Do Estonians eat anything besides bread?

Yes, actually they do!

Summer food. Photo by: Renee Altrov / Enterprise Estonia

Although bread, especially black bread or rye bread, is central not only to Estonians’ diet, but their world view. Many Estonian food-related customs and proverbs also respect bread: ‘Bread is older than we are’, they maintain, and instead of ‘bon appétit’ they sometimes still say ‘May your bread last!’ because you can never be sure that it will. The Estonian sense of humour is also often said to be as black as their bread. Estonia is a northern country, and this shows in their cuisine, eating habits, ingredients, cooking methods, etc. 

In general, Estonians tend to be closer to nature than the average European, and the rhythm of Estonian life is shaped by the great seasonal variations. Mushroom and berry picking in the autumn are still a real thing for Estonians; it’s a hobby, therapy and necessity all in one. And almost every Estonian knows a couple of good mushroom or berry groves where their family has gone picking for generations.

Kids picking berries. Photo by: Enterprise Estonia

Estonia, as any seaside country, has also always honoured fishing. The sea, lake and river fish of the region have helped to provide livelihood for centuries, when crops have failed because of unruly weather or other problems. Fishing is a field of sports for many, but for some, it provides an opportunity to spend time with friends or one’s own thoughts in nature. Any self-respecting restaurant in Estonia offers at least one fish dish. An average Estonian eats about 10 kilograms of fish per year. Fish has been and is an integral part of the Estonian cuisine. 

Mulgipuder – potatoes and groats mash – is probably the most peasanty Estonian food you could find these days. In the past, it was only served on important holidays at peasants’ kitchen tables, but these days it is no longer associated with celebrations and is served without any specific occasion. Then there is potato salad, which is a classical birthday dish. Estonian celebratory foods also include blood sausage, pork roast, sauerkraut and, of course, potatoes at Christmas.

Mulgipuder served at Triinu pub in the city of Viljandi. Photo by: Silver Tõnisson / Visit Viljandi 

The art of beer brewing is also an important tradition for Estonians, especially among islanders off the western coast. Every self-respecting family used to brew their own beer for special occasions like Christmas or weddings. Today, more and more small craft beer producers are renewing the taste nuances of this drink. 

The Estonian climate probably brought about the need to stock up for winter and the marinating or fermenting all kinds of foodstuffs: cucumbers, pumpkins, cabbage, milk, fish, mushrooms, etc. It is a ubiquitous tradition among Estonians. 

Estonians also love their sour rhubarb. As children, they like to dip it in sugar, crunch it and laugh at each other’s contorted faces as the acid hits the taste buds. Thus, rhubarb is a great mood enhancer for Estonians. Estonians use rhubarb in cakes, sweet soups, of course jam, and in sparkling wine, with local rhubarb sparkling wine being one of the most popular summer drinks. 

Cocktails at the Wagenküll manor in southeast Estonia. Photo by: Enterprise Estonia