Savour Tallinn: From Onions Baked in Compost to the Delightful Kurze

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Tallinn culinary scene

Courtesy of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Immerse yourself in a unique culinary fusion of farm-to-table and Japanese-inspired cuisines in the heart of Estonia – Tallinn. The city’s traditional delicacies, such as kohuke (a cheese curd and chocolate dessert), are reinvented with an exciting twist of flavors like sea buckthorn, green plum, and spruce shoots. Fermented and preserved local vegetables become the star of contemporary restaurants. Traditional meat pies, vibrant dumplings, and Nordic cream buns still remain crowd favorites.

  1. Kohuke

Lee, a quaint restaurant situated in Tallinn’s old town, is renowned for its transformative dishes. Under the guidance of Canadian-born Japanese chef Hiro Takeda, classics like kohuke – a popular children’s snack – take on a fresh, East-Asian spin. A traditional combination of fresh curd cheese and chocolate is reinvented with unique ingredients such as sea buckthorn, green plum, spruce shoots, and persimmon, prepared using the Japanese ‘hoshigaki’ method.

  1. Onions Baked in Compost

Fotografiska, awarded a Michelin Green Star in 2022, champions a concept of sustainable, low-waste ‘leaf-to-root’ cooking. Led by the Estonian born former Fäviken chef Peeter Pihel, their signature dish combines baked onions with local goat’s cheese, fermented celeriac, and rye bread, highlighting Estonia’s unique five seasons (with the fifth being the pre-spring thaw). The onions, baked in homemade compost, boast a distinctive, smoky flavour.

  1. Chicken & Porcini Mushroom Pirogi 

Unlike Polish pierogi dumplings, pirogi – pies encased in doughy pastry with Russian and Ukrainian origins – are a beloved fast-food choice in Tallinn. Pirogoff offers some of the city’s best from various shopping mall outlets. Their generously-filled, aesthetically-pleasing bakes are large enough to serve eight. Their chicken and porcini mushroom combination is a must-try, alongside other popular options like salmon with spinach and pork with cabbage.

  1. Kurze

As a national dish of Dagestan, a mountainous region of Russia, Kurze is essentially filled parcels with a unique, serpentine seal. The Kurze, a dining spot housed in converted sea containers, is the brainchild of Dagestani former journalist Nuriyan Navruzova. The kurze here are offered in vibrant colours and assorted fillings such as grass-fed lamb, mashed potato and blue fenugreek, fresh cheese, and aromatic pumpkin.

  1. Selma & Sochni 

T35, a former bread shop during Soviet times, gained popularity in 2020 when the new owners revamped the menu. Around Shrove Tuesday, you can indulge in their semla, a Nordic cream bun in exciting flavors like lingonberry and mascarpone. At other times, the scone-like sochni buns with local kohupiim, a ricotta-like curd cheese, are worth a try. This trendy cafe is situated in a pre-war, three-storey wooden building in the trendy Kalamaja neighbourhood.

  1. Vegan Poke

With traditional Estonian cuisine often heavy, lighter veg-based dishes have gained momentum among young urbanites. American-style poke bowls filled with rice, vegetables, lean proteins, and umami dressings have become a city-wide hit. Hawaii Davai is one such place where these bowls are served with flair, using fresh, globally-inspired ingredients and visually appealing presentations.

This article was featured in the 20th issue (Summer 2023) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

For subscriptions to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine, click here. (Available in select countries only).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Tallinn culinary scene

What is the main cuisine style in Tallinn?

The cuisine in Tallinn is a unique blend of farm-to-table and Japanese-inspired dishes, with traditional Estonian classics being reinvented with innovative twists.

Who is the chef at Lee in Tallinn?

The chef at Lee is Hiro Takeda, who is Canadian-born with Japanese heritage. He has brought a fresh, East-Asian spin to Estonian classics such as kohuke.

What is the signature dish of Fotografiska?

The signature dish of Fotografiska is onions baked in compost, complemented with local goat’s cheese, fermented celeriac, and rye bread.

What are some popular foods in Tallinn?

Popular foods in Tallinn include the kohuke, compost-baked onions, chicken and porcini mushroom pirogi, Kurze, semla & sochni buns, and the increasingly popular vegan poke.

Where can I find the best vegan poke in Tallinn?

The best vegan poke in Tallinn can be found at Hawaii Davai, a restaurant known for its nutritious bowls of rice, topped with vegetables, lean proteins, and umami dressings.

What is a unique feature of the restaurant The Kurze?

The Kurze is a unique dining spot housed in converted sea containers. It offers vibrant-colored Kurze with assorted fillings, a national dish of Dagestan.

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CookAtHome July 20, 2023 - 12:37 pm

kohupiim buns at T35? Yum! Wish there was a recipe, would love to try baking them at home.

GoGreen July 20, 2023 - 2:59 pm

Fotografiska’s sustainable pleasure concept sounds so cool. More places should adopt leaf-to-root cooking! Keep up the good work guys.

FoodieTraveller July 20, 2023 - 9:13 pm

wow, compost-baked onions? never heard of that, sound’s weird and delicious at the same time, gotta try it when im in Tallinn

CultureVulture July 21, 2023 - 2:37 am

Love how this article covers not just the food but the stories and culture behind them. The Kurze sounds like a place i gotta visit for the food and the experience!

SweetToothSam July 21, 2023 - 9:14 am

Kohuke with sea buckthorn, green plum, spruce shoots and persimmon? that sounds soooo gooood! Love trying out unusual dessert flavours, can’t wait to visit Lee.


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