Tasting Estonia

In previous post I promised to show you some food goodies from Tallinn. Since we have spent only half a day there, there is not that much to blog about, but well ;) here it is ;) We had a dinner in Beer House restaurant. It prides itself as  the only micro-brewery restaurant in Estonia. They brew 7 sorts of beer and as you might have guessed, it was a difficult choice so… we bought a tasting set ;) We liked the most Beer House Premium and Märzen Speziel. Medovar Honey was also really good, but I think it should be enjoyed by itself,  cause in combination with other beers it seems to be a tad too sweet. One can  see the brewery vats through the windows next to restaurant’s entrance.

Tallin takes pride in its Hanseatic history and many restaurants advertise their medieval dishes. Beer House is no different and not only it is stylized as a tavern but it also serves a wide variety of dishes that probably are similar to those from the past. For a beer snack we chose pig’s ears. Doesn’t it sound fun ;)? It is something really interesting to try, but for sure I won’t crave for it ;) For main Mr No Onion Please opted for ribs, while I got sausage of game with potato and forest-mushroom pocket, beet and horse-radish terrine, mustard sauce and fresh сranberry sauce.

I guess the most common food souvenirs one brings from any country are sweets and alcohol. Well, we are no different. That’s usually the first things we think of bringing back with us as well. When it comes to Estonia, the staple food souvenirs are Kalev chocolates and marzipan and Vana Tallin liquor.

I’m not a great fan of Kalev milk chocolates, but I must admit, they really know how to make good white ones. Both me and Mr No Onion Please adore the white chocolate with dried blueberries and crisps. Mr No Onion Please is also a fan of white chocolate with strawberries and cookies, while I prefer the one with dried cranberries and coconut. When we went to Kalev store, I have spotted a new milk chocolate with almonds and gooseberries. Oh my, I love gooseberries, of course I had to buy it! It is a nice chocolate, though, to my disappointment it doesn’t contain dried gooseberry bits (or not at least visible ones). I would also like a tiny bit more of the gooseberry flavor in it, but in general I was pretty happy with the taste and will definitely buy it again.

Another “souvenir” that one just has to bring from Estonia is Vana Tallinn liquor. As much as I  can’t really handle the original liquor (too strong), I really adore its cream and coffee cream versions. There is a tiny bit of rum and vanilla flavor with some  delicate citrus aftertaste. Definitely one of the best cream liquors I’ve ever tasted. They are absolutely delicious! Since I got now a new bottle (my stock always replenishes so fast ;) ) I’m planning to use it in  cheesecake, oh boy, can’t wait!

Kama chocolate

Now, something about Estonia’s national food product, that won’t be commonly found in a visitor’s bag – kama. It’s a mixture of roasted barley, rye, oat and pea flour. Historically, it has been used as a stomach-filling snack that could be quickly prepared by mixing it with lard. Nowadays, it is usually enjoyed  simply mixed with buttermilk and some berries. You can read more about it here and search for kama recipes on Nami-Nami blog. In fact, this ingredient is so popular, that Kalev has made a “chocolate”, using kama instead of cocoa. Actually, Kamatahvel is a fortunate outcome of Soviet times experiment. You see, during communism it was very difficult to get cocoa beans, so people started to search for alternatives. Of course kama could never substitute the real cocoa, but the outcome was not only interesting but also pretty tasty. It reminds me somewhat of a similar product invented in Poland during those times. Not only cocoa was a deficit  food product, it was also very difficult to get coffee. Similarly to kama, so called grain coffee was invented. It constituted of roasted barley, rye, sugar beets and chicory and despite it was barely reminiscent of real coffee, it remained popular not only through communism but also nowadays you can buy it as INKA grain coffee. Quite amazing what people can think of, when they are in need!

Though I bought kama just several days ago, I’ve already used 2/3 of the package (I guess it means another Tallinn trip quite soon ;) ). Apart from mixing kama with my morning muesli, I’ve decided to try out a recipe for kama mascarpone truffles – kamakäkid. I have substituted raisins with dried cranberries, as I’m much more keen on those. Thank you Pille for the recipe, we have enjoyed it together with our friends a lot!

INGREDIENTS

250 grams of mascarpone
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp chopped dried cranberries
3 tbsp chopped hazelnuts
3 heaped tbsp kama flour
a generous dash of Vana Tallinn cream liqueur (can be substituted with eg. Baileys)

Mix everything together, put into the fridge for a while. Form into small balls, roll in kama or cocoa powder and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Istanbul’s street food

You can have great eats no matter if you dine in a fine restaurant or in a shabby bar in Istanbul, but since it is the street food that shows the soul of a city, that’s what I would like to focus on. I bet that as soon as you think of Turkey you just see kebabs. But there’s much more than that ;) First of all amazing sea food. There are lots of restaurants where you can enjoy some amazing dishes and mezes (I’ve never eaten before so amazingly delicate squid!). But street bars also offer  some delights. In previous post about Istanbul there is a pic of people who enjoy fishing for sardines – hamsi. If you don’t have your rod while visiting the city, and I bet you don’t, you can anyway enjoy those small jewels of the sea by eating in one of many tiny bars serving fresh deep fried hamsi – so simple, yet so delicious! In the nights the streets become full of vendors trying to sell smoked mackerels and superb mussels filled in with pilaf – that’s a must try when you’re in Istanbul! You’re surrounded by two seas and a Bosphorus trait so be prepared for eating tons of fish!

Ok, so Turkey is a truly carnivorous country. Though you’ll find there some delish vege food as well, the main focus is on meat. Kebabs are known worldwide but there are some other particular delicacies to be sought for. One day we  wondered into Fatih district of Istanbul where foreigners are not a common sight. We went there because of one particular dish – pit oven roasted suckling lambs. There are several restaurants there serving this delicious meat and they were full. No wonder, the meat was amazingly tender and tasty. I can say without any doubt that it was the best lamb dish I ever had in my life! The lamb is cut into small chunks, topped with lavash – turkish kind of pizza as I like to call it ;) and served together with foamy ayran – a yogurt based beverage.

The post wouldn’t be complete if I wouldn’t mention offal. The dishes with it are really abundant in Turkey. What  a pity  that in the Western countries we seem to forget how tasty those parts can be. In my family for example we were not used to cook with offal, not even liver! And I know most of my friends had same situation in their homes when they were young. I believe that often the things you’re not exposed to in your youth are then the ones that make you feel scared or disguised. So many people will not try them by themselves once they are grownups. Luckily, I’m a curious person and though at the beginning I felt a bit weird about eating offal I always want to try new things, and once I tried I must say that if prepared well it’s delicious! It’s such a pity that offal is in many counties a very neglected food. And I don’t mean only the various flavors we miss, I just feel that by eating some offal from time to time we would decrease the amount of animals that need to be killed. Nowadays just several cuts are popular and most people cook with those. Of course the rest is never really wasted but what if instead of sending those parts to be minced for fodder we will eat it by ourselves? May seem like a minimal impact for animal welfare and environment but even such matters!

Once you’re wondering in Istanbul during the small hours you’ll be stunned by the amount of street food offered to help your grumbling belly. One of the comfort foods is a stew with sheep brains. Just next to our hotel there was a bar serving this delicacy and we could see day by day cooks patiently peeling off skull bones to fulfill the locals’ cravings. Ok, so I must admit that though I like to try offal, brain is a definite no for me – I guess it’s mostly psychological barrier, but I like to say that since I work with brains on daily basis I need to separate my professional and private life and therefore won’t eat those ;) We had instead just a delicious basic kebab wrap (note that when grilling they put flat-breads on top so that the juices will soak into them).

Ok anyway, let’s go back to what offal we actually ate in Istanbul ;) Of course we had kebabs made of liver and they were absolutely amazing! Delicate meet with a hint of sweetness, perfect. But the staple street food I want to write about is kokoreç. It is simply tripe grilled over charcoal fire, cut in tiny pieces, put inside the bun with fresh tomatoes and loads of sumac and pepper. At the beginning I was a bit skeptical as I have seen tripe being soaked at the butchers. It was grayish with bits of undigested grass, what else to say – gross. But once we took a first bite of it, we immediately stood in the queue to get a second portion ;)

Turkish sweets

I bet that when thinking of Turkish sweets there are three things coming to your mind: baklava, halva and turkish delights. Turks are known for their notorious sweet tooth and even me who would shuffle down my throat loads of desserts gets stuck after eating two or three of their highly syrupy pastries. But since I guess you all know those luscious baklavas, finger-licking halvas and scrumptious turkish delights, I’m not gonna write about them. I will try to show you a few other, a bit less common but nohow less delicious treats.

As much as I’m always allured by huge choice of sterile made market available sweets, I still believe that the best are those that are hand-made. They taste so much better when someone puts heart to create them. And so to get a real taste of artisan sweets we went for a visit to Altan Şekerleme. The shop is stuck in a really weird neighbourhood, where you can buy a saddle as well as sharpen your knives. Once you open the doors you feel like you’re in a time machine, like you’ve just jumped back half a century or so. You do feel like this is not just another place, but that it actually has a soul. The shop was opened in 1865 and since then is run by one family, passing the secret recipes from one generation to another. You can get here halva or turkish delights but we were tempted by the huge rock candies sitting on the countertop in lovely vintage jars. Akide, as they are called in Turkish, come in many flavors – strawberry, lemon, caramel, cocoa, mint, cinnamon and my favourite – bergamot.

I’m sure I’m showing you all the things you must have seen before, but I bet that the sweet below will stun most of you folks. Looks like a typical boring milk pudding, right? Oh, believe me, it can be called anything but boring. I guess you would never tell it’s made with chicken breast fillets, would you? ;) No, it’s not disgusting and no ,it doesn’t taste funny. You basically don’t taste the chicken at all. If no one would tell you there is chicken you would never even have a clue there might be some meat inside. You may ask so why the hell they put it there? Well, I believe it’s all about the texture. You see, when you eat it, you actually can feel tiny tiny fibers that come from chicken breasts. Apart from being unusual tavuk gögsu (cause that is the proper Turkish name of this pud) has also quite a history – it emerged as a palace dish during Ottoman times. If you’re a bit more adventurous foodie then I guess you’ve put it on your “to eat” list.

Ever heard of helva? It’s a dessert that you’ll be offered in nearly every restaurant in Turkey. It’s really good as well as simple to make, so no wonder it’s so often set on menus. Traditionally, helva signifies good fortune and was used to be made on important family events such as births or deaths as well as moving the house, graduating or getting a new job. I’m pretty sure I’ll make this dessert in near future, so if you’re curious how it is done, please keep an eye on my updates ;)

Last but not least a word about ice creams. In Turkey (as anywhere else in the world) you’ll get dozens of delicious ice cream flavours, but it’s a particular one that is unique and worth to walk your feet off to find. It’s famous Maras’ chewy ice cream. Yup CHEWY, that’s not a typo. The slightly chewy consistency comes from a pine-scented tree gum called mastic. It’s widely used in Turkey and Greece to flavor puddings, some bread doughs and raki. You will find it on bazaar stalls in form of crystals, that must be pulverized prior to their use. Additional thickening factor used in chewy ice cream, is another peculiar, typically Turkish product. Salep is a ground wild orchid root that apart from flavour and thickness gives the ice cream its typical pearly white colour. While wondering on Istanbul’s old city narrow streets, you’re sure at some point to bump onto an ice cream show. It takes one metal paddle, one vat cooling down the ice cream mass and one vigorous Turk to make your jaw fall down in amazement on how chewy the chewy ice creams can really be.