As an American (you know, complete with our whole Fourth of July backyard BBQ culture), it comes as a shock to most people that I’ve never really been a ribs person. For the same reason that I hate chicken wings. If I’m going to eat meat, I’d like it to be in big chunks that I can pop into my mouth and chew. I don’t want to have to work hard and navigate around bones in order to enjoy a few scraps of meat. It has to be a really tasty plate of ribs in order to make it worth the extra work… and the sticky mess. In over forty countries, I’ve managed to avoid any meat-related complications but that all changed on our most recent trip to Estonia.
Truth be told, Chris and I were thrilled when we were invited to experience the Baltics on a JayWay Travel tour through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. We had our first taste of Estonia back in January and although we were only in Tallinn for a few days, we fell in love with the place. We spent those three days wandering around Old Town, ducking into medieval themed restaurants, and reveling in the spirit of the place. We were so enamored with Estonia that we knew it would be a country that we would have to make it back to.
I was giddy with excitement as we pulled up to our hotel for our three nights in Tallinn. Hotel Telegraaf is located in the heart of Old Town and is quite possibly one of the most comfortable hotels we’ve ever stayed in. The staff was incredibly helpful and friendly, always greeting us with smiles and waves. And while we absolutely adore Tallinn, we were torn between wanting to explore the town while simultaneously being tempted to spend the entire day in our amazing hotel room. It doesn’t hurt that one of the best restaurants, Tchaikovsky is located in the hotel. That’s winning all around.
But Tchaikovsky would have to wait for another day because our first meal in town was going to be at Porgu. While the name “Porgu” actually translates to “hell” in Estonian, the food tasted like sheer heaven. Located in a cellar underground one of Old Town’s beautifully preserved buildings, this cave-like restaurant serves up hearty meals traditional to the region. Our group was greeted by platters of anchovy sandwiches, pepper lard with rye bread chips, chili and garlic pickled olives, and duck carpaccio with rocket salad. The food was still coming as we arranged ourselves around a large wooden table in the back corner.
It was then that I noticed an overwhelming aroma of garlic. Set in front of me was a steaming plate of ribs and a large bowl of giant beans. Before I even knew what was happening, my hands were reaching for the ribs. I took one meager little bite just to see if I enjoyed the taste. The flavor hit me full on and before I knew it, there was a pile of bones on my plate. The ribs paired wonderfully with the garlic beans and I caught myself analyzing the two dishes so that I could recreate them at home. And for research sake, I had to order another plate.
If I had to choose one word to describe our time in Estonia, it would be: surprising.
Those ribs set the tone for the rest of our time in Estonia. The country seems to take things that we might encounter in every day life and make them extraordinary. From our bog walking and beaver eating experience to exploring the hipster district of Kalamaja, we were constantly finding ourselves in a state of awe and wonder.
A particular highlight was our walking tour around Tallinn. Chris and I stayed close to Old Town on our first trip, but this tour took us around the city and through the budding hipster district of Kalamaja. It’s definitely a place where I could see us living. Abandoned warehouses have been transformed into chic boutiques, quirky restaurants, and unique art galleries. Our lunch at F-hoone was the epitome of hipster chic with its eclectic decor and trendy entrees. I ordered a furger (aberdeen angus beef topped with smoked cream cheese, chili sauce, pickles, red onions, lettuce, and cheddar cheese) that was quite literally the size of my head. It was the perfect sustenance to keep me energized through our extensive tour.
On our free time, we managed to sneak away to one of our favorite haunts in Old Town, Ill Draaken. This tavern looks and feels like it’s straight out of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. Head in and order from any of the serving wenches. Our personal favorites are the elk soup, meat pies, and any of their beers. Oh, and with your purchase you’ll have the opportunity to go pickle spearing in one of the large oak barrels. I would definitely recommend it as the pickles are delicious and when else will you have the opportunity ?
Our third day in Estonia was spent outside of the capital, bog walking through one of the biggest bogs in Europe. With my affinity for foraging, I had the best time searching for the tart cranberries found within the bog. I did keep a wary eye for bears and wolves that are sometimes spotted in the area.
Dinner that night was at Farm. I remember the restaurant from our first visit. Their display window features taxidermy animals that appear to be having some sort of woodland tea party. The creativity carried through to the meal while was beautiful, tasty, and very unique. Take, for example, our dessert. Chris ordered the rich-caraway fresh cream sea-buckthorn jelly with chocolate spelt wheat cookies (I have no idea what 75% of those ingredients are) while I enjoyed the meringue with whipped cream, cream cheese, fresh berries, and farm-made muesli. Both were ridiculously good.
Overall, our time in Estonia has just left me wanting more. Croatia has a run for its money as one of our top countries. The more we talk about countries we want to return to, the more Estonia has been popping up. I can’t wait to show you what the rest of our trip had in store.
What about you? What country have you visited that’s surprised you the most? Let us know in the comment section below.