Most of the Estonians prefer pure domestic products and it is therefore no wonder that new shops and restaurants offering organic food are opening and the existing ones are expanding.
Farming has always been part of the land and local culture but especially during the Soviet years, people had to find ways of diversifying their menu. People grew their own fruits and vegetables and made their own jams and compotes, pickled and salted.
Our mothers never talked about organic food because they knew of no other. Even today gardens in our summer houses are fertilized with manure, cabbageworms are hand picked and shame on you if you sprinkle your apple trees with chemical pesticides. The organic food issue was brought up only when the rest of the world started to demand healthy and organically produced products. It is true, however, that after the borders opened, for a short while Estonians worshipped the waxed imported pears, sponge cakes with an indefinite storage life and syrups packed with artificial colours.
As a result, we now have to deal with the consequences - as more and more children have developed allergies. But, nevertheless, we are better off than most Europeans. According to recent studies 47 per cent of Estonians prefer domestic products while the average figure for the EU is 21 per cent. Today pasteurised yoghurts and instant soups full of sodium glutamate are hard to sell, as Estonian milk products, rye bread, meat, vegetables and even candies are pure and of high quality.
If you want to test the local prowess of an Estonian waiter or a cook ask him what is Estonian food. It is everything that grows in Estonia, in its waters, woods and farms. Generally speaking Estonians have similar taste to Nordic people. We like crisp, unprocessed, fresh, ecologically clean and homely food, i.e. food where the most is made of the natural taste of the raw materials.
People often think that the national cuisine must be prepared in an authentic manner – in a clay pot and all that. This is, of course, one way to go. But the new, innovative, attractive, contemporary Estonian cuisine is something totally different. It is important to develop regional ingredients. It is true that for the people who live in a certain geographical region the food from that same region is the best. Estonian fish have a totally different value than fish brought in from somewhere else. Unfortunately, due to our climate we do not always have enough of home grown products available, but we can increase their production, we can value organic producers, and producers of unique products. We can go to the forest and fetch the food it offers us: mushrooms and berries. We can preserve them better, find technologies for placing each mushroom in the jar exactly in its original shape or create a different marinade for each mushroom variety.
For Estonians, the potato is as important as pasta is for Italians or rice is for Chinese. It has been cherished for a long time and even called our second bread.
It is debated to this day whether potato’s homeland is Chile or Peru. Nevertheless, Indians grew potatoes over 4000 years ago.
The potato has saved millions from starvation – as famines disappeared in Europe together with the start of potato growing. For its merits, the United Nations declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato.
The potato reached Estonia in the middle of the 18th century probably via Germany, but it was not until 1870s-1880s that extensive potato growing began all over the country, especially in North Estonia. Even if the crop was poor, the potato helped country folk to survive till the next harvest. In 1893, a cookbook “Potato Cook or Instructions for Making 125 Potato Dishes” was published in the North Estonian city of Rakvere.
After World War I, Estonia was the leading potato producer per capita in the world. During the last few years, however, Estonia’s fame as a Potato Republic has faded. The once uncontested ruler of Estonians’ kitchens has been forced to make way for macaroni, rice and breads as well as other vegetables.
Which are the best flavours in Estonia?
Which is the best restaurant in Estonia? Opinions are divided on this but it is definitely worth your while consulting the ‘Flavours of Estonia’ chart drawn up by restaurant owners, chefs and sommeliers of Estonian restaurants. Each of them names five restaurants that they consider to be the best and then the workers of the restaurants named have their say. The Top 50 is the sum of all these opinions. “The method is simple but it works,” says the compiler of the chart, Aivar Hanson. “Restaurateurs monitor each other very closely and any change in one of them, be it for the better or worse, is noticed by them even before that particular restaurant’s customers. Besides, the chart compiling process is very democratic,” says Hanson. “The best does not only mean the most expensive cuisine. It also involves the recognition of colleagues and competitors alike - regardless of the type or business strategy of the restaurant. Thus, only the best of the best will make the grade.”
For the second year in a row the best restaurant was considered to be Ö in Tallinn. The others in the top five are the Chedi, Tschaikovsky, Ribe and Egoist restaurants, all located in the Old Town of Tallinn.
The entire list of the best restaurants is available at www.flavoursofestonia.com