Estonian Edibles

I spent last year studying in sweet, small Estonia, a country with a lot of hearty food that’ll keep you going through the long, cold winters. In Tartu, the “city of good thoughts,” this generally means lots of potatoes, cheese and bread. But then summer blossoms and the countryside is blessed with berries and rhubarb and men start fishing again by the Emajõgi river. There’s lots more than what I list here, so if you’re interested in learning more about Estonian food, check out Pille’s excellent blog.

Kali: Also known as the Russian kvass, Kali is one of those acquired tastes. It’s made from fermented rye bread and tastes kind of like flat root beer. It’s also the beer substitute of choice for those not yet of legal age because it does contain a (very) small amount of alcohol. I used to know a girl who would come home and down an entire litre of Kali in one sitting.

Kama: Kama is definitely an Estonian thing. It’s a creative flour mixture of rye, wheat, barley and peas (!). It sounds strange, yes, but if you mix a few spoonfuls with kefir, yogurt, or sweet kohupiim (and maybe some jam), you can have yourself a really tasty breakfast.

Kamatahvel: I’m totally into the retro gold and red packaging, but I’ve got to say that this pseudo-chocolate leaves me cold. It tastes a little waxy to me, but then of course I wasn’t weaned on it like many Estonians I know. As legend has it, during the Soviet era there was a shortage of cocoa powder in Estonia, so one cheeky Kalev worker tried replacing some of it with kama. It seemed to work, and Estonians were kept happy with their choco-flour treat. After the fall of the Soviet union Kalev stopped producing Kama chocolate, but it was reissued ten years later under the new Kamatahvel name. A classic was born.

Blood Sausage: I can’t leave this one out, because it is to Estonia what apple pie is to America. It’s a beloved Christmas-time special. If you want to learn more, The New York Times wrote an article about it, and I think the opening photo is all you need to see.

Kohuke: These are like the Russian sirok bars, but I’ve also seen versions in Hungary, so maybe they’re fairly common. In any case, they are awesome, cheap, and make for a delicious breakfast. They’re like a mixture of sweet ricotta cheese covered in chocolate glaze, then chilled. They come in plenty of flavours like coconut and caramel, but my favourite is classic vanilla.

Vana Tallinn: This is liquor, and not technically a food, but Vana Tallinn has the syrupy-sweet consistency of Jägermeister. I suggest mixing with milk or coffee. Be warned: a single glass will do.

Cloudberry Jam: Berries of all sorts herald spring in Estonia, so they seem to stir up a lot of joy. (Note: there’s even a nightclub in Tartu called Maasikas: Strawberry!). These orange pillowy cloudberries (seen above) look so pretty growing in the countryside, and they make for a really interesting jam; it has this mellow, seedy, Nordic flavour that I’d never tried before.

I’m going to follow this up soon with my guide to food shops and restaurants in Tartu. Until then, if you want more Estonia, Justin Petrone (author of My Estonia) writes a lovely blog, too. Enjoy!



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