For travellers, the word “tour” has taken on a deeper meaning. It is more than simply walking around and looking at sights, taking pictures and tasting the cuisine. A tour has to be organized, comprehensive, and multi-layered. Of course, there’s the obvious touristy qualities, but a good tour should always leave a mark.
When seen this way, it appears that a “food tour” would be hard pressed to meet these demands. But I’ve seen many great food tours do exactly this. In Estonia, I saw another: the Food Sightseeing Tour held in the capital Tallinn.
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Granted, the title could have been better. It conjures images of tourists looking at food instead of tasting them. However, that kind of thinking flew out the window as we proceeded. Instead, our group had a good dose of both culture and history as we went around and soaked up the essence of Tallinn’s culinary background. As the tour had claimed, it was a window into the country’s soul!
We met in front of the Tourism and Information Center on Niguliste Street 2. It’s impossible to get lost on the way, as our smiling tour guide held a sign aloft that said “Food Sightseeing Estonia”. Once gathered, we headed off to our first stop.
The city ⸺ and the country itself ⸺ is a hotbed of culinary traditions from various cultures. While most of the food is rooted in Nordic origins, the Estonian kitchen is largely influenced by Russian and Western cuisines. This was one of the things we had been taught first as we went proceeded to our first destination, a gourmet shop selling rye bread with various dips.
Now, rye bread may hardly sound gourmet, but this shop sells delectable variants of this traditional Estonian fare. This type of bread is part of the national staple, with black rye bread being found by the side of almost all types of main course food. The bread has been ingrained so much in Estonian culture that their version of the pre-meal “grace” is “jatku leba” ⸺ “may your bread last”!
We also learned of the Estonian practice of never wasting bread. Historically, the country had not been a land of excess. The people live by their means, and value bread highly. When a piece drops on the floor, Estonians pick it up, kiss it (to show respect), and eat it! It’s a good thing floors are relatively clean, at least those we’ve seen.
The tour group also stopped by Hellemani Kõrts on Müürivahe 50. This is right beside the entrance of the famous Hellemann Tower, which is part of the medieval system of walls protecting the city. The steps can be a little difficult to climb, and the narrow wooden walkways aren’t recommended for the acrophobic. But overall, the Tower provides a good view of Tallinn, and Hellemani Kõrts provides a great glass of mulled wine right after!
Speaking of wine, the final leg of our tour was held at the Luscher & Matiesen Distillery. This place housed the Museum of Estonian Drinking Culture! Up a hill is a little place that narrated not just the story of the brand but also the history of wine drinking in the country.
We tasted different varieties of wines, and also got to see several dozen more. While wine isn’t as popular as beer in Estonia, it is fast catching up as the preferred source of alcohol in the diet. We learned about the various types of wines Estonia has, such as the apple and berry fruit wines. One other thing that caught my eye was the fact that the bottles were amazing! The museum had these different bottles from the time when they used to trick people using the bottles themselves. There were also letters framed on the walls, some of them written by the owners of the brand. They showed real passion for wine! It’s quite easy to see everything since the place is small, but it’s worth the visit. For those who are interested in beer, though, a part of the museum is dedicated to the beer-brewing culture.
Food Sightseeing Tours definitely gave us more than what we expected. It was three hours well-spent! We not only got to do delicious food and drink tastings, we also understood their place within Estonian history. Give this tour a try when you find yourself in this Baltic State! The stories the guides share sure beat simply walking around on your own. It’s also a perfect complement to the free walking tours, as it covers some places not covered by the latter. Now this is a good way to spend time on a new city!