Estonia is one of those countries where we found it very hard to eat local food. In Pärnu, our second stop in the country, we went to the tourist information to find out where to get traditional Estonian food.
“There is no such thing as Estonian restaurants,” the woman told us. “We don’t go out to eat Estonian food.” That statement left us very confused. Both in Lithuania and in Latvia, we had been able to find traditional restaurants. Surely, there had to be some in Estonia as well? And what about those (admittedly few) traditional dishes we had read about online?
Fortunately, even though it seems a bit difficult at times, you can find plenty of traditional food in Estonia. Outside Tallinn, you will not see many restaurants specialising in Estonian cuisine, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t serve local dishes.
To make it easier for you to spot those dishes on the menu, we have made a list of all the things you should try while in the countries. Good luck searching for them!
Our favourite traditional Estonian food
#1 Wild Boar
Estonia is a great country if you want to try game meat. We had dinner in a windmill in Kuressaare when I found out that I really like wild boar. The meat is very strong but also very delicious and Estonians use it for a variety of dishes.
In that windmill in Kuressaare, Daniel ate a wild boar steak. In Tallinn, I had boar lasagna, which was also very nice.
Wild boar is one of those meats that you can find all over the country so when you get the chance to try it, go for it.
Kohuke is an Estonian curd snack. Yes, it sounds weird. But before you dismiss it, hear me out.
Kohuke is absolutely delicious. This snack consists of small pieces of curd cheese surrounded by chocolate. The curd is sweet and matches very well with the chocolate.
You can find all kind of flavours, from vanilla to cheesecake and blueberry. We even saw a limited winter edition which tasted like strawberry yoghurt!
If you want to buy kohuke, go to a supermarket and look in the refrigerated section. You’ll find them somewhere with the yoghurt or the cheese. Just be aware that they are very filling.
I wanted to try as many as possible so I bought every available flavour. And man, that turned out to be so much food! It was absolutely delicious though and I enjoyed every minute of eating them.
One of my first Estonian meals consisted of a bowl of buckwheat with various vegetables and I absolutely loved it! The restaurant prepared the buckwheat almost like a risotto, so it was hot and creamy and very delicious. And on top of that, buckwheat is very healthy!
From what I read, this grain isn’t native to Estonia but has been incorporated very well into the local cuisine. You’ll find it on a few menus here and there, so go for it, if you get the chance.
Kama is a flour mixture. Most often, it contains barley, oat, rye and peas. You can find kama mixed into all kind of desserts, but most commonly, you’ll see it mixed with buttermilk or kefir.
If you go to a bakery, you can also find kama cakes. When we tried this mixture, it came as kama jelly. The jelly was very nice as it had a bit of a bready aftertaste but was otherwise sweet and delicious.
This porridge is unique to Estonia and I haven’t seen it anywhere else in the world yet. It consists of mashed potatoes and barley and makes for an excellent side dish. The barley has a firmer consistency than the potatoes, which gives the mixture a more dense texture than just mashed potatoes. I really loved it.
In some restaurants, you can also find mulgipuder as the main dish. In that case, it is often mixed with bacon and onions. Don’t worry about going hungry. This dish will definitely fill you up.
#6 Barley Sausage
By now, you will have noticed that a lot of Estonian food is based on grains. Barley sausage is no exception. This traditional Christmas food is harder to find on menus but we still managed to get it in a restaurant in Tallinn. It is similar to a regular white sausage, except the meat is mixed with barley.
I really enjoyed the texture of the barley sausage. Plus, the barley adds another layer of flavour to your dish. Sometimes, you can find a slightly different version in which you see blood sausage mixed with barley. As we’re not too fond of blood sausages, we skipped that one. But if you’ve never had anything similar before, you should try to find out how it is.
If you come to Estonia in February, you’re in luck because you’ll get to try these delicious cream buns. Traditionally, they are served for Shrove Tuesday, which marks the beginning of the Catholic Lent. But even if you’re not there for Shrove Tuesday, you should find them in February and March in bakeries all over the country.
Vastlakukkel consist of a sweet bun filled with cream. You can find variations all over the country, especially if you go to more fancy bakeries or cafes.
Traditionally, they only have cream and maybe jam. But I’ve seen them filled with chocolate cream or even pistachio cream. The latter was very, very delicious so if you stumble across one of those, make sure to try it.
A good place to eat vastlakukkel is in Cafe Maiasmokk, the oldest cafe in Tallinn and also in all of Estonia.
#8 Spotted Dog
Talking about Estonian desserts. We already mentioned kama and vastlakukkel, but Estonia has one more typical dessert that you should try. In Estonian, this is called Kirju Koer.
The dessert is very easy to make, which is why it is popular all over the country. It basically consists of cookies, pieces of marmalade and fruit, butter and chocolate – and it doesn’t even go into the oven.
While I’m not a big fan of dried fruit or marmalade, I ended up loving this dessert. The chocolate works so well with the other ingredients! You will find a similar dessert also in Lithuania, but it didn’t have the fruit or marmalade and only consisted of chocolate and cookies.
Let’s move away from the desserts to more hearty food. We already talked about boar, but there’s one more meat that you should try.
I’m talking about elk. Much of Estonia is covered in forests so it comes as no surprise that the country has an abundance of wildlife. And one of those animals is elk, which has very delicious meat.
We’ve seen elk on a few menus, always prepared in different ways. Braised elk, elk stew, elk soup… If you want to try elk, you can. You don’t even have to bust your budget. A good place to go to is III Draakon in Tallinn, located right at the Town Hall Square. Here, you can get very good and very cheap elk soup.
#10 Sprat Sandwich
I know, I know. Sprats might not look the most appetizing, but they are much tastier than they look. We never had sprat sandwiches, which are very typical for Estonia, but we did have sprats at our breakfast buffet in Kuressaare.
Sprats can be found in abundance in the Baltic Sea, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that you can find them all along the coast. If you want a truly local experience, go for this fish.
Talking about fish that is very typical for the Baltic Sea. One of the dishes you should absolutely try in Estonia is herring. This fish is popular in all of the Baltics, and also in many other countries bordering the Baltic Sea. But in Estonia, herring is deemed so important that it was declared the national fish in 2007!
Traditionally, fishermen would catch most of the fish in spring and then prepare it for winter. That is why, most of the time, you will eat herring either salted, marinated or smoked.
If you’re lucky, you’ll come across rosolje with herring. This is a salad made with potatoes, beetroot, and, usually, herring. We didn’t see it on menus anywhere, but my German grandmother used to make a similar salad for Christmas and I always loved it. So I know that these three ingredients work well together and I’m sure that rosolje is delicious.
#12 Estonian Cheese
When you think of cheese, Estonia is probably not the first country that comes to your mind. But did you know that Estonians make some really nice cheeses? We saw cheese platters on menus in many restaurants and it was always delicious!
The best way to eat Estonian cheese is, of course, with traditional rye bread. The sourness of the black bread matches very well with the softness of the cheese. You can also sometimes find baked Estonian cheese. It’s heavy and you’ll likely die very young if you eat it too often, but it is so incredibly delicious! Or you go for the cheeseballs that seem to be very popular in Estonia.
No, cheeseballs are not traditional Estonian food. However, we decided to include them in this list because we saw them on restaurant menus all over the country. We’re not surprised – what could be more delicious than fried balls of cheese?
At one point in the future, we’re sure, Estonians will consider cheeseballs a typical meal from their country. They make a great starter.
Pirukad are Estonian pastries. Imagine empanadas, but made in a Baltic way. You’ll see a few variations (small, large, baked or fried), but the most common ones are small, baked and filled with meat. You can find them in many bakeries and they’re convenient to eat, so they make for a great snack if you get hungry while exploring this beautiful country.
If you’re vegetarian, don’t worry. We’ve also seen lots of pirukad without meat, usually filled with mushrooms or sometimes other vegetables. And they even exist with cheese, jam or fruit fillings. There’s lots of choices so you’re sure to find one that you’ll love.
#15 Estonian drinks
Let us sum up all of the wonderful (and sometimes a bit strange) drinks that we tried in Estonia. The one that’s easiest to find is Valge Klaar, a lemonade that contains apple juice and is absolutely delicious. The recipe dates back to the 70s and it is produced by Ale Coq, a name that you will see on lots of bottles. Besides Valge Klaar, they produce regular lemonade and a large variety of other drinks.
The next drink that you should try is Kali. This beverage is made from slightly fermented rye bread. If that sounds weird to you, don’t worry. It sounded weird to us as well and we still enjoyed it. Kali contains a little bit of alcohol, but the amount is so tiny that we didn’t really taste it.
And the last drink you should have is birch sap. Yes, you heard right. In Estonia, you can drink birch sap. It looks almost like water but is a bit more viscous and tastes slightly sweet. We found it on Kuressaare, so if you go there, you should try it.
Like in many other Eastern European countries, you can find dumplings in Estonia. They are quick and easy to eat and therefore have gained a reputation as being student food or bachelor food. But they’re also pretty delicious, so if you see them as starters on a menu, you should give them a try.
We think originally, they were Russian and the menu where we saw them even used the Russian name – Pelmeni. Even if they didn’t originate in Estonia, we decided to include them since we’ve seen them everywhere and they’re really nice.
Seljanka is the Estonian version of solyanka, a soup that originated in Russia and Ukraine. It is popular enough in Estonia that we’ve seen it on menus all over the country and while we didn’t try it ourselves, we decided to include it so you know what to expect.
The soup includes meat and pickled vegetables, usually cucumbers. You can also find fish seljanka in Estonia. Some soups include vegetables, like cabbage or onion, or potatoes. What these soups all have in common is their sour taste.
I had soljanka (the German version) many times and always enjoyed it, so I am sure the Estonian one is very nice as well.
We hope the above selection of foods wasn’t too overwhelming and left you with an idea of what to expect when eating out in Estonia. As we said, it was almost impossible to find traditional Estonian restaurants outside Tallinn. Still, almost every place where we ate (except for a Nepalese restaurant in Pärnu) had at least one traditional Estonian dish on the menu. Just ask. Most Estonians speak excellent English and will be happy to help you.
As an alternative, if you’re visiting Tallinn, you can also join a food tour with a guide. This gives you the opportunity to explore Estonian cuisine with someone who can explain all of the dishes while you eat them:
Are you looking for more information on Estonia? Then check out our other posts about this beautiful country:
- What to see in Tallinn
- Top Things to Do in Tartu
- Visiting Estonia’s biggest island – How to Spend 1 Day in Kuressaare
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