Remember the unexpected pile of chantarelle mushrooms I came across when daytripping in Lahemaa, Estonia? Well, here are some pictures of the lazy lunch we enjoyed on that day. Which was the reason why I was about to miss a lovely mushroom dinner that night, had we not come across that lovely mushroom lady..
We had driven about 100 km out of town towards St Petersburgh, to Lahemaa. After catching up with my friend Edith and her lovely daughter Liisu (usually residents of Edinburgh, but spending the summer in most idyllic settings of Northern Estonia) in Võsu and spending some time on the beach, we headed for some lunch at Altja kõrts or Altja tavern. This is a traditional Estonian tavern house that has acted as a national restaurant for quite a few years already. It features in the news regularly as various visiting dignitaries (anyone from the President of Germany to the Queen of Denmark) are brought here, and it is also the place where busloads of tourists get their crash course into Estonian cuisine. We arrived just when two buses left with German tourists - the latter apparently provide 80% of the business!
Maybe living abroad makes me more nostalgic, or maybe the food was extremely nice on its own right, but I had a thoroughly enjoyable meal. It was a beautiful and sunny day, and we took our lunch outside:
For starters, we shared a plate of blood chips. Yep, you read it correctly. There isn't a single Christmas meal in Estonia that wouldn't feature blood sausages (verivorst) or black pudding, as it is known in politically correct English. Although you can buy blood sausages throughout the year, the preferred alternative during summer months is blood pudding (verikäkk) - slightly firmer in consistency and thicker in diametre. Traditionally it is fried in thick slices and eaten with a sour cream sauce. In Altja, however, they served delicious paperthin slices with a sour cream dip - kind of modern take on an old classic:
Extremely tasty. I later found the recipe for veritsipsid or blood chips in a new Estonian national cookbook published last year. And I have a whole black pudding in my Edinburgh fridge waiting to be baked into thin chips in my oven:)
For the main course, we all opted for mulgipuder, which is a traditional dish of mashed potatoes cooked with some pearl barley from Mulgimaa in South-Western Estonia. Mine came with a wild mushroom sauce:
The others opted for mulgipuder with fried baltic herring (praetud räimed).
I was a bit reluctant to order the fried fish myself, as I was sure that I'd be forking out fishbones from between my teeth. But I shouldn't have - the mouthful (alright, actually the many mouthfuls) I nicked from my Mum's plate were absolutely delicious - thick well-seasoned fish fillets.
Note that all plates come garnished with pickled beetroot and salted cucumbers. I said it's very popular back in Estonia!
Even the children's options were above the ususal mash-and-sausages habit:
They did get mash, granted, but it was accompanied by tasty olive & grated carrots meatballs. And none of the picky eaters said a word, as they were happily munching their way through the plate!
To wash it all down - some home-made root beer (kali) for the adults and plum (not prune!) juice for the kids.
After the meal we spent another half an hour enjoying the sun and looking at the kids (see my sis?:) climbing the old carriage and flying back and forth on the swing.
And for the dessert? Well, that involves another beautiful manor house in Lahemaa and comes as a totally different story:)
Summer opening hours: daily from 11am until 11pm (1 May-30 Sep)
Winter opening hours: Mon/Tue/Wed/Thu/Sun 11am-8pm, Fri/Sat 11am-9pm (1 Oct-30 Apr)