Whatever my expectations for Estonia, having a mind-blowing gourmet experience wasn’t on the list. Yet this is exactly what I got in Tallinn, over and over, in just three days. How did Estonia surprise my palate? Let me count the ways.
The best pork I ever had. Ever. Possibly the best entrée, period.
On my last night in Tallinn the Nice German and I went to a place called Põrgu, that serves upscale traditional Estonian fare and was recommended to me by my Tallinn tour guide. Man, was it worth the crowds and the wait! I ordered duck (smoky duck fillet, sweet potato mash, black plums, baked cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas and pomegranate sauce), which was tender and flavorful. The NG got the pork (grilled pork chops with caraway seed roast potatoes, baked tomatoes, celery root mash and beetroot sauce). The Poor German got to eat maybe half of it because OMFG it was the most amazing piece of meat – any meat – that I have ever tasted. Juicy and melt in your mouth tender and so amazingly delicious that I could not stop poaching the NG’s plate, even when I was no longer hungry. It sounds ridiculous, but if plates of this pork were given to me in endless supply, I probably would have been eaten it until I got sick… And then I would eat some more. Põrgu (um…“Hell” in Estonian) is a must for anyone visiting Tallinn – and for Friday and Saturday dinner do make a reservation.
The best fruit pie I ever had.
The cherry samosas I picked up from a nondescript pastry stand just outside of the Old Town Tallinn were piping-hot, crispy on the outside and bursting with berries. They were so good that I came back the next day to get a whole bag of them for my excursion to the Kadriorg Palace. The German liked them too.
Another place recommended by the tour guide, Von Krahli Aed (“Von Krahli Gardens – the embassy of pure food”) goes for the creatively prepared, modern artisanal fare that would feel right at home in most yuppie parts of Brooklyn. It’s has plenty of seasonal options for vegetarians and carnivores alike. I really enjoyed the cocoa-crusted salmon with sour-cream ice-cream, lamb tartar with quail egg, and smoked cheese & tomato puree soup. And the presentation was simply gorgeous.
Treat of the Nobility
I tried old-school beer (served in ceramic jars), cured elk meat and berry schnapps at the Medieval-themed Olde Hansa, but the dish that left the most vivid impression was the Rose Pudding. I don’t even know how to describe this sweet and airy conviction that tasted like rose- flavored perfume. I even ate the petals!
Olde Hansa also serves bear. That’s right. BEAR.
The Nice German and I needed some supplies for our picnic, so we decided to get some sausages and shashlyk for grilling. Classic Russian and Caucasian versions of this BBQ dish involve the meat (my preference is pork followed by chicken and salmon) marinated in white wine vinegar with some onions and spices. In the good old days you had to make the marinade yourself and let the meat condition overnight; nowadays you can get the ready-to-grill shashlyk at the grocery store, and serve it 30 minutes later. The NG and I figured that if you could buy it in Russia and Germany, we would probably find it in Estonia. We were right – and then some. It seems like there’s a bit of a BBQ cult in Estonia, because we found a whole supermarket aisle devoted to grilling products and accoutrements. And not your standard array either – there were literally dozens of marinades, involving all kinds of interesting meat, spice, wine and herb combinations, some even with cherries or pineapples! I would have loved to experiment but unfortunately, save for the packages with clearly visible ingredients, there was no way to figure out what meat or flavor you were buying. All the labels were in Estonian, which is nothing like any other language – and nobody in the store spoke any English. After half an hour of rather clueless deliberations, the NG and I played it safe and bought the most normal-looking pork shashlyk. And it was delicious.
Mulgikapsad is the traditional Estonian dish – sauerkraut and barley stew with pork, served with boiled potatoes and tiny pickles. I was determined to try it after doing some pre-trip research and luckily I found it served at a small restaurant as soon as I got to Tallinn. Unfortunately the execution was a bit lacking: the dish was served lukewarm, with unnecessary dried herbs covering most of it. But in theory it is totally my kind of food – simple, savory and hearty. Also it was the first time ever that I tried barley. I think.
I have no idea what kind of berries topped this cake I had for breakfast, but it was interesting. Any guesses?
Also, look at those cakes and marzipan, how cute are they! Do taste buds experience cognitive dissonance when you’re eating marzipan shapes like garlic? Food for thought.
The NG and I did a bit of bar hopping on our first night in town. One place that we went to served this kind of grape cider that tasted like a mix between grape soda and Smirnoff Ice. I needed a wheat beer to wash it down, but it was fun to experiment.
23 thoughts on “TALLINN’S UNEXPECTED CULINARY ADVENTURE”
I’ve taken note for when I eventually get there. Merry Christmas Anna!
And same to you!
I rarely go so bold as to recommend anything in an absolute, prescriptive way, but everyone really MUST go to Porgu when visiting Tallinn!
Man, I must go to that Purgatory place!
Hell. It’s HELL, dear 🙂
I´d feel right at home…
Wait, I get no points for M-F CAKE???
But OF COURSE!!! I guess when I´m in Germany, I´m much less cake starved…
I pretty much took the cake photos for you 🙂 and thought about you when ordering the breakfast one.
Aw… I´ve gone all warm and fuzzy now… though it might be the partly caused by the steam emanating from Mum´s kitchen…
The marzipan. The fruit pies look amazing, the cocoa crusted salmon is intriguing, the description of the pork sounds delicious but I love marzipan and it is something Americans have not gotten into enough.
I love how it looks – pure whimsy! – but I’ve never been too keen on the taste. When I was in Provence, I wanted to buy all of it and make it into Christmas decorations!
The NG would probably look the best to me, but the pork and cakes are a close second 😉
Hands off, missy! He’s all mine – you’ve got a whole country.
So, are you really allergic to my Nature post?
No, I’m German now – I like nature. It still doesn’t merit a capital ‘n’ but ho hum 😉
First time for everything 😉
I know that bakery! It saved me from hibernation on Christmas 2012 😀
Another great place where you can get an awesome meal is Vana Villemi, next to the bus station… and inside it feels like you’re in Hogwarts’ castle 😉
oh man! who knew Tallinn is so full of restaurant gems?
Im a foodie…. you just made me hungry!! I seems to me that I need to do to Talinn urgently 😀
The fruit pie looks amazing!! 😀
Happy new year Anna, I hope you have a wonderful year with lots of love and travels!
Great. I’m hungry now. The food looks amazing and I bet it will be hard to top.
I think it’s the most I’ve been food-impressed per square inch anywhere!
I don’t blame you! It’s like a perfect hole in the wall country 🙂
Actually… I think this is THE perfect way to describe it!