cuisine like in a nutshell?
Estonian food is simple and hearty, a mixture of Scandinavian, Russian and German influences. Pork and potatoes feature heavily, though during the summer the diet is a lot lighter.
What’s the current food trend in Tallinn?
Fish is becoming more popular again – we’re even trying to choose our ‘national fish’ at the moment! Lots of ethnic restaurants are popping up, including some pretty good Japanese restaurants. And there’s a really vibrant café scene – I missed it a lot when I lived in Edinburgh! One of my favourites is the small enchanted café Chocolats de Pierre in Old Town, and I often have a latte at Bestseller in Viru Keskus.
What local food is not to be missed?
If you’re visiting during the summer or early autumn, then do head to the forests to pick your wild berries (cloudberries, cranberries, wild strawberries – the choice is wide) and mushrooms. They do taste heavenly! Also, you must visit one of the Medieval restaurants while in Tallinn - Olde Hansa (see picture above) is my favourite (their wild mushroom soup is amazing, and their spicy sugared almonds make a wonderful snack), but there are others. You should try some milk curd products, as well as some pastries and cakes – Maiasmokk is a good place to head to. Kama – our roasted ground grain mixture – is also a must-try... I’ve written about it here.
Which local food might I want to steer clear of no matter how much locals insist?
I like verivorst or blood sausage (alias black pudding for the faint-hearted), but I imagine it’s an acquired taste. Many foreigners would probably find sült (brawn/meat jelly/head cheese) – made by boiling pig’s trotters and possibly half a head for hours on a low heat – a bit weird.
What to bring home from my trip?
If you’re not looking for high-tech gadgets, then wooden butter knives and spatulas sold in Old Town smell heavenly (they’re made of juniper and rowan trees). And I know a certain foodblogger who left Tallinn recently with six kilos of salted and pickled wild mushrooms. I can only imagine the confused face of the cashier at the supermarket!
Which cuisine features most strongly in your city?
There are couple of ‘Medieval’ restaurants, but also some good Russian and Caucasian restaurants in Tallinn.
Which is/are your favourite gourmet addresses?
BUDGET: Many pubs would serve filling snacks (try salted fava beans – soolaoad, and garlic rye bread – küüslauguleib) and soups, and cafes usually have some savoury pastries to feed one in need. Kristjan & Kristiine Creperie in Kadriorg has great salads, and Bestseller café in Viru Keskus is conveniently located if you’re out shopping.
AFFORDABLE: Go to Vanaema Juures on Rataskaevu tänav for grandma’s style well-cooked food (the name translates as ‘at Grandmother’s place’).
BREAK THE BANK: Egoist on Vene tänav and Stenhus on Pühavaimu tänav. Both are safe bets and definitely up-market. Stenhus has been named the best gourmet restaurant in Estonia for third year in a row now (chef de cuisinier Tõnis Siigur, read my review here). The chef of Egoist and Gloria, Dimitri Demjanov, is the grand old man of Estonian gourmet scene and was named the best chef of 2006 at the Silver Spoon Gastronomy Awards, so you can be sure that he turns out great food.
What’s Tallinn’s attitude to food?
Restaurants can be rather expensive for the ‘average Estonian’, so there’s no established tradition of families dining out regularly like you’ve got in Southern Europe (but then people cook and eat and entertain at home a lot). However, with economic boom of the last decade, there are more and more young Estonians who can afford – and like – to eat out, and that is reflected in the ever-increasing number of cafes and restaurants.
Where to shop for food?
There are lots of decent supermarkets (Selver and Rimi being the biggest chains) for your everyday shopping. Stockmann would be the place to head for more unusual stuff, and they also stock small-scale Estonian produce (dark rye bread with bacon bits is stocked there). And the Central Market – Keskturg – is a place to head for if you’re looking for lamb, rabbits, and a really good choice of vegetables and fruit. It’s also a wonderful place if you’re looking for ingredients from the former USSR – be it unusual cheese (suluguni, brynza), bread (lavash, puri), spices (khmeli-suneli) or condiments (adjika). There’s a stall that sells pickled and salted garlic (plain or with beetroot), several types of adjika and even salted wild garlic. Shopping at the central market is becoming more and more trendy amongst knowledgeable foodies.
Which area is best for food – where to browse for restaurants while on the go?
Old Town – Vanalinn – is full of cafes and restaurants, but it’s also worth checking out the outskirts. The beautiful Kadriorg (Katherine’s valley, named after Peter the Great’s wife Katharine) district near the presidential palace has lots of lovely cafes, including one in our brand new national art museum, KUMU.
What’s best avoided?
I wouldn’t go to the Mexican restaurants here, and also avoid anything on Viru tänav, which is the main tourist street.
What are the big names in the restaurant scene?
We’re getting our own celebrity chefs here these days. Dimitri Demjanov, as I already said, is considered the grand old man. Then there’s British-born Michael Bhoola, whose Pegasus has just been named the restaurant that best characterises Tallinn. Tõnis Siigur (Stenhus) and Imre Kose (Vertigo) are probably the best known young chefs, both cooking exciting food appreciative of the local ingredients, and the young Estonian Russian chef Roman Zashtshersinski (Ö) is the one to look out for – he already won the cherished title of the best chef last year.
What are the most reliable restaurant guides for your area?
Well, Nami-nami foodblog of course:) Alternatively, you can check out the English-language Tallinn In Your Pocket guide, which is pretty good.
What to be aware of when dining out?
Smoking is – sadly – currently still allowed in most places, but as of summer 2007 will be prohibited in cafés and restaurants. Casual smart would be acceptable in pretty much all restaurants, though I’d dress up for the gourmet restaurants like Egoist and Stenhus. We get lots of tourists in Tallinn, so booking, especially during the weekends, is highly recommended. VAT (18%) is included in the bill, but not service, so if you enjoyed your meal and service, then feel free to tip, especially in a restaurant.
The content and picture were provided by and published with kind permission of my friend Pille of Nami-Nami.