Estonian shops play culinary catch-up

  • 2004-04-22
  • By Wayne Jackson
TALLINN - With each new type of spice packet added to the shelves of major supermarkets and small specialty stores, Estonians catch up with Western shoppers who expect an exciting variety of foreign flavors at their local grocer's.

The ever-expanding selection of sauces and spices is a welcomed trend for expats living in the Baltics who often have a taste for well-seasoned foods. Although most foreigners coming to Estonia want to try the local dishes, they sometimes find them bland or fail to appreciate their flavor. New seasonings offer culinary relief.
Expatriates may look to Mexican, Italian and Japanese specialty ingredients as exotic additions to the kitchen or necessary flavorings for meals that remind them of home.
It's more than just the spice section that is growing larger in local shops. While there may be no American favorites such as Kraft Macaroni & Cheese dinners, pepperoni sandwiches or hoagies to be found in Estonia, a number of similar options have arrived. Boxed dinners and easy-to-prepare foods are just starting to appear on supermarket shelves, but what is available is not of the same quality or taste that most Americans are used to.
Still, frozen foods and ready-made meals are popular with Estonians, according to Peter Ranne, manager of a Rimi supermarket in Tallinn.
"Weekdays many local businesspeople will buy prepared foods from the deli, but on weekends when they have more time, they will buy foods to prepare at home," Ranne says.
Imported wines and liquors are increasingly easy to find, making it more likely that shoppers will come across the American or European brands they know.
Employees and customers at the Prisma supermarket at Kristina Keskus admit that the availability of European and American foods has inspired them to experiment and dabble in foreign foods at home.
"The purchase of imported beer is on the rise in Estonia, but the juice variety mostly comes from other Baltic countries. Cheese and most other products are purchased in Estonia although I expect that when Estonia enters the EU this will change some," says Leena Laitinen, head of Estonian operations of the Prisma chain.
Rimi has approximately 550 different wines from all over the world but location is the deciding factor on what sells; with imported wines being the most popular.
According to Ranne, as the pace of life in Estonia has sped up in recent years, shopping habits have changed considerably with the emphasis today on easy-to-prepare and ready-made foods.
Oliver Ojala, manager of the new City Gourmet Cafe, which opened in Tallinn at the end of 2003, says gourmet foods are becoming more popular here and most restaurants and chain stores have them. European food and wines are increasingly popular and available.
All of the City Gourmet Cafe's pasta and Parmesan cheese is imported from Italy, along with wines.
The Italian wines are relatively costly, ranging from 400 kroons (25 euros) to 500 kroons, and an average meal consisting of salad, pasta and a glass of wine costs about 12 euros, which is clearly above the average in Tallinn. But because Estonians want to try authentic foods, business is good.
Although the average Estonian cannot afford these on a daily basis, locals do purchase them from time to time because of the higher quality and good taste.
"People from different social levels frequent the cafe as they develop a taste for gourmet foods. The European atmosphere adds to the taste of the gourmet foods," Ojala says.