FEATURE: Welcome to Estonia
Once "estonished", always a fan
Boasting strong traditions, Estonian gastronomy scene is remarkably colourful. Different regions of this most northern Baltic nation bloom with solid identities. Estonians are a nation still deeply devout to the nature. This is the defining force binding together the cuisines of the coastal folk, islanders, south central Mulgimaa, southeastern Setomaa and the Russian Old Believers by the shore of Lake Peipus.
The key to their recent success lies in the fact that Estonians have started to really appreciate and celebrate their own food and local culinary customs. Making homemade dark sourdough rye bread, mushrooming and berry picking in the forests, going fishing and hunting, and growing your own vegetables connect Estonian rural folk and true culinary artists, professional Chefs de Cuisine. Abundant variety of Estonian tastes come to life while cooking one’s own jam, pressing juice, salting and marinating cucumbers and making sauerkraut. Over the recent years, making one’s own wild garlic pesto has become something of a social media madness, almost a competition.
In addition to home grown culinary customs, Estonia has enjoyed a recognition on European high-end gastronomic chart. With its New Nordic approach, Estonia has claimed its place in the Bocuse d’Or competition and continues to pursue the golden trophy.
The magic culinary destinations such as Pädaste Manor were among the first restaurants to create their own interpretation of traditional Estonian food to the standard of haute cuisine.
Appreciation for the local produce comes hand-in-hand with the collaboration between the chef and the farmer. Estonia's biggest island Saaremaa, which also holds part of the culinary forum Sauce 2016 this year, is booming with new restaurants and a new generation of chefs, and their renewed love for local ingredients. Neighbouring island Hiiumaa boasts with its own “Year of Tastes”, showing off with different garfish and lamb dishes. Restaurants offer proudly their own maple and birch juice and you may be welcomed with electric-green spruce shoots and sorrels on your soup.
Food fairs and regional markets, where you can meet the farmers and sample their products, have become increasingly popular. The golden autumn brings out the best: the jam and preserves fair in Olustvere, “Lindora fair” in the Seto Region, “Paunvere exhibition” near Tartu and “Bread Day” at the Open Air Museum in Tallinn. Onion growing thrives along the Lake Peipus coast where the locals braid onions into golden-yellow chains that look like the rich plaits of Russian tzarinas from fairy-tales.
This is just a glimpse of Estonia's ongoing journey for culinary excellence. Once estonished, you are likely to return for more!
– Mari Roonemaa on behalf of visitestonia.com
Gourmet fairs and festivals featuring Estonian nature
Most outdoor markets and fairs kickstart in the spring and peak in August and September. Fairs are known to specialise in different regional foods such as bread, garlic, fish, onions, various homemade delicacies and preserves etc. Enjoy the diversity of Estonian cuisine at the local food festivals:
TALLINN RESTAURANT WEEK November 1-7, 2016 Tallinn Restaurant Week declares the first week of November as the week to celebrate good food and good restaurants. For one week Tallinn becomes a foodie heaven.
DANDELION FLOWER FESTIVAL AND RÄIMEWEST May 13–14, 2017 One visit, two festivals: takes place annually at the same time as the RäimeWest festival dedicated to Baltic herring at Romantic Coastline in South-West Estonia near the popular resort town Pärnu.
GRILLFEST – GOOD FOOD FESTIVAL June 9-10, 2017 The food culture festival Good Food Festival – Grillfest takes place every year on the second weekend of June in Pärnu, on a beautiful meadow in Vallikäär. The 27,000 m2 large festival ground is ready to welcome tens of thousands of visitors (50,000 visitors in 2015). The mission of Grillfest is to introduce modern Estonian food culture, exciting good quality food products and services to the world.
TAHKURANNA PICKLE FESTIVAL August 20, 2017 The key notions of the Pickle Festival are the most important products for former coastal folk – cucumbers, fish and handicrafts. At the festival, taking place during cucumber season, one can taste various exciting cucumber pickles, buy local food and handicraft products, watch the local musicians from the surrounding villages playing, and participate in workshops.
GARLIC FESTIVAL August, 2017 A big celebration, dedicated to garlic as the king of spices, and Estonian local production. It is held at the Estonian Agricultural Museum at Ülenurme, Tartu. Estonian garlic growers to come together, with more than 15 tonnes of garlic from Estonian fields for sale. One can find peeled garlic, marinated garlic, fermented garlic and garlic sprouts, dried garlic chips, garlic powder, garlic jam and garlic crisps in stalls. You will also find different products from garlic vodka to garlic ice cream.
LÜÜBNITSA ONION AND FISH FAIR August, 2017 In a small village of Lüübnitsa on the shore of lake Peipsi, braids of onions and garlic and fish are the star attraction of the day.
SAAREMAA FOOD FESTIVAL September, 2017 The colorful and spirited Saaremaa Food Festival on Estonia’s largest island of Saaremaa offers a week long programme full of special menus, competitions, tastings, and workshops. The two highlights of the festival are the day of Apple Cake Cafés, when many local people turn their home backyards into cafés and the street picnic where both local people and visitors are welcome to join and meet at the long picnic table, set on the main street of lovely Kuressaare.
THE GREAT PAUNVERE EXHIBITION AND FAIR IN PALAMUSE September 16, 2017
One of the most popular food festivals, in the small village of Palamuse in Southern Estonia, brings together hundreds of traders and thousands of visitors. This fair has everything to offer, from food and plants to handicrafts and clothes. There is a cultural programme on the main stage and a variety of activities for children. Those wishing to can visit Palamuse Museum, as well as its church and pharmacy.