Estonia: Tiny, technological and spoilt for choice

I am drinking from a small glass, not sucking my thumb

The first time I visited cheap, friendly, medieval Tallinn I was coming from money-sucking modernist Helsinki. I had no idea what to expect so was relieved to find a number of fine vegan restaurants; a beer shop that kept paper bags bull of unusual bottle tops for collectors like myself; more than 30 breweries (an impressive number for a country with a population the size of Birmingham); and the concepts of “post-Soviet rap”. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprise as they also invented Skype and Kalle Lasn who created Adbusters (the first people to publish me!)

So I loved Estonia In Real Life, but the virtual journey was no less eye-opening.

Barley mashed potato, it tastes even better than it looks!

For a start, the music incredible, like walking in a forest, or watching a Swedish horror movie, but in a good way. My Estonian one is definitely in my top 5, not least because they can rock a jaw harp. Music is so integral to Estonian life that most Estonians I know will start singing about about a lichen covered branch or an unusual mushroom at the drop of a hat. I mean these are the people that threw off the Yoke of Sovietism with the Singing Revolution. In fact the English language is not yet evolved enough to explain Estonian music, so you’ll just have to listen to the playlist and enjoy!

Tallinn — a rum flavoured chocolate wafer bar. The world could learn a lot from Estonia!

Whilst the music sustained me spiritually, my body was treated to tastes from Home Foods — a Brummie-based Lithuanian and Latvian shop that also sells Estonian treats. They had a Estonian cookie cake — like a Lithuanian Tinginys — basically cookies crushed up and stuck back together with chocolate and condensed milk. It can be described in one word — sweet. They also had rum chocolates and most importantly Estonian Barley — the key ingredient to pretty much any recipe I found. For example, this week’s vegan dinner was barley mashed potatoes, served with fried up veg and vegan sausages. Proper home cooking, the perfect thing to eat in the drafty barn your family is forced to live in due to a perceived slight your uncle made about the Soviet Union — more of which later…

Crushed cookie cake! I also ate a Kalev bar but no space to talk about it!

For now, we must DRINK! I could have chosen Tallinn — a lovely sweet liquor, or I could have had a delicious Pohjala brewery beer — made from the forest, but instead I ended up “treating myself” to a bottle of a dusty weird bottle of Mustsostra — a blackcurrant liqueur. Kir this was not. I took a bottle to a friend’s house and ruined a glass of their delicious British fizz by adding a shot to it. But I guess finding unpleasant things is the downside of always trying something new…

For example this week’s first film was Sounds Good an animated film of a sound recordist, taping mushrooms growing… It was quite Estonian, but couldn’t compete with the Little Comrade, the story of a teacher and her family who don’t embrace the Soviet occupiers enough and find themselves outcast and living in a drafty barn, constantly fearing for their lives. It is beautiful and heart-wrenching and I would recommend it without hesitation.

The same goes for the two Estonian books. The first — the Purge — is the tale of a woman fleeing Soviet Occupation in a drafty house in the forest, but it is also a tale of collusion and resistance, of love and fear, of what humans do when pitted against an uncaring and brutal state. The second — the Man who spoke Snakish — goes even deeper into Estonianism — it’s a magical treat of a book centred on the importance of holding on to ancient traditions and beliefs. It somehow managed to hook me despite the violence and the talking animals. As the tale of people unwilling to change despite the onslaught of modernity, it seemed to be the perfect metaphor for Estonia, a country that seems to be able to be uber modern and uber traditional at the same time!

From one tiny country to another, we say farewell to Estonia and head down to Eswatini!

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Armchair traveller

Zero carbon lockdown travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.