Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Look At Estonia - Part 1 Of Our European Adventure

Estonia was a bit of a surprise food wise. I wasn't expecting to not enjoy the food in Estonia, but I also wasn't expecting  to enjoy it so much either. I didn't expect to find a theme restaurant that worked so well, and I wasn't expecting to find one of the most creative chocolate shops either. I also wasn't expecting to learn so much about the areas food history.

The food history in Estonia (Tallinn in particular) is right on display. There are two areas of history that seem to be front and center in this town in general and with food. The oldest is the medieval period, and this is ever present when you're walking through the old town part of Tallinn. There are all kinds of restaurants and snacks available that help you get a sense of what it might have been like a long time ago in Tallinn. Most obvious are the many people selling nuts and snacks on the street in small carts, they really give you an old timey feel. There are also several restaurants around town that show off traditional cooking, however none pull it off as well as the Olde Hansa.
The Old Hansa appears at first to be more of a gimmick than a real restaurant, but it really does both so very well. While you can't deny that it's a little gimmick like to have all the staff pretend that it's the medieval period, there are so many other reasons why this restaurant's theme works. First of all the minimal lighting really sets the mood. Most of the light from the restaurant is candle light, and most of the visible decorations are traditional, even the utensils are traditional. The really unique thing about this restaurant though is the food, it's not modern food dressed up to look old. Apparently the restaurant's chefs spent time researching what would have been the traditional food at the time. They serve this food the way it may have been served, and really spent a lot of time perfecting these details. While I'm sure the hygiene is much better than it would have been, there was something about the flavour of the food that really put us in the mood.

After the medieval period, the most noted time in Estonia is the period when the country was occupied by the USSR. There are many areas of life that were greatly affected by the occupation of Estonia, and the food was no exception. One of the interesting stops to check out is the Hotel Viru. This functioning hotel used to house one of the most important spying areas of the KGB. It was one of the only hotels in the USSR to allow foreign guests, and not wanting to appear poor, it was one of the hubs of fine food in the area back then. The restaurants and bars were some of the finest in the entire USSR empire. There are stories of the cakes that were sold at this hotel being used as currency, and that three cakes could get you a sofa. Today, the grocery store in the mall at the base of the hotel still sells the same cakes.
Another place that really tells a story about the USSR period in Tallinn is the Chocolate Museum in Chocolala (a great candy store with a museum attached to it). This museum is a great place to learn all about the history of sweets in Estonia, and tells the story of this country before, during and after the occupation. There are great collections of old packages and lots of information about how this country's candy evolved and changed. Best of all this museum is housed in a great modern chocolate shop that has some pretty unique sweets to try. They're liberal with the samples, and if you can I recommend trying the chocolate covered reindeer moss (it's not that great, but it's really unique).
Estonia was a very surprising place for us.

When we were planning our trip, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find enough content to write about the food in this place. After the first day I knew that this wasn’t going to be a problem at all. You don’t often come across a city where the food history is so well preserved and presented.


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