Tartu: An Edible GuidePosted: September 7, 2011
Tartu, Estonia is the storybook-sweet city of 100,000 where I studied all last year. For me at least, part of getting to know a place–and really living there–means trying the local foods (which I’ve talked about before) and the restaurants. Dining out in another country really causes you to confront your own norms and the expectations of another culture. For example, what’s service like in Tartu? Decent, though don’t expect your server to smile, tell you her name and that she’d be happy to seat you. How do they tip? If at all, no more than 10%. What kinds of cuisines are popular? All of them! And even some others I didn’t know I was missing, like Georgian or Balkan cuisines. Once you adjust your expectations you’ll find that it’s all rather easy and it won’t matter if you–like me–speak very little Estonian. It’s true that Estonia doesn’t fall on every traveler’s radar, but Tartu is a fairly cosmopolitan small city, with plenty of international students and international food. I had a great time eating there, so I thought I’d share a few of the places I frequented:
Pierre: Early summer in Tartu was warm and glorious, so I spent many happy hours here on the sunny patio with iced coffees or hot chocolate. Pierre also makes delicious truffles, New York-style cheesecake and buttery croissants. And truly, the cappuccinos here might be the nicest in the city. If you’re up in Tallinn, dying for chocolate, there’s a branch there too.
Werner: This was probably my most-visited café, both by myself and with others. I especially recommend sipping a chai latte upstairs at the tables with white linen tablecloths; fewer people, better lighting, and the servers will leave you alone as long as you like.
Vilde: There’s a café at the base of this building (with a statue of Eduard Vilde and Oscar Wilde, two authors who never actually met but, you know, could have!) which has a pretty porch and makes a decent latte. The restaurant upstairs is even better; try the ravioli or the prosciutto and melon salad, which I hear is very nice.
La Dolce Vita: Even though they got rid of my favourite pizza (the salty-sweet four cheese-honey-walnut), this Italian-owned locale still has a special place in my heart. The house red wine is very decent, and they make a million varieties of enormous pizzas, as well as pasta, gnocchi, and desserts. Come hungry.
Kung Fu: One of my former flatmates, a girl from Hong Kong, considered this place the most authentic Chinese restaurant in the city. That’s recommendation enough for me! One of the servers is rather surly, but you’ll likely have the place to yourself and you can enjoy some very tasty food. I recommend the Kung Fu eggplant. And when you finish you can just round the corner to Illegaard for a drink.
Tbilisi: OK, the restaurant I really wanted to talk about was Gruusia Saatkond (Georgian Embassy), just up the road, but it appears to have closed. This makes me very sad since one of the waiters actually owned the place with his wife, and it was some of the friendliest service I ever had in Estonia. But Tbilisi is still a nice place to eat (so long as you don’t get the grape pudding for dessert). If you’ve not yet tried Georgian food, get on it! It’s a very flavourful, heavily-spiced cuisine, and perfect for those cold Estonian nights. It was a blissful day when I discovered khachapuri (which is essentially a warm cheese bread) and the roasted eggplant with walnut sauce.
Tsink Plekk Pang: Your all-purpose Asian restaurant in the city! For serious, here you can get sushi, noodles, stir fries, and Indian specialties. I went here first in October when I was dying for some saag paneer; it was freshly made and really delicious. Plus, the restaurant has some lovely low lighting and lots of types of tea.
Ö: This is a bit of a cheat, as the unpronounceable Ö is actually located in Tallinn, but I thought I’d include it anyway. I’m really into their concept of nouveau Estonian food: living off the land (or sea) and using local ingredients, all that good stuff. (Also, their bread was amazing and I talked about it for months after.) I went here for my last birthday and it was one of my nicest dining experiences all year.
That should give an introduction to what I have eaten and loved in Estonia. Happy dining!