. Unfortunately, apart from Hakaniemi streets, my life orbits around shopping malls, and in Itäkeskus, I was going to Itis. It never crossed my mind that another one could exist. Then, it comes the second point, differently from Hakaniemi and Kontula shopping malls, no one I know ever mentioned going to Puhus, so that place remained unlocked for almost two years.

On the day of the field trip, I went there with my Brazilian friend; always good to have someone familiar when you go to an unknown space. Here it is essential to highlight that what made me want to go with someone wasn’t the fact of being afraid- there is no place in Finland where I feel unsafe- it was to avoid eventually feeling out of place and attracting too much attention. I searched the site and read the article beforehand, so I knew that the area was the hanging out spot for specific groups, and I did not want to feel like an outsider alone.

Arriving at the place, I could notice that it was not only my ethnicity and, eventually, race that could matter in that place; my gender and what I was doing there would also influence that. At the first spot, I stopped to write on Flinga; I felt several eyes looking at me, men’s watches. I did not feel insecure, but that was not my space. I felt like an intruder in someone else area. On the walls, I saw advertisements for sending money back home, which is not a need for me; many words were written down in languages I didn’t understand; it was not my space… There it was highlighted the “difficult to establish identificatory ties with those from very different histories and places” (Nast, 1994, p. 4). But then I felt a pleasant smell. From one of the restaurants in the area- I could not discover which- a familiar smell made me smile, even though I was already freezing.

The smell of nice food made me want to stay longer and visit the ethnic markets, and inside them, I had the same pleasant surprise of finding products that I missed, and I even found the ingredients for my dessert- cheaper. In Puhos, I understood my positionality in a space of betweenness; I was not an “outsider” but also not an “insider” differences are part of the urban realm, and in Puhos, I had to negotiate various kinds of them- based on gender, ethnicity, race, and class, but still in some corners, behind some market doors, I felt at home. Eventually, this is why food is essential for Brazilian and Latin American culture; it makes people connect with their emotions.


Nast, H. J. (1994). Women in the Field: Critical Feminist Methodologies and Theoretical Perspectives. The Professional Geographer, 46(1), 54–66.

Pfaff-Czarnecka, J. (2013). Multiple Belonging and the Challenges to Biographic Navigation | Resources Library | ISA Sociology.

Tuan, Y. F. (1977). Space and place: The perspective of experience. U of Minnesota Press.

Observing Puhos with all senses

Our group headed to Puhos to do our observing. We started to observe Puhos in the eyes of religious studies. There were a lot of elements that refer to the culture and we had a discussion about what is considered religious elements. The line between culture and religion is hazy and difficult to define, so some of our observations might be about both. Focusing on the religious elements of the area we noticed the following things: Halal foods, recitation of Qur’an inside a restaurant, travel agencies advertising religiously important places, Arabic writings that looked like blessing formulas, and shops that sold religious clothing.

Puhos had a few different supermarkets that sold specifically halal foods and other foods, spices and groceries from other cultures and countries. While we are observing religious elements, we understand that customers at these stores are not there only because they sell halal products. They might just be close to their homes and have familiar products or customer service in their mother tongues.

Puhos also had travel agencies that advertised pilgrimage and other travelling to holy places. It was interesting that we haven’t noticed other places in Helsinki have travel agencies that are more focused on Islamic holy places. Few of the places were already closed for good or were not open that day. Puhos might be a location for those interested in travelling to these locations. There were also many places that advertised currency exchange.

Around Puhos, there were a lot of texts in different languages. We especially noted a few Arabic texts that looked like blessing formulas. Also, some shops have names that have religious meanings. There was a shop named al-Bakara, which means cow in Arabic, but it’s also a name of a Surah in the Qur’an.

After some time, we decided to have some food at Kirkuk restaurant. In the beginning, we took notice of the soundscape of the place. There was Qur’anic recitation, we were not sure about it at the beginning, but there were tv-screens that also had the text and we recognised it to be from the Qur’an. Later there was some other music. We had a lovely time eating food and drinking tea. The atmosphere was cosy, and we spent there a good hour.

Juulia Lohisto, Riina Sarasjärvi, Marika Saarelma, Anja Presnukhina

Lived Islam in Itis shopping center

During the course “Islam and the city space” held by Riina Sinisalo, our group had to observe the city space from the perspective of how religion, Islam particularly, is noticeable in the surrounding environment. Our observation was held in the shopping center of Itäkeskus “Itis” (Helsinki, 00930). The task was carried out by free observing: what do we see, smell, hear, touch and so forth. Observing as a research method has many benefits despite its reputation; it allows us to blend in with the milieu. Researcher Linda Woodhead argues that the study of lived religion requires entering the public spaces, domestic lives of people and religion.

Our group managed to make a few important observations during the given task. First, outwards Itis shopping center does not differ that much from other big shopping centers in Helsinki; internationality is noticeable in the general street view of Helsinki.

And secondly, we noticed that in Itis the religion, particularly Islam, can be seen through clothing: we could see women wearing hijabs, jilbabs and niqabs. We could also see Muslim men wearing dišdaša, a long traditional piece of clothing which is typically white.

As a city space, the Itis shopping center worked as a meeting place and a space for socializing. The people there tended to move in pairs or groups. We could see groups of veiled Muslim women shopping and having lunch together, and many of them also had strollers and young children with them.

As said above, Itis does not specifically differ that much from other shopping centers in Helsinki, but one essential observation was that once we turned and continued our walk to Hansasilta the atmosphere changed a lot compared to the “main part” of the shopping center. Arabic language was very present: we could see it on the walls, restaurants and advertisements of Hansasilta and we could also hear the Arabic language. The difference was also noticeable with the smell: restaurants selling more oriental food with different kinds of strong spices caught our attention. The biggest restaurant in this area was Stadin Chili Kebab, which was located in the middle of Hansasilta. The restaurant sells many kinds of food, but there was no pork or alcohol on the menu.

Itis, shopping center

Dessing, Nathal 2013. How to Study Everyday Islam. Edited by Dessing, Nathal & Nadia Jeldtoft and Linda Woodhead. Everyday lived Islam in Europe, 2016. London; New York: Routledge. Pp. 39-52.

Picture: Itiksen kauppakeskus, tallinanaukio 3 ja 10, itäkeskus by Nurmi Juho, Helsingin kaupunginmuseon valokuva-arkisto

By: Satu Korpela, Johanna Salmola, Katja Outbanbine, Olivia Luokkanen, Johanna Piira, Mirka Piirainen

Rukoushuoneet tai hiljaiset tilat kauppakeskuksissa

Islam ja kaupunkitila -kurssilla teimme ryhmänä havainnointitehtävän kauppakeskus Itiksessä ja sitä ympäröivässä kaupunkitilassa. Tarkoituksena oli havainnoida erityisesti sitä, miten uskonto ja etenkin islam näkyy tai ei näy tilassa. Teimme useita mielenkiintoisia huomioita, joista erityisesti mieleemme jäi havainto siitä, miten kauppakeskuksessa ei ole varsinaista rukoushuonetta tai tilaa rukoiluun tai hiljentymiseen. Tämä tieto tuli ilmi kysyttyämme asiasta kauppakeskuksen infopisteen työntekijältä. 

Kauppakeskuksen infopisteessä meille kerrottiin, että aikaisemmin hiljainen tila on ollut olemassa, mutta koronan takia se on otettu pois käytöstä. Meille kerrottiin, että tällä hetkellä kauppakeskuksessa on vain Spacehub-tila, jossa voi esimerkiksi työskennellä rauhassa. Meille ei kuitenkaan kerrottu esimerkiksi tilan maksullisuudesta. Lisäksi Spacehub on enemmänkin koppimainen rakennelma, jossa on pöytä keskellä, joten tila ei esimerkiksi sopisi toiminnalliseen rukoiluun liikesarjoineen. Lisäksi tila sijaitsee keskellä käytävää ja siinä on lasiset seinät, joten se ei siis ole näkyvyydeltään kovin yksityisessä paikassa. Sikäli se on siis kovin puutteellinen monen rukoilijan tarpeisiin. Tämä sai meidät pohtimaan laajempaa kysymystä siitä, pitäisikö hiljaisia huoneita tai rukoustiloja löytyä kauppakeskuksista.

Ryhmämme jäi havainnoinnin jälkeen pohtimaan tällaisen tilan tarpeellisuutta. Kauppakeskukset ovat yleensä luonteeltaan hektisiä ja kiireisiä ympäristöjä täynnä ihmispaljoutta. Moni kävijä voisikin siis kaivata pientä hiljaista hetkeä kiireen keskellä. Toisaalta jäimme miettimään, onko mahdollista luoda kauppakeskusten kaltaiseen ympäristöön yhteiskäyttötilaa, joka huomioi ihmisten erilaiset tarpeet esimerkiksi liittyen yksityisyyteen ja rukoiluun liittyviin käytäntöihin. Esimerkiksi moskeijoissa rukoiluun varattu tila on tyypillisesti rajattu naisille ja miehille erikseen erilaisin sermein tai verhoin, ja myös peseytymismahdollisuus on huomioitu. Tilan rakentumiseen varmasti siis vaikuttaisi se, millainen työryhmä sitä olisi suunnittelemassa ja kenen ääni pääsisi kuuluviin.

Nopealla aiheen tarkastelulla ilmeni, että ainakin kauppakeskus Redissä on löydettävissä evankelisluterialisen kirkon tila, nimeltään “Silta”, joka toimii Kallion ja Paavalin seurakuntien yhteisenä kohtaamispaikkana. Myös Helsinki-Vantaan lentokentälle on tänä vuonna avattu hiljainen huone non-Schengen-alueelle matkustajien erilaisiin tarpeisiin.

Asiaa pohtiessa on hyvä huomioida, että viimeisimmistä koronaviruksen asettamista rajoituksista on jo yli vuosi, jonka vuoksi jäimme pohtimaan miksi rukoushuonetta tai vastaavaa hiljaista tilaa ei ole tuotu saataville uudelleen. Rukoushuoneella tai hiljaisella tilalla voi myös olla positiivinen vaikutus kauppakeskuksen taloudelliseen toimintaan, sillä ihmiset, jotka käyttävät rukoushuonetta tai hiljaista tilaa, käyttävät myös todennäköisesti muita kauppakeskuksen palveluita. Tämä huomioon ottaen, olisi mielenkiintoista myös tietää ketkä tekevät päätöksiä tällaisten tilojen olemassaolosta. Onko päätöksiä tekevissä sidosryhmässä otettu huomioon uskontojen moninaisuus vai tehdäänkö niitä vain sekulaarisuus huomioon ottaen?

Nykyään Spacehub sijaitsee suunnilleen tässä kohtaa kauppakeskus Itistä.

Nykyään Spacehub sijaitsee suunnilleen tässä kohtaa kauppakeskus Itistä.


Kauppakeskus Redi. “Silta.” Redi. 13.1.2023. Luettu 22.2.2023.

HS, Sami T. “Matkailu | Helsinki-Vantaan Lentoasemalle Avattiin Hiljainen Huone.” Helsingin Sanomat. Luettu 22.2.2023.

Kuva: Helsingin Kaupunginmuseon Valokuva-arkisto

Tekijät: Joel Hannas, Katja Nikupaavo, Sara Rautiainen ja Sofia Vaahtera

The idea of the blog

This is a course blog of two courses at the University of Helsinki in spring 2023: SOSM-YP334 Migration and Cities (Lecturer: Nilay Kılınç) and TUK-IST2621 Islam ja kaupunkitila (Lecturer: Riina Sinisalo).

Despite having a different focus – first course on migration and urban sociology and the latter with a specific focus on Islam in city spaces – both courses dwell into the topics such as immigration, globalisation, transnationalism, religious plurality, multiculturalism, belonging and urban transformations.

This blog is based on the students’ reflexive accounts of the fieldwork trip to Itäkeskus neighbourhood (Eastern Helsinki) on 13 February 2023. The students from both courses spent half a day in the mentioned neighbourhood, mainly in Puhos and Itis Shopping Malls and their surroundings as well as the Stoa Cultural Centre.

The blog posts by the students reflect their learning outcomes through combining theoretical knowledge with their empirical findings.

Photo of the main site: Tallinnanaukio, Itäkeskus by Jaana Maijala /