In mid-June, my sister and I spent six days in Tallinn, which is the largest and oldest city in Estonia. Tallinn offers an excellent balance between modern and medieval. If you want to travel to Europe to see traces of VERY old culture and architecture and you want to travel to a place that is accessible, friendly, a good value, easy to navigate and where you picky needs will be met without smugness or snobbery….I recommend Tallinn. There is a bit of cheesy medieval themed, tourist aimed stuff going on in the old city, which is not my thing. But hey… the bus loads of Russians, Germans and Finns arrived eager each morning and seemed to leave contented each evening, so all of the costumes and whatnot are clearly meeting a need. All of that aside, we did not have to try hard at all to discover the stuff that excited us…The Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design…The used bookstore with helpful staff who led us to the books on Estonian textiles, food and folklore that were translated into English…Tallinn’s ancient and still booming handmade confectionary industry. My sister is a chocolatier so the confection makers were of special interest to her. We went to the Marzipan Museum run by Estonia’s largest and oldest confectioner, Kalev. We watched some of their truly superior marzipan being hand painted and learned that marzipan was originally produced by pharmacists in the 1400s for tis medicinal properties. There are two medieval towns in Estonia that claim to have invented marzipan! Neither Silvi or I were committed fans of marzipan before, but we are now fully converted. Kalev Marzipan is delicious and available all over Estonia. You have to go to the museum to get the hand painted marzipan though. I also fell in love with Kalev’s boozy plums hand-dipped in dark chocolate. Here are some pictures of the hand painted marzipan and very old marzipan molds. We went on a very well thought out tour of the ancient tunnels that run through the bastions surrounding old city. The tour started with the most amazing animated film about Tallinn’s military history (animation is big in Estonia). Please watch this animation…here is the link again. Okay, did you watch the animation? Good now I’ll continue…We climbed up into the top of one of the stone military towers from the 1400s. It’s called called kiek in de kök, which means peep into kitchens, because you could see into so many kitchen windows from it. We visited KUMU (the modern museum). I adore this building. It looks like gnomes with a VERY forward leaning design bent built it.
KUMU has This painting, entitled “Küllus” (Affluence) looked like a portrait of my sister!
In addition to the amazing holdings of Estonian Art from recent history, there was a contemporary exhibit of Baltic and Finnish installation dealing with darkness and light. I LOVED the installation by Latvian artist Kate Krolle called “Dreaming Wolves. Unknown Pleasures”. Kate if you stumble across this…my name is Erin Orr, I make puppet shows for adults and I would like to be your friend. Okay, enough about my art crush….but while we are on the art installation tangent….Tallinn also has The Museum of Contemporary Art Of Estonia, which started out as a squat in a old Soviet factory. We discovered it about a half our before we had to leave the country, but I would like to spend more time there next time!
Okay meanwhile, KUMU is right next to one of Peter the Great’s little summer places.
We found many traditional artisans offering quality handmade goods that were both authentic and tasteful. We were impressed by the modern and quirky local design companies. This one called nAiiV was one of our favourites. The lovely woman pictured in the shop above recommended many interesting shops and two excellent restaurants. Both of these restaurants were just outside of the old town and would have therefore been tricky for us to stumble upon as tourists. They were also both an amazing value. Sfäär offered seasonal Nordic cuisine….I ate a smoked pork loin in plum sauce with a celeriac potato pancake and cardamom baked apple for 10 Euro…that really says it all. The cheap and excellent cafe F-Honne (building F) was hidden in an old Soviet industrial complex that had been converted into an art community. There was a wonderful mix of people at F-Honne…packs of art students, an elderly couple, a few young families who’s toddlers were guarding the doors of the cafe like tiny, immovable, adorable, fat cheeked monsters. Partly wing to the low rent location and eclectic, comfy flea market furnishings, the food was impossibly inexpensive. It was also totally fresh and well prepared. Here are some pictures of my delicious salmon and the Keralian pastries that Silvi ate.
We found the quality and value of the food, even in the touristy old town, to be very good. We swung back through Tallinn at the end of our trip and ate at Lieb which is located in a stunning garden terrace along side a medieval wall in the old city and famed for its sourcing of local seasonal ingredients. My grilled lamb with blackcurrant glaze and a carrot and kohlrabi mash was well worth the cost. Plus every restaurant served Estonian sourdough rye bread (fresh baked in the case of Lieb) with butter which, if you eat gluten, is tasty and nutritious enough to be a meal all by itself.
Although we easily could have eaten good food out for every meal, my sister and I did so infrequently because we like to cook and we wanted to save our pennies to buy books, woolens, carved juniper kitchen utensils and linens. Sadly, we did not manage to find the market where the old ladies were selling the vegetables from their garden. It was probably no where near the touristy old city. We did come across Hää Eesti Toit, a lovely gourmet shop specializing in Estonian bread and booze amongst other treats. Their website does not appear to be up to much but if you in Tallinn you can find the shop at Viru street 23, corner Aja street in the Old town.
The knowlegable staff at Hää Eesti Toit pointed us toward Kristall Kümmel a sweet caraway scented liquor that has been made in a tiny flat in Tallinn since the 1870s. A small glass of this will quickly raise your temperature 5 degrees and calm your tummy. At the big supermarket I found a blackcurrant juice, which I quickly became addicted to. We ate A LOT of quail’s eggs which are everywhere here and also these very tasty husk tomatoes that are like cape cod gooseberry (or poha berry in Hawaii), but a much brighter orange. I don’t think that these husk tomatoes are local, but they seem to be popular in Estonia and they are sweet, delicious and beautiful!Silvi met me in Estonia by way of Amsterdam and Riga and she carried with her rather a lot of exceptionally good gouda cheese…one wedge of mild and one of aged. This cheese was a major component of our diet for the entire month that we were in Estonia.
The first night that we arrived in Talllin we ate in the restaurant that was attached to our guest apartment and I ordered an entire rabbit baked in white wine with potatoes carrots and rosemary. It took me the whole week to eat it. At the end, on rather chilly, rainy day I made stock from the bones. I used the stock to make leek, potato and gouda cheese soup. In order to make it, I had to borrow a larger pot from the restaurant downstairs! This was a good example of how nice the folks dealing with tourists were in Tallinn. Shopkeepers will be thrilled to give you advice and recommendations, especially if you show interest in Estonian culture and/or the burgeoning local design and foodie scene. A young woman in a vintage shop who happens to be from the island that you are headed to after Tallinn might make some phone calls to find you a car service on that island. The waitress who served you rabbit will loan you a pot 5 days later to make soup from the bones.
So, here is a good soup to make with leftover bones and a few other simple ingredients when travelling. You will need only a good sized soup pot with a lid and a sauté pan, although a colander would make it a bit easier. This soup is good if it is too cold and rainy to sightsee. There are more photos of Tallinn after the recipe!
TRAVELERS POTATO, LEEK AND GOUDA SOUP
- The bones from a roasted rabbit or perhaps part of a leftover roasted chicken
- Some vegetable scraps that you have been saving from your salads
- 1 medium parsnip
- 1 large leek
- about 6 large potatoes
- a bit of butter or oil
- As much really good gouda cheese as you like
- about a tablespoon of prepared mustard
note- my rabbit had been roasted in rosemary and white wine and these flavours certainly don’t hurt if you can lay your hands on them!
- Throw your roasted bones and leftover meat along with your kitchen scraps into a large pot. Fill the pot with good water and set on high heat.
- Scrub the parsnips and cut into one inch hunks. Throw them into the pot.
- Cut the leek in half lengthwise and rinse all of the grit out from between the layers. Cut the white part off and set it aside for later. Coarsely chop the leek greens and throw them into the pot.
- Scrub the potatoes completely clean. When the stock is boiling, toss the potatoes into the pot whole.
- The stock will need to simmer and cook down for about an hour, or until it is rich, savory and a bit sweet. While you are waiting prepare the leek whites.
- Mince the leek whites very fine. Heat the butter or oil in a skillet and sauté the leek whites until they are tender and a bit translucent. If they start to brown or stick add some of the soup stock to the sauté. If you are adding rosemary and white wine they should be sautéed along with the leek whites.
- Check the potatoes every once and a while. When they are easily pierced by a fork, remove them and set them aside to cool. I also like to pull out as many hunks of cooked parsnip as I can find at this point.
- When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slip them out of their jackets. Add the cooked, peeled potatoes and parsnips to the sautéed leeks and mash them up thoroughly with a fork right in the sauté pan. Throw the potato skins back in to the stock pot.
- When the stock is tasty, let it cool a bit and then strain it. I did this using the pot lid and pouring the stock into my coffee pot. If your kitchenette has a colander and another pot by all means use those things!
- Discard all of the bones and stock pulp and wipe out the big pot. Combine the soup stock and the mashed potatoes, parsnips and leeks in the big pot. Let it all simmer until the potato is totally broken down and the soup is bubbling hot.
- Chop or grate the gouda and throw it into the soup to melt. You may want to turn the heat off to avoid burning cheese onto the bottom of the pot (especially if you have borrowed the pot from the nice waitress at the restaurant downstairs). Season the soup with salt, mustard and black pepper. In the words of my Uncle Wilbert “Potato soup needs lots of pepper”. I would add that potato cheese soup also needs lots of mustard.
Okay! Now for more photos!
We stumbled upon the Linnahall terminal, which the Soviets had built for pomp and circumstance around sailing events in the 1980’s Olympics, but which is now crumbling and sprouting and providing a promenade for the drunken youths of Tallinn, young lovers and daredevils on motocross bikes.