The fact that Estonians have as strong a connection today as they ever had to nature, including the forests and the sea, plays a major role in the food that they eat from one season to the next. They know their flora; picking mushrooms and berries in the forest and collecting herbs and medicinal plants is something often whole families do together. As well, since Estonians have a growing respect for locally sourced ingredients and organically grown and raised farm produce, not only are they valued in the home but can also be found in the exciting recipes of some of the country’s leading – and most unique – cafés and restaurants.
The country’s lengthy coastline and its abundance of rivers and lakes mean that Estonians are naturally great fans of fish. Whether you’re exploring the western islands, the northern coast of the country or the Romantic Coastline in Pärnu, stop off and find out for yourself what local seaside life is like – including its restaurants, where you’re sure to be served up delicious (and very healthy) fish dishes.
Traditional Estonian food can at first glance appear to be quite stodgy. It has long been influenced by Russian, German and Scandinavian cuisine and served to provide people with the energy they needed for demanding physical work. However, there are a lot of restaurants in the country today that present Estonian cuisine in a leaner and more modern form, particularly in summer when locally grown fruit and vegetables are available.
Special needs and wishes in terms of catering
Healthy food that also serves as a culinary treat is not only available in restaurants, of course. Spas and hotels offer first-rate menus in addition to the massages and other health and beauty procedures normally associated with them. Focusing on health services and meeting the needs of their guests, spas and hotels take special wishes into account, offering exciting menus for vegetarians, guests who are gluten- or lactose-intolerant and others with special dietary needs. Many places also offer guests an opportunity to consult a nutritionist in order to draw up guidelines with which to make healthy choices from the spa’s menu.
Those looking to make slightly more radical changes to their diet can submit themselves to the guidance of experienced specialists at fasting camps in order to cleanse their bodies of all excess matter and to learn useful tips on how to make the transition to healthier choices.
Buying healthy, wholesome food
Organically grown farm produce, dairy products, local fish, smoked ham and elk sausages all make interesting and unusual souvenirs. They can be found in stores and supermarkets, but the best places to look for them are at markets and summer fairs. The most interesting markets (and not just for their selection, but also for their architecture) which are open year-round are the Nõmme and Sadama markets in Tallinn and the marketplace in Tartu. As well, if you’re looking to fill up your shopping basket with healthy Estonian food, don’t forget to pop some black bread in there, as well as cheese curds, pickles and Värska mineral water.
Whether you’re eating out or buying the ingredients yourself, don’t think merely about how many calories are in the food you’re eating – keep an eye open for labels confirming how pure they are and that they’re sourced from healthy origins. For example, the Kubija Hotel & Spa offers breakfasts under the Uma Mekk trademark which are based entirely on local ingredients, while the catering at Pühajärve Spa carries its own Eco label. The Green Key also indicates that an item has been made in association with organic producers. These labels provide important information about the results of scientific studies which indicate that more healthy compounds are found in organic fruit, vegetables, meat and milk than in ordinary products.