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With hearty staples, tender meats, and plenty of European influence, Estonian food packs so much warmth and comfort in every bite.
And it’s no surprise. From the fish of the freshwater lakes to the vast fields of rye, so many fresh, quality ingredients make their way into Estonian dishes.
Prepare for breathtaking flavors that soothe and comfort the stomach, as a native Estonian guides us through 16 traditional Estonian dishes you simply have to try.
Sprats are a delicious small oily fish, similar to sardines. They are wildly popular in Estonia and feature in many dishes.
You can find sprats in most local food stores and supermarkets. They can be bought smoked, canned, or pickled in a spicy brine. All bring unique, fresh flavors to the table.
Vürtsikilu Suupiste is a popular Estonian dish. It’s a hearty sandwich, perfect for a snack or appetizer.
On a slice of rye bread, a generous amount of cream cheese, mixed with crushed garlic, is spread.
On the bed of cheese and garlic, a fillet of pickled sprat is placed. Finally, the sandwich is garnished with slices of boiled egg white, green onion, and dill.
This snack is very savory, but the spiciness from the brine gives it an extra depth of flavor.
Vürtsikilu Suupiste is often accompanied by strong liquors, preferably vodka of Estonian origin. This is a hearty Estonian dish, loved by many.
Hernesupp Suitsukoodiga is a traditional Estonian soup, commonly prepared on New Year’s Eve.
The broth base is made from boiling down onions, garlic, and smoked pork bones.
Dried peas are then added to the broth and cooked until soft. Sometimes, the soup is pureed to create a creamier texture, and other recipes add carrots to the mixture.
Hernesupp Suitsukoodiga is an acquired taste, and very popular among the older generations of Estonians. The smoked pork flavor and wafting smells take them back to childhood.
A potato salad is something of a staple in most European countries, and every nation has its twist on it.
In Estonia, potato salad is prepared first by chopping boiled potatoes and carrots into bitesize pieces.
A grated boiled egg, cubed cucumbers, and smoked sausage are then added to the salad.
A sour cream and mayonnaise sauce brings the ingredients together, while canned peas are also commonly added.
The final ingredient, for a dash of sweetness, is sliced apple. Both the cucumber slices and apple help balance the savory base with some sweet notes.
This salad is loved by Estonians from all walks of life. It’s a true Estonian staple, and one of the country’s most popular foods.
Blood dumpings are a recipe as old as time. Many variations exist throughout Europe.
Farmers and peasants through the centuries always had to be resourceful to feed themselves and their families. Therefore, no part of the animal was wasted.
Blood dumplings are common in many countries. In South Korea, they are called ‘sundae’, in the Philippines – ‘longganisang dugo, and in Finland – ‘mustamakkara’.
Estonian blood dumplings can often be found in shops during Christmas fairs, often accompanied by sauerkraut (‘hapukapsas’ in Estonian).
It is often sold sliced, and it is enjoyed as a late afternoon or early evening snack with a drink.
Verikäkkare are prepared by adding rendered lard and fried onion to a bowl of spices, blood, and milk, which can be substituted with water.
Next, flour is added until the mixture forms a dough. The dough can be molded into shapes, and traditionally they are rolled into sausages.
The sausages are then boiled in water until cooked, and then they’re left to cool. Before serving, they are cut into small discs and fried on a pan until they are browned.
The dumplings are served with pickles, sour cream, and cranberry jam. This dish is a true reminder of the resourcefulness of Estonians and an important Estonian food.
Sült is another resourceful Estonian dish. It is prepared by boiling down animal bones, then leaving the mixture to cool until natural gelatin starts to form and congeals the broth.
Aromatics, along with chunks of meat and slices of vegetables, are added to the broth. It’s then left to cool, and it slowly starts to form a jelly.
Meat jelly (also known as aspic) is native to the Slavic region, but it can be found in many countries’ cuisines. In Russia, it is called “холодец”.
In Estonia, it’s traditionally served at Christmas or Easter. Sült is enjoyed with a nice serving of horseradish and sour cream.
Rosolje, or mixed beetroot salad, became a staple of Estonian cuisine whilst under USSR rule.
It’s enjoyed at many Estonian celebrations. A simple dish, it uses two ingredients most commonly found in Estonia – herring and beetroot.
Rosolje is often mistaken with its Russian cousin, the ‘dressed herring’ – “Селёдка под шубой”.
But while dressed herring is a layered salad composed of layers of grated vegetables and diced pickled herring, rosolje is a far simpler salad.
With rosolje, all of the ingredients are mixed in the same bowl. This gives it plenty of different flavors and textures.
Rosolje is simple to make. Pickled herring, pickled cucumbers, boiled potatoes, beetroots, carrots, and eggs are all cubed, then finally dressed with mayonnaise.
It’s that simple to make, and it’s packed with flavor. The colors, too, are beautiful to behold.
And due to its simplicity, and the relatively low cost of the ingredients, it’s incredibly popular across Estonia.
If you ever visit Estonia, do stop by a cafe and ask for a serving of rosolje: you won’t be disappointed!
Mulgikapsad is the national dish of Estonia. It’s prepared and eaten during major celebrations, such as Christmas and New Year, but also throughout the year.
The people of Estonia love it so much, you can even find canned versions of it in stores and supermarkets!
Mulgikapsad is very simple to prepare. It also requires very little cleaning up, as it is all made in one pot.
First, sauerkraut is put in a pot with barley and meat. Commonly, bacon or smoked pork products, rich in flavor, are used.
The stew is then cooked slowly, with care, until the sauerkraut and barley are tender.
Mulgikapsad is often served with fried onions and slices of pork. Although a much-loved main course, some Estonians even enjoy it as a snack or appetizer.
Seapraad ja hautatud hapukapsad is a wholesome and rich pork dish. It’s a fine example of Central European influence on Estonian cuisine.
Pork roast with sauerkraut originates from Poland, where it is known as ‘Żeberka Wieprzowe’.
This dish is very popular during the harsh, cold winters in Estonia. It’s a warm and delicious meat and vegetable medley, perfect for feeding families and large gatherings.
First, the pork is roasted separately in an oven until the meat is cooked but tender and the juices are plentiful.
Once the pork has been roasted, the juices and trimmings are drained. These are then added to a large pot of sauerkraut and carrots.
This mixture is cooked with care, until the sauerkraut is soft. Finally, it’s ready to be plated up and enjoyed.
It’s a very hearty and filling Estonian food. I would highly recommend trying it when you visit Estonia.
The joke goes that lillkapsas juustukastmes has been made by parents for generations to try and get their children to eat their vegetables!
Lillkapsas juustukastmes is very filling and extremely creamy due to the cheese sauce.
It is made by, first, boiling cauliflower until tender. The sauce is made by mixing a small amount of flour with milk and grated cheese.
Once the tender cauliflower has been plated, it is generously covered in layers of the delicious cheese sauce.
My mother had her twist on the dish, where she would bake the cauliflower with the cheese sauce and add breadcrumbs on top.
This added a great crispy texture to an already wholesome dish. A true Estonian staple, and a popular food across the country.
Kruubipuder originates from the Medieval era, when the Estonian region was populated mainly by peasants, living primarily on grains and small amounts of meat.
The dish is prepared by adding prepared barley to a warm stock or water. Garlic and other aromatics are then added to it as well.
The mixture is then baked in the oven until the grains become soft. Kruubipuder has a thick consistency, and it soothes the stomach.
This filling porridge is often served with fried slices of smoked meat, fried onion, and a refreshing dollop of sour cream.
Barley porridge may feel strange to anyone who has only ever eaten oatmeal porridge, but it’s so filling and comforting.
Plus, barley is packed with nutrients. Kruubipuder is a true Estonian comfort food, and it has fed the population for generations.
You can’t wander too far through Estonia without coming across makklihakotlet. These meat patties are served everywhere, from schools to high-end restaurants.
The patties are prepared by mixing equal amounts of beef, pork, and sometimes veal with eggs, breadcrumbs, chopped onions, and some water.
The mixture is then worked until smooth, and equal-sized patties are formed.
The patties are fried in a pan and cooked until the flavors are sealed and the ingredients fused.
When serving, the patties are often accompanied by pickled red cabbage and mashed potatoes. An utterly delicious Estonian food.
Kama is a dessert that has been passed down through the centuries. It’s traditional to Russian cuisine – ‘толокно’, and Finnish cuisine – ‘talkkuna’.
Kama is a milled flour mixture of roasted rye, oat, pea, and barley flours, though oat is sometimes replaced by wheat flour.
Kama remains popular in Estonian cuisine today, due to its non-perishability and filling characteristics.
Even though it is classed as a dessert, many Estonians eat it for breakfas, or a snack, with milk or kefir.
Sugar-coated whipped cream, thoroughly whipped, is commonly added to kama to enhance the sweetness and the texture.
Once ready, kama is spooned into a bowl and decorated with fresh seasonal berries. Simple, but truly delicious Estonian cooking.
Mannavaht conjures up plenty of nostalgia for the older generation of Estonians.
The dish was often served in kindergartens and at schools, as it was an easier way to make children eat porridge due to its captivating pink color.
The striking pink tones are created from boiling cranberry juice with water and sugar, to which semolina is then slowly added to.
After the semolina is cooked and the mixture has thickened, it is then left to cool down.
To create that iconic foamy texture, semolina porridge is frothed until fluffy with a mixer.
The foam is served on top of milk, with seasonal berries. A sweet and delightful taste of Estonia that takes the older generation back to childhood.
Semla is a traditional sweet roll that hails from the Nordic regions. It’s known as ‘laskiaispulla’ in Finland and ‘fastelavnsbolle’ in Denmark.
Estonian vastlakukkel is usually cooked during the Shrovetide period and sold throughout February up to the first week of March.
Estonia’s take of semla uses a wheat bun, spiced with cardamom. Firstly, the top of the bun is sliced.
Inside, the bun is hollowed out. It’s then filled with sweetened whipped cream, and the cut-off top is powdered with sugar.
Finally, the sliced bun roof is nestled on top of the whipped cream. It looks delicate and is extremely tasty.
Some Estonians like to add cranberry jam to the filling, in a similar way you would add cream and jam to a British scone.
Vastlakukkel is a sumptuous dessert. It’s a food Estonians always look forward to eating once Spring arrives, after the cold winter has passed.
Rhubarb is a very common ingredient in Estonian baking. And in the making of biskviitkattega rabarberikook, rhubarb is very much the star of the show.
Estonian rhubarb biscuit cake is prepared by making two separate doughs: a pie crust for the base of the cake and a biscuit dough for the top.
Between the pastry, a generous layer of cubed rhubarb mixed with sugar and potato starch is filled.
Once the cake has been baked, it’s left to cool. For a finishing touch, the cake is dusted with powdered sugar.
The cake is moderately sweet and slightly sour, courtesy of the rhubarb. It’s full of flavor, and it keeps plenty of Estonians coming back for more than one slice.
And last, but certainly not least, we come to küpsetatud õunad. This simple baked apple dessert has been prepared in households across Estonia for generations.
First, juicy and delicious apples are cored and hollowed. Once the apples have been prepared, a mixture of sugar and cinnamon is whipped up in a bowl.
Once the mixture is ready, the apples are placed on a baking tray. They are filled with the sugar and cinnamon mixture, along with butter.
Once baked, küpsetatud õunad is served with a dollop of fresh ice cream, or covered in custard. Utterly delicious, and an Estonian dessert you simply have to try.
There we have it. A whirlwind tour of Estonia’s culinary delights, with plenty of ‘oohs’ and ‘mmms’ along the way.
Estonian cuisine is a delightful mix of hearty dishes, with plenty of European and Scandinavian influence.
As with all Baltic cuisines, the resourcefulness of the people when it comes to food is truly humbling.
Despite the harsh winters, Estonians were still able to find ways to utilize the foods at their disposal, to last for months at a time.
There’s a true ‘home-cook’ feeling to Estonian food. The dishes are filling and the flavors simple, but so strong and comforting.
Combine these recipes with plenty of fresh produce, saltwater fish, and plenty of juicy meats, and you have tastes and textures by the bucket load.
Before we go, one final time, here’s the full list of all Estonian foods covered in this article for reference.
Be sure to have this list of Estonian food handy when you visit so that you can try one or more of these popular and traditional foods.
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Contributor: Diana Pal is an Estonian content writer and translator from Tallinn. She is passionate about Estonian cuisine and culture, and shares plenty of dishes and insight through her writing.
Images licensed via Shutterstock
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