Saturday, 16 May 2009

Estonia, how hard can it be?

Many many things happened to me yesterday.

I made several Estonian friends over the internet, including the lovely Pille Petersoo ( - more on her later). I discovered that there isn't a single Estonian restaurant or cafe in London, I lost a carefully written list of ingredients, got lost on my bike and visited two closed shops. I was been rained on.

I also shared a homecooked meal around my dinner table with two lovely Estonians, Evelin and Helena ... for which I am truly thankful.

Estonian cuisine is similar to what you'll find in many other Eastern European countries ... Pille Petersoo, Estonian food blogger mentioned above describes it as 'a mixture of Scandinavian, Russian and Germanic influences. Rather rustic, but also seasonal and tasty. Pork & potatoes, rye bread, forest fruits and wild mushrooms, etc etc. Dill, parsley, chives for herbs, caraway seeds, cinnamon for seasonings'.

The challenge then is to end up eating Estonian food, rather than something like Estonian food. For this reason Baltic near Southwark tube was out, though I did swing by there and pick up a few bottles of Estonian beer Viru on my food buying odyssey.

Estonia is by no means a bleak Baltic state, my dinner guests reassured me that peasants in headscarves and in your face poverty featured minimally. Instead there are good jobs, swimming pools and nice cars ... at least for some. The trouble it appears is a lack of things for young people to do, and comparatively low wages. Evelin and Helena came here for a year. In 2004.

I found my guests via Facebook through putting out a plea to anyone connected with the Estonian community, and messaging countless 'Eesti'. They seem a friendly bunch, and knew only too well how much trouble I'd have with the challenge ...

'I've been trying to find an Estonian restaurant or shop for the last four years that I've been in London, but to no avail, so if you discover something yourself, let me know. :-)'

'The national food is weird to say the least. Also rather burdensome to cook. Meat jelly i.e. sült, pea soup, i.e hernesupp - I'm sure you won't get your hands on that'

'Well, it would have been easier if you had drafted Sweden or Spain, for sure ...'

The only solution was to cook it myself, and invite some Estonians for supper. So after work there was a flurry of e-mailing, tweeting, cycling, face-booking, shopping and cooking. Topped off by the arrival of my guests at gone 9pm.

We ate ...

Cabbage rolls (I was advised that green cabbage was more authentic so made the switch)

... mushroom loaf

... Estonian potato salad and cucumber salad brought by Evelin, and beetroot, sauerkraut, sour cream and rye bread. Evelin's goodies were doubtless the winners. The potato salad is made with tiny cubes of pork sausage, organic white potatoes, Estonian pickles, sour cream, egg, a little mayo and salt. The cucumber salad is simply cucumber, tomato, salt and sour cream.

So, what was it like? Well, the photos clearly don't do it justice, so many apologies on that score.

It was good. I've never been a fan of dill, but it's addition to the cabbage rolls gave a slightly aniseedy spiced flavour, and the mushroom loaf was sticky (my bad?), stodgy and savory. I tend to use a lot of lemon to lift dishes when I'm cooking off piste, the acid of the sauerkraut and the sourness of the cream have the same effect here ... cutting through the heavy carbs and as Tetley might say, letting the flavour flood out.

Conversation round the table covered cycling, food shopping, living in Battersea (Evelin is round the corner), and of course Estonia. I must again say thanks so much to our lovely dinner guests, who I hope will come to ≤ten day, to Pille Petersoo for her lovely blog and tips, and to the long suffering She ... who had an e-mail at 6pm the day before going on holiday saying 'I think we have some Estonians coming to dinner'.

Evelin has promised to help me cook more Estonian food for everyone involved in the challenge if her home nation win tonight ...

... suddenly the Eurovision song contest has become a lot more interesting.


  1. Great post! We visited only Tallinn when we went to Estonia some years ago but we certainly ate very well indeed!

  2. I think you thoroughly took on the challenge, it sounds brilliant! Apart from the getting lost and being rained on :(

  3. I think you did really well - you found out loads and you made two new friends through food - perfect!

  4. I LOVE Viru beer! They sell it at Callooh Callay in Shoreditch, if you're ever around those parts.

  5. Sounds great - I really enjoyed Estonian food on a visit to Talinn last year for an Estonian wedding.

  6. Excellent effort made! The Eurovision thing has been brilliant.

  7. Good work, nice touch cooking Estonian food for Estonian people :) I really wish I'd taken part in this now, it sounds like great fun!

  8. How fabulous is this experience? It's lovely that you got to interact with Estonians (and one near you too!)!

  9. Sounds a lot of fun. I love it when food brings people together. Your adventure really captures this.

    I love the idea of mushroom loaf. But can imagine there are loads of things than can wrong with it.

  10. I like foods...
    nice your blog... nice you too...