I know it wouldn’t be the first thing people would think of doing when planning their time in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, but for me, going on a food tour in a country I knew next to nothing about and absolutely nothing about the cuisine seemed like the best idea ever. And truly, it was the perfect way to spend my all too short time in one of Europe’s prettiest cities.
The tour with Food Sightseeing Estonia met right in the Old Town and save for the very last stop which took place at a market area outside of the Old Town’s city walls, all other tastings were within it. One of the many things I enjoyed about this food tour was that it truly was a nice contrast of stops-everywhere from a full service sit-down restaurant to a historic cafe to even a centuries’ old pharmacy.
Our group was small, just D and me and a family of four, so it was nice and intimate. Our guide was absolutely wonderful. As most tour guides are, she was truly the perfect bridge for learning not just about Estonian food but also its culture and history. In an earlier post I mentioned how many older Estonians are able to understand Finnish due to the years the country spent being closed off from the West and Finnish television being their only link to the West. But our guide also spoke to the many fears Estonians have today, specifically regarding Russia. As Americans, it’s easy for us to think that Russia is a grave danger and yet not in the sense that it is to tiny Estonia, a country that in modern history spent nearly half a century under Russian rule when it was part of the former Soviet Union. She said how much Estonians are fearful what Russia will try to do to Estonia in terms of the bullying tactics it has already demonstrated in a place like Crimea.
We had a total of seven tastings and while that seems like a lot, some were smaller than others. The food tour ended with me feeling pleasantly sated, which is what I want a food tour to be-not overly, almost disgustingly full but not still hungry either. Here are the seven places we had tastings in the order we stopped.
-This was such a cool place to start the food tour tastings- the interior was straight out of medieval times (it is a medieval-themed restaurant so naturally the staff was dressed in period attire). Here we had possibly my favorite meal of the entire tour, a pumpkin-parsnip puree soup. Even though it was somewhat warm outside, its delicious factor more than made up for this. As our guide explained, vegetables are an integral part of Estonian cuisine. We also had a shot of a locally made honey-vodka which is naturally needed in Estonia’s long and harsh winters. I drank it, but boy did it burn going down.
Gourmet Deli and Shop
-Well, I can now say I’ve (not really) had the pleasure of trying a malt-flavored beverage. It was that or a local craft beer and honestly, maybe the beer would have been better (remember, I’m not a huge beer drinker). The malt-pop drink known as Kali just tasted too much like bread. Literally, it was like drinking liquid bread. I much preferred the food tasting we had, black rye bread along with a roasted beet hummus. Black rye bread is one of the culinary items Estonia is known for and this was delicious.
-Okay, I’m not going to lie, I was slightly disappointed that at the oldest cafe in Estonia, we didn’t get to try something sweet (after two savory tastings, I was dying for some sugar). But after the tour we did go back here and bought some chocolates and a marzipan Estonian flag, so all was righted. Upstairs on the second floor, we had a local Estonian potato salad that was served along with a rhubard-black currant lemonade. The potato salad was nothing like I’m used to here in the United States (it tasted infinitely healthier without losing its taste appeal). The drink was interesting, I just couldn’t quite get used to the chia seeds which is funny since I love bubble tea and I know many people find the tapioca pearls too odd.
Old Town Hall Pharmacy
-This was undoubtedly the neatest stop on the tour. The Old Town Hall Pharmacy, or Raeapteek as it’s known in Estonian, is one of the oldest continuously running pharmacies in Europe; it’s been located in the same building since the early 15th century. In addition to your standard pharmacy wares, it’s also home to some rather creepy items like stallion hooves and dried deer penises among others (because you know, back in the day dried deer penises were “totally” medicinal). But it was here that we were told the true origins of marzipan, this according to Estonian legend since many countries claim being the ones to create it, as well as our own individually wrapped marzipan to take home.
I always thought open faced sandwiches were a Scandinavian thing but then Estonia is in many ways a cousin to its Scandinavian neighbors. At Kaerajaan (a name I can’t remotely begin to pronounce along with everything else in the Estonian language) we tried two open faced sandwiches, smoked sprat and mushroom sauce along with Kama, a national drink. Normally I am game for trying/finishing just about everything on a food tour, but this was one item I just couldn’t. Kama is a finely milled flour mixture of barley, rye, oat, and pea mixed with kefir and yogurt. Kama has a very distinct and even odorous taste to it.
This spot won the award for cutest interior ever. It was here that we had our only sweet tasting of the entire tour, basically a soft waffle with none other than Kama, yes, the drink from the last place. But in a consistency of curd-cream fillings, it was delicious and you’d never think it was Kama. Our guide mentioned that during Soviet times when sweets and other treats were rare, people’s waffle irons were used round the clock. But then after Estonia became free again, they went out of fashion until a place like Vahvlihaldjad made them popular again.
For the finale, there was the choice of a local craft coffee or a cup of tea.
I went into this food tour knowing nothing about Estonian cuisine and left feeling not only richer from a food perspective but from a historical and cultural one too. Estonia is a country I’d very much love to return to. This wonderful food tour confirmed that.