As a food lover, I have dug google search for what Estonian traditional food truly is. Lots of websites popped up giving me good hints of the Estonian food, such as estonianfood, visitestonia, and likealocalguide. After three years living in Estonia, I have heard about them all and eaten this and that. I also love cooking, so I decided to reproduce those dishes myself.

In this blog, I would love to share with you my beloved Estonian food. Many of them you might not see elsewhere in other websites. Most of the dishes were cooked by me; some were given by my Estonian friends.

  1. Pork and potatoes (Sealiha ja kartulid)

A typical conversation with an Estonian about Estonian food.

Me: “What is Estonian traditional food?”

Estonian: “Hmm, … pork and potatoes”.

I feel Estonians very concerned about their potatoes when mentioning about them to foreigners. I think there is nothing wrong with eating potatoes all the time. It’s their stable food. That’s why I came to a conclusion that “When in Estonia, love potato” and I also made a dish out of P&P (aka pork and potatoes).

Baked pork ribs, boiled potatoes, and cranberries sauce
  1. Smoked fish (Suitsukala)

You can tell that I was not satisfied with Estonians’ answer about P&P as their traditional food. Recently, my supervisor gave me smoked fish from Lake Peipus. On her way back from the north of Estonia to Tartu, she had to stop by Mustvee, a town near Lake Peipus, to buy smoked fish. The fish was amazing. I made a little twist to the taste of the fish by adding chopped white onion and scallions, and then served with baked bread.

Smoked fish with chopped onion and scallions and baked bread
  1. Rye bread (Leib)

If you ask an Estonia what they miss from Estonia when going abroad, they would say (definitely) “leib”. I have to admit that I was not a fan of rye bread when I was in Estonia for the first year. However, gradually I have felt in love with it . Although I have not made the bread myself yet, I made a dish which I think pretty much represents Estonia: rye bread, marinated sprats (kilu), and chanterelle (kukeseen). As you can guess, I made it to celebrate the Estonian Independence Day.

Rye bread, sprats, and chanterelle
  1. Potato salad (Kartulisalat)

Yes, potato again. You could find this dish in almost every supermarket. It’s super easy to make and it comes with a full range of variation. You should try to make it next time. I also made this dish for the Estonian Independence Day.

Rye bread, fried herring, and potato salad
  1. Fish in Estonian islands (Kala eesti saartel)

I was impressed by fresh fish in Estonian islands, such as Muhu or Saaremaa. To remember a wonderful trip to Estonian islands, I made fish soup with the help of the cookbook “The magical meals of Muhu”. I was satisfied with the taste although it was time-consuming to cook the dish. If you are curious about Estonian islands, well, maybe I’ll write in another blog post.

Fish soup
  1. Berries (Marjad)

When the spring and summer come, Estonians get “crazy” with their picking season. I bet that it will be your unforgettable memory to be in a garden, a bog, or in a forest to pick up all fresh berries: cranberries, strawberries, cloudberries, cherries, black currants, red currants, etc. You name it, you pick it. Usually, you will be ended up with too many berries to eat. You can make lots of dishes out of them. I made cherry liquor that I still keep until today.

Typical Estonians when they were in a bog: they looked for cranberries. “They have lots of vitamin C”, they said.
Fresh cherry I picked from a garden
  1. Mushrooms (Seened)

Remember about picking season in Estonia? Picking mushrooms is another activity that I’m sure most of Estonian love. I was so lucky to be in a forest and “hunt” for mushrooms. I enjoyed fresh air in the forest, felt chill out when searching for mushrooms, and dreamed about a good dish from mushrooms.

You can see how happy I was when collecting mushrooms.
This mushroom pie was made by my supervisor.
  1. Homegrown veggies and fruits (Omakasvatatud köögiviljad ja puuviljad)

If you have been to a garden of an Estonian house, either in the city or in their country house, you could see they try to grow everything such as apples, plums, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, pumpkin, and zucchini. I could say they have a green thumb, care for their health, and love to have fresh veggies on their table.

Irregular shapes of carrots from the garden of my supervisor. I’m pretty sure you can’t find them at a supermarket.
Apple juice made from fresh homegrown apples of an Estonian. It tastes different from bottle apple juice.
  1. Honey (Mesi)

Honey production and consumption are attached to Estonian history more than 200 years ago. The consumption of honey increases with time (Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Estonia, 2016). Estonian people purely love honey for no particular reasons. A box of honey is a special gift they could give you. I made honey-lemon to prepare for the winter.

A bottle of honey-lemon
  1. Special dishes on Christmas (Jõulud toit)

There are many things which make up the Christmas spirit in Estonia: Christmas dishes, gingerbread, mulled wine, mandarin, and the fresh smell of Christmas tree. Christmas dishes consist of blood sausage (verivorst), potatoes, sauerkraut (hapukapsas), braised pork, marinated pumpkin, horseradish sauce, and lingonberries jam (pohlamoos). Gingerbread (piparkoogid) is (no doubt) an unhealthy food which contains too much butter and sugar for me, but the making process of it is super fun. You can get your creativity fly up high. Mulled wine (glögi) is a traditional drink on Christmas. I have made it from scratch. You can change the recipe depending on your taste. Mandarin on an Estonian Christmas table is inexplicable. Maybe just because mandarin is sold in supermarkets at the same time with Christmas and Estonians keep buying it and make it become a tradition.

A typical Christmas dish in Estonia cooked by an Estonian
I tried to make different shapes of gingerbread cut-outs including my name.
Glögi and fresh Christmas branches.

Besides those dishes, there are several Estonian foods recommended by aforementioned websites that you should try too. They are kama, kvass (kali), semla (vastlakukkel), kohuke, Kalev chocolates, aspic (sült), and potato and groats porridge (mulgipuder).

I am quite sure that my list of “Estonian food in my heart” is increasing with time. The longer I live in this country, the more hidden gems I have found and fell in love with.


Photo sources: All of the photos belong to Thai. The food can be found on his Facebook cooking page: Nvt.kitchen.

Nguyen Van Thai (Vietnam)

PhD in Medicine