Eating And Drinking In Estonia

Estonia
I always enjoy dipping into a new cuisine, so when I headed off to Estonia I was curious as to what kind of food I was going to get. Would it be like Russian cuisine? Scandinavian? A bit of both since the country is sandwiched between those two areas?

Turns out it’s a mix with its own local twist. At least that was my impression. I was only in the country a week and so take all my observations with a dash of salt.

The first thing I noticed is that bread comes with everything. The most distinct kind is a heavy black rye bread. Breakfasts include bread and an assortment of cold cuts and cheeses to fortify you against the cold day. Bread reappears for lunch and dinner and snacks. You’ll see kids tromping down the street with a slice of black bread and butter for a snack.

Estonian cuisine includes a lot of meat, especially pork, usually served with some form of potato. One dish I tried was juniper-smoked pork with honey cabbage, mustard sauce and potato-groat porridge. A good recipe that was only adequately done at the place I tried it. In the winter Estonians like soups and stews. My favorite is seljanka, a meat soup that warmed me up after a cold morning chasing the Estonian army through some snowy woods. More on that story in the next post. The vegetable soups thickened with cream or yogurt will keep you going too.

%Gallery-180003%Despite being a maritime country, fish doesn’t rank high on the menu. Herring, eel and flounder are found the most, although I didn’t try any of them.

Eating Spanish food every day, I’m accustomed to simple, direct flavors, while Estonians like to mix up their flavors. Trying to buy pure honey was a bit of a challenge. Most brands are mixed with pollen or bits of various herbs.

A lot of Estonian cheeses tend to have seeds in them, like this sampler plate shown above. My favorite was the one mixed with the rye seeds. I got this at the Seaplane Harbour Museum, which unlike many museums has a surprisingly good and affordable restaurant. The best cheese I tried was a heavily smoked cheese called Lepasuitsu Eesti juust. If you like smoky cheeses, hunt this one down.

This mixing of flavors even extends to beer. Some of the main brands and microbrews I tried were sweetened; one of them was honey flavored. Mead, sadly, was nowhere to be found. A good place for Estonian beer in Tallinn is Hell Hunt, a bar/restaurant that’s hugely popular with both locals and tourists.

As for the harder stuff, there’s no shortage of Estonian and Russian vodka. Estonia is also known for Vana Tallinn (“Old Tallinn”), a sweet liquor that wasn’t to my taste. It’s made with vanilla pods, orange, lemon, bitter orange oils and a bit of cinnamon mixed with Jamaican rum. Often called the “Baileys of Estonia,” I brought some back to my Baileys-loving wife and she found it overly sweet just like I did. We’ll foist it off on some unsuspecting guests. Apparently this is what the Estonians do. Several told me that it’s mostly an export brand.

In the bigger cities you’ll find plenty of other cuisines. Besides the usual staples such as Chinese, Indian and Italian, there are plenty of Caucasian restaurants featuring the cuisines of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. These places will give you a very different dining experience and I recommend visiting at least one while you’re in Estonia. At Must Lammas in Tallinn I tried a dish of crisphead lettuce with grilled chicken filet and garlic-cheese sauce that was excellent.

Visiting Estonia in winter, I missed all the fresh herbs, berries and nuts the country folk like to gather. Everyone raves about the local strawberries. I did have a fun culinary experience, though. Plus I took the Estonian advice to eat a lot of garlic to keep from getting a cold. It worked!

Read the rest of my series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: Chasing The Estonian Army (And Finding A Different One)!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Boulder’s Chautauqua Park: more than just hiking and climbing

Chatauqua Park, boulderThe Chautauqua Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided millions of Americans with cultural, educational, and entertainment experiences that included concerts, classes, lectures, and exhibitions. It was, to quote Teddy Roosevelt, “The most American thing in America.” Ask most Americans today what a Chautauqua is, and odds are, you’ll get a blank stare.

Until recently, I too would have had that deer-in-the-headlights expression. I’m ashamed to say that although I lived in Boulder for nearly two years, I had no idea that Chautauqua Park was anything more than just an exceptional place to hike, with some cool historic buildings thrown in. Thankfully, while in Boulder on business last month, I displayed the instinctive intellectual curiosity I possess when I’m in travel mode. Thus, I discovered that the city’s–and my–favorite recreational spot is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The first “Mother” Chautauqua was organized by a Methodist minister, at a campsite on New York’s Chautauqua Lake in 1874. By the end of the first World War, 12,000 Chautauquas were in the U.S.. Many had religious leanings, but Chautauquas were primarily educational adult or family summer camps, fostering a sense of community and culture.

The 40-acre Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder opened on July 4, 1898 as a summer retreat. Today, according to the website, it’s one of three remaining Chautauquas in the U.S., and the only site west of the Mississippi River in continuous operation, with its original structures intact. It became a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

%Gallery-129131%Chautauqua Park, boulderThe Colorado Chautauqua (locals just call it “Chautauqua”) includes 60 guest cottages and two lodges for nightly or long term rental; a dining hall and auditorium; 48 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails; climbing routes and bouldering spots, and 8000 acres of open space. The “Green” located at the entrance was Boulder’s first city park.

In 2008, the Colorado Chautauqua Association vowed to make the grounds the country’s “greenest” National Historic Landmark. Changes in operation include water and energy conservation, and expanding methods of diverting waste from landfills. Even the (adorable) cottages have recycling bins, water-saving shower heads, faucets, and toilets, eco-friendly soaps and hair products, and alternative cooling systems.
Chautauqua Park, boulder
Chautauqua hosts public events at reasonable fees year-round, including music, theater, dance, film, forums on everything from global warming to sustainable farming, outdoor “active” plays for children and family, and the Colorado Music Festival. It’s also immensely popular for weddings and other outdoor gatherings (which must be booked through the Chautauqua).

Even if you skip the events, I recommend a pre-hike, al fresco breakfast or brunch, or a post-hike (local, craft-brewed) beer at the Dining Hall, which has been in existence since 1898. It’s not where you’ll find the best meal in town, but the wrap-around porch offers stellar views, and it’s an ideal place to absorb the essence of Boulder life. The Dining Hall offers classic American cuisine, and is also open for lunch and dinner; reservations strongly recommended.

Sadly, the Chautauqua Movement lost its mojo as we became a more urbanized and technologically advanced society. Why go to the Chautauqua when you can play “Angry Birds” or see what those crazy Kardashians are up to? And that’s exactly why I was so affected by what I learned in Boulder last month. I used to live less than two miles from this remarkable monument to American history. Yet I was too self-absorbed and distracted at the time to be curious about its roots, despite hiking there on a weekly basis.Chautauqua Park, boulder Sometimes, we need to put down the toys, be in the moment, and really take note of our surroundings. And that’s what the Chautauqua Movement was all about. May it one day thrive again.

If you’d like to support the revival of the Chautauqua Movement, go to this new site launched by the Chautauqua Network: Chautauqua Trail.

Could you live in Portland?

There will be a moment during your visit to Portland, Oregon when you’ll have an epiphany. Maybe it won’t happen during your blissful stroll through one the city’s giant public parks, your nostrils fresh with the scent of pine trees and clean air. And it might not hit you during your $3 lunch at one of Portland’s plentiful food carts, your taste buds humming to a savory, cheesy mac n’ cheese made with locally produced Tillamook Cheddar. It might not even cross your mind as you get lost in aisles of Powell’s, a temple of a bookstore that fills an entire city block. But at some point you’ll be overwhelmed by how much you’re enjoying yourself and start to wonder: could I live in Portland? Why am I not here already?

Portland is a place that seems as if it was created with travelers in mind. Everything about it, from the city’s accessible size and convenient public transportation, to its killer food and beer culture, top-notch shopping and easy access to nature, is made to appeal to the visitor in ways that feel welcoming, inspiring and surprising. In a word: wonderful. Sure, as a visitor it’s easy enough to glance over the city’s problems: the unemployment rate is currently hovering above 10%, and for much of the year the city is shrouded in a gloomy, misty haze of rain. But these facts ultimately pale in comparison to the reasons why Portland is such a forward-thinking, livable destination.

Could you live in Portland? Or maybe you’re just curious about making a visit? Keep reading below for our Portland tips.Getting in, getting around
Portland visitors will arrive at Portland International Airport (PDX), located about 45 minutes from the downtown city proper. Don’t bother with a taxi – for just over $2, you can jump on the clean, speedy Light Rail to whisk you towards downtown. Public transport is a big win here: a one-day pass covering rides on all city light rail, bus and street car lines is just $4.75. Travelers who are renting/driving a car will find there’s ample street parking, though the city does have occasional traffic gridlock (no place is without a few flaws, right?).

Orientation
Portland is bisected by the Willamette River, and most addresses and neighborhoods identified by their relationship to this body of water. On the West side of the River you’ll find Portland’s main commercial center. Just North of this (in the Northwest) is the Pearl District, a humming district of art galleries, shopping and killer cuisine. In the NW, the area along 23rd Avenue is also popular for shopping.

The East side of Portland is decidedly more low-key, but definitely worth a visit. In the Northeast you’ll find plenty to check out on Mississippi Avenue. The happening Southeast is anchored by plenty of great dining and shopping along Hawthorne Boulevard.

What to do
With so much to see, eat, buy and explore in Portland, a better question for first-time visitors might be, what shouldn’t you do?

  • Have a brew – like beer? Welcome to Nirvana. Boasting one of the largest concentrations of microbreweries in the country, you’d be hard-pressed to come to Portland and not enjoy one of the town’s outstanding, locally-crafted beers.Though you can’t go wrong at most bars, spots like Deschutes, Henry’s Tavern and Laurelwood get consistently high marks.
  • Eat out – not only is Portland a great town for beer, it’s also a great town for outrageously fresh, delicious food. One of the greatest features of Portland is the city’s many cheap food carts. Ditch that bland bag lunch and track down tasty fare with the locals, like Schnitzel sandwiches and tip-top Thai food at Nong’s. At night, head to the SE for dinner at Pok Pok, one of Portland’s best restaurants.
  • Parks – Portland’s reputation for livability and beauty has a lot to do with the city’s plentiful parkland. It’s a great way to spend the day, enjoying a blissful trail hike, riding a bike or simply stopping to smell the roses. Check out Forest Park, one of the nation’s largest urban parks. During the summer, stop by Portland’s Rose Garden for thousands of the colorful flowers overlooking the city’s downtown.
  • Shop local – the diversity and quality of Portland’s small-scale retail is unmatched. Visitors will be hard-pressed to track down a chain store and everywhere you look are creative, one-of-a-kind handmade goods. The mother of all bookstores is Powell’s, a modern-day “Great Library” bursting with new and used tomes. Music lovers flock to stores like Mississippi Records in Portland’s Northeast.

Killer food and drink. Blissful nature. Quirky local shopping. What’s not to like about Portland? Perhaps it’s time you came to check out this buzzing Pacific Northwest capital for yourself. But consider yourself warned – spend a weekend in Portland and you’ll come away wanting more.

St. Louis enjoys a craft beer revival

There’s something new brewing in St. Louis these days. Best-known as the home to beer titan Anheuser-Busch, this Midwestern town is enjoying a different type of beer resurgence these days, thanks to a growing number of small breweries that have set up shop around town. A recent news article chronicles the rise of Saint Louis’ increasingly diverse craft beer scene.

Saint Louis has long had a close relationship with the beer industry. For decades, local taverns were dominated by hometown brews produced by Anheuser-Busch. Smaller brewers like Saint Louis Brewery, which opened in 1989, were nearly nonexistent. When they first started, the only place you could get a Saint Louis Brewery pint was at the company’s on-site pub. But the one-time niche craft brewer was a sign of things to come. Today St. Louis boasts 14 craft brewers, and appetite for quality beer continues to grow. When Anheuser-Busch was purchased by Belgian beer giant InBev in 2008, it was symbolic of the sea change that has ocurred in American brewing towards all things small-batch, independent and craft brewed.

Is Saint Louis witnessing the rise of a new age of beer tourism? The best way to find out is to sample a few pints on your next trip through town. Check out local favorites like Morgan Street Brewery, Six Row Brewing Company and Trailhead Brewing Company on your next St. Louis visit. Beer site Pubcrawler also has a good run down of other St. Louis brewers.

(Image: Flickr/Laurie Chipps)

15 more great cities for drinking beer

Last month, the writers at Gadling spent a lot of time at the pub, creating this list of The 24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer. We had so much fun and got so many great comments, we decided we couldn’t stop: we headed back to the bar and asked for another round. Here’s 15 more of our favorite cities in the world for drinking great beer. Did we include your favorite? Take a look.

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Edinburgh locals proudly boast to have the highest concentration of pubs of any city in Europe. Nightly pub crawls of all varieties and themes weave an intoxicated web through both the New and Old towns, dutifully infiltrating once-sleepy pubs and leaving empty pint glasses littered in their wake. If you want to get closer to the source, head over to the Caledonian Brewery, a place where beer is proudly “brewed by men, not machines.”

Wellington, New Zealand
This funky little capital city at the base of New Zealand’s North Island is teeming with Kiwis who are keen for their beer. While nationally popular Monteith’s is brewed on the South Island in the sleepy town of Greymouth, Wellington Brewery still has beers ending up in the hopping bars and nightclubs lining the infamous Cuba Street. No stranger to hosting events, Wellington will open its doors in 2010 to the New Zealand Beer Festival, only serving to further the raucous bar scene this city churns out nightly.Prague, Czech Republic
Beer drinking visitors agree: there’s nothing quite like a tall stein of pivo in Praha, the traditional home of Pilsner and arguably the world’s best beer. Allegedly consuming 156 liters of beer per capita each year–the most of any nation–beer is a simple life necessity for the Czechs. Long a staple city on the European beer circuit, the glory of Czech beer is highlighted nowhere more than at the annual Czech Beer Festival, held in Prague each May.

Homer, Alaska
While not exactly what many would consider a city, Homer is one of those “drinking villages with a fishing problem” that exudes nothing but good-natured charm. All of the action in town is centered around the Homer Spit, a flat outcropping of land that holds all of the town’s bars, most notably the world-famous Salty Dawg Saloon. After hauling in a 300-pound halibut, most fishermen head out to the Spit to celebrate with one of the many flavors of the Homer Brewing Company, or perhaps even an “import” from the Alaskan Brewing Company in the far away capital of Juneau.

Austin, Texas
If good beer has partners in crime, it would be good music and eager twenty-somethings ready to let it all hang out. Fortunately for anyone visiting Austin, there is absolutely no shortage of either. Host to two of the largest music festivals in the nation, Austin City Limits and South by Southwest, Austin frequently swells from the University of Texas all the way down to 6th Street with beer-battered locals and music lovers alike. A number of microbreweries are scattered around town, and with top acts and loads of talent moving through the city, the opportunity to imbibe is never far away.

Phnomh Penh, Cambodia

Phnomh Penh comes in on this list for one reason alone: $.25 beers on tap. Not only is a draft beer only a quarter, but the Cambodian national brew, Angkor Beer, is one of the finest lagers in all of Asia. Aside from the cheap price and the smooth taste, modern-day Phnomh Penh is lined with French cafes overlooking the mighty Mekong River, all serving obscenely cheap Angkor on draft. For those wanting to take the Angkor deep into the night, the city boasts an impressive nightclub scene, and for anyone really wanting to get creative with their drinking, every evening there are mass public aerobic sessions in the many parks across the city.

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada

You know any beer served this close to the Arctic is going to be cold. A rugged outpost town that is known for its rough mining history and plentiful outdoor adventure opportunities, hardy souls have been putting back the beers in Whitehorse since the gold miners and prospectors first came to town. These days, the Yukon Brewing Company keeps everyone in town from going thirsty, and their Yukon Red was just recently awarded the Canadian Brewing Awards 2009 Canadian Beer of the Year.

Sydney, Australia
Few cultures are as receptive to a good time as are the Aussies, and the wide beaches and deep discos of Sydney provide the perfect venue for such carefree merriment. Frowning upon their Melbourne neighbors who would rather swill Victoria Bitter, Sydney locals will proudly partake in the locally-brewed Toohey’s, most likely beach-side at Bondi between the bikinis and the BBQ.

— The above was written by Kyle Ellison, Seed contributor


Lewes, Delaware
Don’t tell anyone, but this sleepy former whaling village may or may not be the oldest town in America – the Lewes town sign proclaims it “the first town in the first state”. Lewes is home to the stellar Dogfish Head brewery, which makes a particularly good early summer beer called Aprihop. For those who typically ignore fruit-tinged beer, this brew carries enough dried-hop bite and pleasant fragrance to remind us of that time of year when the air is warm but the ground is still cold. Look west and the bay bends in a way that the sun actually sets into a watery horizon. That alone is worth the trip.

Ensenada, Mexico
Ensenada’s colonial past creeps just below the city’s surface: Spanish architecture and design are evident everywhere, and the town is sprinkled with old missions glowing under shiny terracotta tile roofs. There’s a bar in town called Hussong’s which seems to creak and moan like an ancient sailing vessel, and whose bar is packed with taps for German beers. The place was founded by a German prospector who followed rumors of gold to Mexico in the late 1800’s and never left. This is also the place to savor a Schloss Eggenberg Urbock 23 – if you don’t know what that is, maybe it’s time to strap that old waxy shortboard to the roof and drive south for a couple hours.

Toronto, Canada
Toronto is a city best viewed from on high, the ideal spot being the CN Tower, which attracts 2 million visitors annually. It’s the kind of view that can make the bottom of your feet tingle, and by the time you return to solid ground, you’ll be ready for a cold one. If you’ve only had Canadian beers in green bottles, you’ve missed the rich variety our northern neighbors have to offer: Unibroue Brewing makes beer called Maudite which has a deep copper color and a pert aroma of wild spices and floral hop notes. It’s a complex brew, deep and intoxicating in taste and smell. They also make a white ale, Blanche de Chambly, which sounds like something Austin Powers would say, but satiates thirsty travelers in a way that no beer with a “moose on the label” ever could.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
This desert town that has become synonymous with Pale Ale is a beer drinker’s delight. Hot, dry, and handsome, the town teems with artistry, old hippie money and raw desert beauty. Few experiences stimulate the senses like watching the sun rise across the desert floor while the light paints a mural of reds blues and oranges. Best to see it after staying up all night drinking Santa Fe State Pen Porter, a smoky and mysterious experience that compliments the desert night air.

Boulder, Colorado
Boulder, Colorado has a reputation as the “church of the outdoors” – when people aren’t hiking, they’re skiiing. And they’re young: the median age is 29, a time when your body is best suited to burning off those extra beer carbs. Boulder is home to the state’s first microbrewery, Boulder Beer Company, whose products include a dry-hopped ale called Hazed and infused for it’s multiple hop aromas that result from introducing the hops late in the brewing process. The bar also sports a “Magical Mystery Tap” which seems to exist solely to tempt the thrill-seeker within each of us.

Portsmouth New Hampshire
If you like seafood, but have never eaten at a northeastern lobster shack, you haven’t had the full experience. Along the coasts of Maine and new Hampshire, there are smallish, greying buildings that serve pots of steamed seafood right from on the dock. Portsmouth in particular has a number which carry the local brewer Smuttynose. Known for their Big Beer Series, few epicurean experiences compare with the steamy smell of lobster and clams alongside a big mug of Farmhouse Ale.

North Hollywood, California
A place where weird is normal and the absurd is commonplace, you’re as likely to see Flea bouncing a basketball down Otsega toward the park as you are to see a homeless guy wearing a red dress. It’s happy hour all day long here, and the neighborhood moniker “NoHo Arts district” seems to have multiple levels of meanings. As in Europe, a cold beer isn’t usually frowned on at lunch, and it’s easy to slip into that hazy way of thinking, maybe after three of Mendocino Brewing Company’s Red Seal Ales, continuing the charade that is North Hollywood is still a good idea.

— The above was written by Eric Hunsaker, Seed contributor

Related:
* The 24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer
* The 25 greatest cities in the world for drinking wine
* The 20 greatest cities in the world for foodies

Before you go, be sure to check out Travel Talk, in which the guys visit the spiciest restaurant in NYC — try to slake their thirst with beer.