Estonian cuisine sticks to its roots

  • 2010-02-10
  • By Ella Karapetyan

LOCAL DELICACIES: Estonians use their seasonal produce to create an amazing variety of dishes.

TALLINN - Cuisines reflect the cultural variety of a country’s regions and the diverse history affected by the evolving civilization. Each country has its own cuisine, which differs from other countries, and represents the country’s customs, traditions and the kinds of foods that its people adore.

Traditional Estonian food has its roots firmly in the countryside, relying heavily on pork, potatoes and garden variety vegetables.
The different historical rulers of the region - Danes, Swedes, Germans and Russians – have influenced Estonian traditional cuisine over the centuries. Estonian cuisine is very unique and actually is a cuisine of peasant origin, whose more typical ingredients are black bread (which accompanies almost every kind of food), pork, fish, cabbage soup, potatoes, vegetables and dairy products. The eating habits of the Estonian population are significantly related to the season, which severely affects the availability of fresh food. The spring and summer are the seasons of fresh food, in this period vegetables, berries and herbs are used, and with the warmer climate the Estonians also like to cook grilled meat outdoors. During the winter Estonians mostly use mushrooms, jams and preserved foods. Among the typical Estonian dishes are: the “Silgusoust” (Baltic fish in acidic sauce), “Mulgikapsad” (pork with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes), “Verivorst” (blood sausage and barley), “Marineeritud angerjas” (marinade anguilla), “Sult” (boiled pork in jelly), Keel Hernestega (tongue), “Suitsukala” (smoked fish) and “Karask” (a kind of dry cake-like barley bread).

Milk and all kinds of dairy products, such as fermented milk, yogurt and various dishes made with rennet are also very common. Among the desserts are the “kissel” (a sweet drink made of juice or sweetened milk with the taste of berries, strawberries, etc.), “Curd” (sweet curd based on the tastes of chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, etc.), rhubarb cake and “kama” (cake based on mixed cereal with toasted fermented milk and sugar, is also produced as a surrogate of chocolate).
Appetizers are not an important part of the Estonian cuisine. Their main goal is to enhance one’s appetite. A good deal of appetizers are based on fish.

Estonian beverages are served along with traditional dishes and may be wine, ale or beer. Those who prefer non-alcoholic drinks may choose Kali, which is a beer that hasn’t undergone the fermentation process. In the northern regions the light malt ale is famous, while in the southern parts it is a light ale made from barley and rye. And of course one of the most popular drinks, which is especially well-known among foreign tourists, is the liqueur called “Vana Tallinn” (Estonian for Old Tallinn).
The liqueur is sweet with a hint of rum, flavored by various natural spices, including citrus oil, cinnamon and vanilla. Vana Tallinn is widely available in all of the Baltic States and in Finland.

According to local legend, Vana Tallinn hits the drinker on the head and cuts off his legs. It can be mixed with sparkling wine or champagne.
Vana Tallinn can also be mixed with soda or milk to make something resembling the cream liqueur version. Vana Tallinn is a highly appreciated gift in all neighboring countries. The liqueur has a vanilla, slightly exotic and velvety taste. Some experts recommend drinking it straight, without any additional components, with a cup of coffee. Even without a hot drink, it is better to drink it straight, adding just crushed ice. The liqueur is also an excellent component in cocktails.

Another popular Estonian beverage is birch sap. Birch sap is a health elixir. It is the sap that awakens the birch tree to a new spring, new growth. Birch sap is a genuine, pure natural product, which flows through the birch tree in spring, from root to tip. Birch sap embodies nature’s own renewable energy cycle. The sap is living water, a health elixir whose every component also performs an important beneficial function in the human body. Birch sap contains sugars, fruit acids, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, sodium and iron.

Birch sap is extracted from the birch tree. It is often a slightly sweet, watery liquid. Birch sap must be collected during a specific time in the winter, depending on the species. The collected sap can be drunk as a tonic. Birch sap can also be used as an ingredient in food or drinks, such as birch beer. Birch sap is a pleasant, refreshing immunity strengthening drink. Since olden days, it has been well-regarded for its curative properties: it is an ecologically pure, tasty, curative, refreshing soft drink.