Saturday, December 17, 2016

Glögg and Other Estonian Things I Ate

For Thanksgiving, my friends and I took a trip to Tallinn, Estonia. 

Estonia was never on my radar until last spring as I tried to procrastinate plan my last minute very spontaneous spring break adventure (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Tickets to Tallinn, Estonia were the cheapest on Skyscanner, and I considered heading to Eastern Europe for the first time. Well, that didn't happen, but as my friends and I debated where to head for our cozy Thanksgiving trip, Tallinn was a top contender. We ended up booking a 4 day trip. 

Sofia, Angela, Odaliz, and I caught a 4:00am cab out to Malpensa, but were rewarded for our early wakeup with a full day in Tallinn. The flight only took about three hours, but I slept from takeoff to landing! Another quick cab ride to our hotel brought us to a pretty door that led to a stone, underground cave room. I know it sounds creepy, but it was beautifully lit with candles, made cozy with wooly covers on plush couches. The receptionist invited us to a glass of the house wine to warm up before heading back into the cold. And let me tell you, it was cold. 

Tallinn's Old Town is teeny, though the city is Estonia's capital and is home to over a quarter of Estonia's population. 

Up until 1918, Tallinn was called Reval (and again during the Nazi occupation during WWII). It was founded in 1248, but with evidence of human settlements dating back 5,000 years, it's one of the oldest capital cities in all of Northern Europe. The Old Town is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, recognized as one of the most well-preserved medieval cities in Europe. Yes, they play up the medieval angle for tourists, but it doesn't detract from the fact that it really is medieval. 

If it seems like all we did was eat while in Tallinn...

It pretty much was. It was so unbelievably cold outside, we ducked into the cozy restaurants as often as we could bear to put something more into our stomachs. When we did venture outside, however, the places we saw were fascinating! First, the Christmas Market was wonderful. There were wooly hats and mittens, sheepskin slippers and boots, festive linens, and weird little Santa statues galore, but more than anything, there was glögg. I've seen it called other things in other countries: glühwein in Germany, vin brûlé (or just vino caldo) in Italy, but in Tallinn and other Nordic/Eastern European, mulled wine is glögg. It warms you up to your core, despite freezing temperatures, and tastes like Christmas. In Tallinn, they use a liquor called "Vana Tallinn," which is a spicy, citrusy, vanilla-y rum, and completely amazing. I dare anyone to walk around a Christmas market in the town square of a beautifully preserved medieval village, all bundled up with a glass of glögg and not get into the Christmas spirit!

The funny thing was, once we left the city, things looked completely different. 

Though buildings still looked old, it was in a more run down, grungy look. But in a good way...? We had left the cozy Old Town in search of Renard (the coffee shop), and Telliskivi Loomelinnak, Tallinn's "Creative City." Looking on a map, it seemed super far, but it only took a 15 minute walk or so. Telliskivi Loomelinnak is a center of studios, creative companies, and little shops dedicated to arts. We spent a ton of time in one shop in particular, where the girl working the register told us that most of the jewelry we saw (beautiful, different pieces) were designs by her classmates. While the Old Town is traditional and preserved, the Creative City is modern and urban, but just as special, local, and unique. 

Should you find yourself in Tallinn, here are my top "Must Eat Here" recommendations:

Ill Draakon

A medieval little pub with a limited menu, but the coolest atmosphere! A slightly crabby (purposely so for ambiance's sake) waitress took our order for elk stew (!!!) and cider, and let us know that if we could manage to get ourselves some pickles, we could have them for free. That was more difficult than you'd expect though; there was a giant barrel of pickles and a long wooden stick with two spikes on the end, and we had to spear them out! It was so hard, but I managed to snag two. I'd have done well for myself in medieval times.


We found Leib on a list of amazing restaurants by the London Foodie, and it was one of my favorite restaurant meals of all time (hyperbole? maybe... or maybe not). The name comes from the local black bread, which is nutty and delicious, and as the menu states, "Good bread is always made with soul." Everything was fresh, seasonal, and local, which resulted in a small but wonderful menu. I had brown butter baked pumpkin with goat curd and pumpkin sauce (all about that goat cheese), and a weird orange wine that I wish I hadn't ordered (to be fair, they warned me and let me try it). We split four desserts after, with the most wonderful being a bread pudding with cranberries, and the weirdest being dried egg yolk with cherry cream and yogurt sorbet. Sighhhhh I'm still thinking about that pumpkin...


We stopped at Renard when we left the Old Town to find the design center of the city. The coffee shop was attached to a motorcycle repair shop, and had a barber shop called "Rude Rats" upstairs. I love seeing the different ways coffee can be brewed- my little Italian moka pot was my go-to for my first two years in Italy, and now I get a little bit of daily joy from using my French press every morning. I hadn't ever seen coffee brewed using the nordic methods, though, and the baristas at Renard had made an art out of it. They brewed two little pots for my friends and I, explaining each step as they went, and instructing us about which notes to look for in each brew. Their coffee is like nothing I'd ever had before; drank without milk or sugar, it was more like tea than what I'm accustomed to as coffee. 


Opening in 1864, Maiasmokk is Estonia's oldest operational cafe, where the interior has looked exactly the same for over a century. Legend has it that marzipan was first created in Tallinn, and has been used to cure lovesickness since the Middle Ages- obviously, now we just eat it because it's delicious, but I do love a good tradition! The whole trip, we were blown away by the gorgeous window displays with a ferris wheel of chocolate spinning in the window, and apparently people have looked in awe through that same window for years! Inside is beautiful, and you can watch an artist painting the treats before putting them up for sale. We tried the marzipan, hot chocolate, and a few beautiful and delicious chocolates before catching our plane on our last day in Tallinn. 

No comments:

Post a Comment