Monday, July 10, 2017

Amazing Estonia: Our time in Tallinn

I have absolutely fallen in love with Estonia! In late May/early June, we traveled to Estonia with my parents. We spent a week there, before moving on to Denmark and Sweden (I'll cover each of those in separate, future posts), and Estonia has just stolen my heart. I'll also do another post about our time in Estonia's second largest city, Tartu. And then I plan some recipe posts with recipes inspired by our travels! 

Some info about Estonia: 
Before this trip, I knew very very little about Estonia, and after telling people about our trip, I'd be willing to bet that you don't know much either. Here is a fun and good quick video about Estonia. If you have AmazonPrime, I really recommend the documentary called "The Singing Revolution," about Estonia's non-violent independence from the USSR, which was largely spurred by singing songs celebrating Estonian pride and identity. Estonian is a small country (fewer than 1.5 million people total), and it has only been an official country since 1991. After years of oppression (Soviets, Nazi, Soviets again), they are emerging with a burst of energy that is just amazing: creativity, forward-looking, pride, passion, and drive. Estonian 14-year olds have the highest ranked educations in all of the European Union. Estonia is a global leader in online governance and there is lightning-fast wifi pretty much everywhere. Also, nearly everyone speaks nearly perfect English, so it is an easy place to visit.  

How is it Being Vegan in Estonia?
Well, like any well-traveled vegan, I set off for this trip with a suitcase full of powerbars, hummus, primal strip jerky, and so on. Turns out, I needn't have bothered. Estonia just blew me away with how vegan-friendly it was!! I mean, maybe even more than Santa Cruz? I was surprised and overjoyed to find vegan items (marked as such!) on menu after menu. On this trip, I was traveling with 3 non-vegans, so I didn't get to do a full-out exploration of all that Vegan Tallinn has to offer (I guess I'll have to go back!)... and even so, I didn't have any problem at all eating well. 

Estonia, for the win! 

not necessary!!

Tallinn is the nation's capital, and it is also the largest city in all of Estonia. 
It's up at the northern end of the country, just below Helsinki. There's a charming Old Town, a waterfront, an extensive modern part of town, and lots to see and do.

Reval Cafe at KUMU

One of the first places we stumbled upon was the Reval Cafe at the KUMU (Estonian Art Museum). Reval Cafe is a small chain within Estonia, with 12 locations currently, including that they are the official museum cafe here at KUMU. I wasn't expecting much, since most museum cafes in the U.S. don't have much in the way of vegan options, but - lo! - we were in Estonia, not in the U.S. and there were *many* vegan options on the menu. I actually had several choices and got to select! 

One thing I ordered right away was a big glass of Sea Buckthorn Juice. Look at that color! This stuff was seriously intense and good! Before leaving for this trip, I saw several Estonian instagram accounts featuring "sea buckthorn," a fruit we don't have here in California. So I was eager to try it as often as possible. It's a serious power fruit -- you can taste the Vitamin C! 

The KUMU is in a beautiful park called Kadriorg Park. The museum is quite lovely and totally surprised me with the quality of its collection, design, architecture, and feel. 

Revel in the Reval! 

Happily, there are several Reval locations in Tallinn (and Tartu), and we hit them up more than once. A great spot for everyone to come in out of the cold, have some coffee (non dairy milk is always available!), vegan and non-veg options for all sorts of eaters, free bread (!!)... it quickly became a favorite spot for all of us and suited the needs of our group perfectly. To be clear, they have loads and loads of non-vegan items, and lots more choices for non-vegans, but to offer consistently 3-4 very attractive vegan options at all their locations seemed very impressive to me. 

Top left: Vegan Tower with Tofu and Chickpea Cutlet
Top right: Parsnip-Carrot Puree Soup with coconut milk, tofu, and seeds
Bottom left: Falafels with Roasted Vegetables and Vegan Tzatziki
Bottom right: one of many, many soy or almond lattes that I enjoyed on this trip. 

I mean, honestly, those are some pretty legit options, right? That fancy one with the blossoms on it was seriously SO good and filling. And it was only 8 Euro. Shazam! 

We stumbled onto this spot called Rataskaevu 16 (which is also their address) when the vegan restaurant next door was all booked up (more on that later). We were all a little hangry, and this place was just right there... so in we went. Turns out, we lucked our way into one of Tallinn's most well-regarded spots. This is definitely *not* an all-vegan establishment, but they did have a very exceptional vegan entree on the menu, a few soup and starter options that were vegan or easily veganized, and offered non-dairy milk for post-lunch coffee. The setting is also very beautiful, right in Old Town Tallinn, with three distinct and super-stylish dining rooms, rustic and modern all at once, and with totally excellent service. They also had a super-cute (and somehow classy?) play area for kiddos, if that's relevant to your life. 

The entree I ordered was:
Lentil Cutlets with Tofu oven-baked beet, green soybeans, pistachio nuts, garlic and olive oil sauce
And it was really spectacular. Delicious, creative, wholesome, beautiful, filling, and not heavy. Honestly, here in Santa Cruz it can be hard to find nice non-veg restaurants that also offer vegan options, and especially vegan options that feel special and worth eating. 

Estonians are also crazy about their black bread, which works out well, because we were all crazy about it too. It's so good. Every single cafe and restaurant we went to offered delicious bread, almost always made in-house. There was a wonderful array of flavors and variety among the breads we tried. Sometimes the bread will have egg white brushed on the crust. Nearly every person we met in Estonia, and certainly everyone working at a restaurant, spoke very good English, so it's easy to ask and get clarification.

Very happy with my delicious vegan meal! 

Tallinn, 10:45pm
Because Estonia is quite far north, and we were there right before the summer solstice, we got to experience the glory of long, long days. It was so beautiful. Incidentally, it was also really cold. One day I wore 7 layers of clothing. Whoa. Next time I will pack warmer! 

7 layers of clothing!!!

Vegan Restoran V

Vegan Restoran V is about 2 doors down from Rataskaevu 16 (as you can see from their address on the take-away box. If you are only going to have time for one special vegan stop in Tallinn, this should be it. Before leaving for this trip, I did some snooping around on instagram, looking at #veganestonia #vegantallinn, and so on. Vegan Restoran V quickly caught my attention with their beautiful creations, and I was determined to take my family there. But the first two times we went, they were all booked up!! I mean, obviously, that's great that so many people want to be eating vegan food... but I want to be eating it too! The second time we stopped by, they were booked up, but I *wisely* decided to get a piece of fancy cake for take-away. Why didn't I do that the first time? This was their Snickers Pie and it was A+ Yumz: cookie base, caramel, cream layer, cake layer, thick chocolate layer. Would eat again. And again.

Food, food, glorious vegan food!!! 

Still I wanted the whole experience, so I finally I buckled down and made a reservation for our last night in Tallinn... (after a performance at the Estonian National Opera). It was such a wonderful meal - and perfectly fancy and special after a night at the opera. We all enjoyed what we had chosen. The food here is creative, delicious, satisfying, innovative, and super beautiful. 

A few highlights:

top row, middle: Starter Plate
hot diggity dog! This was a hit and we all loved it. Really, it's designed to be split between two people, but we were ordering a lot of food, so we just cut each piece in half. So many creative and delicious flavors -- especially the toasts with carrot "lox" and the little zucchini rolatini stuffed with cheese. So good.

center row, middle: Vegetable salad with rice noodles and Peanut ice cream
My dad surprised me by ordering this adventurous dish, and it was really good! The peanut ice cream was exactly that - but it was savory and served essentially as a salad dressing... but with the added textural complexity of temperature and creaminess. So cool! 

center row, right: Zucchini noodles and red quinoa salad with grilled avocado, tofu, and pesto
This was my entree choice, and I loved it. It almost made me want to buy a spiralizer so I can make myself zucchini noodles! 

bottom row, left: Grilled Tempeh on Vegetable Pile-Up with brown basmati rice and tomato coconut sauce
My mom and Mr. VE&T both ordered this dish, and they both loved it! I wish I had taken a bite, but I was too busy focusing on my own eating needs. 

bottom row, middle: special array of beverages! 
Estonians are crazy about beer! I'm not, but my dad and Mr. VE&T both enjoyed several beers on our trip. At Restoran V, I also ordered Estonian sparkling water (Varska), a sea buckthorn soda (yeah!), and a "ginger shot." We had seen these "ginger shots" on other menus and I was curious. In fact, we saw them throughout our whole trip - it's essentially very pungent ginger juice, usually cut with something sweet like apple juice. Very nice! 

sweet goodness

these are the feelings after eating at Vegan Restoran V

Of course we also had dessert! We got two selections from their cake display: Cheesecake and Chocolate Tart.  I especially loved the chocolate tart (I mean, duh!) - it was rich and smooth and creamy, and a perfect finish after our special meal! 

None of us left feeling overly stuffed or uncomfortably full - just a bunch of very happy clams! The food at Restoran V is so good, and so satisfying, but also quite healthy (without resembling "health food"). It wasn't at all greasy or heavy. It's pretty unusual to have such a big meal, that feels so special, and also feel like you're not going to explode afterwards. 

A typical breakfast at our sweet little apartment...

We had a great little apartment, very near Old Town, and well-situated for getting around on foot or on transit. Mornings were spent drinking coffee, deciding on the day's tourist action plan, and enjoying a nice breakfast together. We always maintained a good supply of Estonian black bread, non-vegan stuff for the others, tomatoes and cucumbers, fruits, and vegan and non-vegan yogurts. I also had brought along some shelf-stable packets of hummus from Wild Garden, and they were great for my breakfast bread. It wasn't hard at all to track down some delicious Euro vegan yogurts, they were available at pretty much every grocery store I found. Yeah! I have a deep love for euro soy yogurt, and I always try to eat as much as possible when I am traveling! 

be still, my heart
I love you, Euro Yogurt

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Tallinn, the Solaris Shopping Mall is a good place to know about. Downstairs in the lower level of the mall, there's a huge (and excellent!) grocery store that is open 9am-11pm. They had an amazing array of stuff - special Estonian gifts, crunchy taco shells, wasabi, and basically everything you would expect and more. 

Right next door to the big market is a BioMarket, an Estonian natural foods store with a wonderfully vast array of vegan goodies. Everything your little vegan heart desires and more: yogurts, ice cream, euro candies, Estonian treats, and more more more. There are two other BioMarket locations in Tallinn.

Also good to know about: Lido is a Latvian buffett restaurant on to top level -- super fun folksy Latvian decor. They've got LOTS of non-vegan options, but a sufficient number of vegan options at very affordable prices. I loved that I could get water with mint leaves and fresh cranberries in it! 

Cafe Gustav on the lower level has non dairy milk, and makes a nice *vegan* chocolate cake! Boy, I did not expect to walk into a random cafe in Estonia and find vegan chocolate cake on the menu. Right about now, I was really falling in love with Estonia, ha ha. 

Estonian Design House is a very chic shop featuring beautiful and artsy creations by Estonian designers. They have a bigger location in the Kalamaja area of town, but the shop in Solaris is great too! I bought myself an upcycled tshirt by an Estonian designer and I love it. 

Outside of the "Old Town" part of Tallinn, there are also a lot of great areas to explore - particularly the Kalamaja area. We went to the Teleskivi Creative City, "an old industrial territory springing to life, existing architecture finding new and alternative purposes." It's really pretty amazing - a former industrial building repurposed for shared creative workspace: cafes, restaurants, designers, a theatre, small shops, and more. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, many of the shops were closed. (This is a problem with these long days -- there's still so much daylight left and then you realize it's 7 pm -- or later!) But we still walked around a bit, and could see that it was a thriving scene. There were little art interventions posted on walls, posters for upcoming events, and the detritus of a bustling community. I would love to go back and see more - and to explore more of Kalamaja. There's so much to see there.

We did go back at least one more time, for dinner at F-Hoone. F-Hoone is a non-vegan restaurant with vegan options. I ordered the Pumpkin and Chickpea Falafel with Rocket & Quinoa Salad and Cashew Cream. It was very good, hearty, well-seasoned, flavorful and I would eat it again! I also ordered a Sea Buckthorn soda, in order to continue my vow of maximum sea buckthorn consumption. Why is this lovely product totally unavailable in the USA. SAD. 

It was cold on our trip, and we drank a lot of coffee! Plus, when you're out travelling, some times it just feels so good to hunker down in a cozy cafe with a hot cup of coffee, rest your legs, and chill out a little. Besides our beloved Reval Cafe, we also found a nice Caffeine near our apartment. I never had any trouble getting soy &/or almond milk when I ordered coffee. How cool is that? One word to the wise, decaf was pretty much non-existent, so it's sort of all or nothing! 

Yeah! Balti Jaama Turg is fun to say and it's even more fun to go there! This is a super cool market area, which had apparently just been renovated and reopened a few weeks before we arrived. It's part open-air farmers' market, part bazaar, part independent/local food court, and so much more. We had so much fun here and I could have spent even more time here:

Huge Open Air Market - with fruits and veggies and women selling flowers they have foraged. I loved the pickle-making bundles (top right): fennel seeds, a head of garlic, some sort of leaves, and a strip of parsnip (!). 

In the main level of the market, there are TWO all vegan food stalls: Toormoor (Raw, GF & Vegan -see below) and Veg Machine (Baltic Vegan Food). I mean, really, my mind was blown! There's also another big BioMarket here, and a large mainstream grocery store too. On the upper level are a mix of cool little shops. 

We were taking a picture of this little food spot, because it was super cute and there were two young girls sitting in the window making it even cuter. Then I realized that the sign said "VEGAN." Wait, what? We had just eaten a big lunch, so unfortunately I didn't need much, but the gals inside the shop were SO kind and sweet. I bought two raw chocolate truffles to enjoy later on (orange and almond) - and they were wonderful! 
I told Snoopy all about Estonia,
and now he is a fan too

Can you believe that there is a whole chocolate shop right smack in the middle of Old Town Tallinn that is 100% vegan and has super lovely chocolates, ice cream, and pastries. ZOMG! I almost died with enthusiasm. The chocolates come in HUGE pieces that are about 5 Euro each, but they are huge and delicious and will last you a while (or at least, they lasted us a while). This picture captures less than half of what was on offer. Why did I wait until our last day in Tallinn to discover this place?! 

I got two pastries, and 3 huge chocolates. No regrets, other than wishing I had found it on day 1 so that I could have tried more of their amazing creations. Most of these items were devoured without photo-documentation (oops!), but I did snap a pic of these two beauties: on the left is Chocolate Sea Salt, and on the right is Amaretto. Many of the flavors at Karu Talu are super creative: liquors, fruits, nuts, hot chili (!), it was really hard to chose. The chocolates are a bit soft -- sliceable -- but not fudge. They also have some that are more like chocolate bark, with more snap to them. I hope to go back someday, eat more cinnamon rolls, try more chocolates, and try their ice cream too! 

We also went to the Estonian Open Air Museum, which is a huge pastoral area with homes and structures from across Estonia that have been carefully relocated to this park/museum. You can see and learn about houses from different regions of the country, and about the customs of the different regions. It was also just so nice to get into the greenery and feel like we were going for a walk in the woods. We even saw a beautiful red deer! 

They have a restaurant there at the museum, and I was just totally amazed that even here there was a vegan option: cooked veggies, potatoes, black bread. Obviously, this is not gourmet food, but it's a heck of a lot more than I expected (my powerbar from my purse) and it was actually made with love and tasted better than it looked! At least now you know that you won't starve at the Estonian Open Air Museum! 

Other Vegan / Vegan-friendly spots in Tallinn that we didn't explore:
Since I was on this trip with my parents and Mr. VE&T (3 non-vegans), I didn't really get to explore the full array of vegan offerings in Tallinn. In fact, just from looking on Happy Cow and Instagram, I can see that there are so many places that we didn't go. Check out the Happy Cow page for Tallinn, it's really impressive! 

Beautiful Tallinn, 11:45 pm


  1. OK, I'm sold! Thanks, Amey!!! Can't wait.

  2. Oh wow, this looks incredible! I knew a girl from Estonia at uni, we went vegan at the same time. But eventually she went back to Estonia and said that it was impossible to be vegan there. Granted this was some time ago, but I am so glad to see how vegan friendly it is! Definitely can go back onto my to visit list. Plus, Estonia gave us the greatest Eurovision song of 2015 (sorry Sweden, but Estonia was ROBBED... but then Sweden did the best Eurovision presenting ever when they go to host in 2016... so I am conflicted).

    1. Well, I was super impressed with how vegan-friendly Estonia is, and it really seems like it's just expanding and expanding. We stopped in a small town called Viljande in central Estonia, just to go for a walk. We ducked into a hotel to use the restroom, and I noticed that the hotel restaurant had vegan items on the menu - marked as "vegan"!!! WTF, Estonia!!?? They had an appetizer, a main dish, AND A DESSERT.

  3. Excellent blogpost! We relived every wonderful bit of it.

  4. This trip looks like so much fun! Thanks for sharing all your amazing experiences and special finds.

  5. Anonymous5:35 AM

    I think the white thing in pickle-bundle is horseradish, not parsnip. At least that's what my mom uses in her recipes and it gives a great kick to the pickles ;)

    1. OOOOooooh! Horseradish makes way more sense! What a good idea! Thanks for telling me.

  6. That is just WILD that Estonia is so vegan friendly! I can't even get my head around it!

    1. Me neither, LazySmurf! It was so awesome!!

  7. Oooooh, Estonia looks so vegan-friendly! I mean, a VEGAN FRIENDLY CHOCOLATE SHOP! OMG!!!! What a fun time!

    1. not even vegan-friendly, but all VEEGS. SO great. I wish I could go back.

  8. Wow! What a great trip! It really is incredible to hear how vegan-friendly they are there. I can imagine how totally stoked you must have been (versus the alternative of have a powerbar for dinner). That chocolate shop is like a dream come true - you mean I can eat ALL of this?!?!

    1. Seriously, it was too good to be true. I wish I could have eaten even more chocolate!!

  9. Great post! I really enjoyed reading all about Estonia. I'll be visiting next week and this post well help me out a lot while I'm there.

    1. I can't wait to hear about your trip, Vegan Chemist!

  10. This is amazing! Estonia has been slowly creeping up my to-visit list over the past few years, but it just rocketed to the top. What a fabulous place. I think we need to organize a vegan bloggers' getaway to Tallinn!

    1. Kelly!! You must go to Estonia! And then tell me all about it! <3 I would be ALL IN for a vegan bloggers fun time in TAllinn!!!!

  11. Anonymous1:45 AM

    I really wish we could get those yogurts here - and they are not so expensive over there.
    That bread looks so good...nice post!

  12. Estonia has been on my to-visit list for SO LONG and now I feel like I must go as soon as I get back to Europe. I knew that it was vegan friendly but wow! It's SO vegan friendly. That chocolate shop is epic (I would spend all of my Euros there!), the black bread sounds amazing, and hell yeah for Euro soy yoghurts. I miss them so much!

    1. JoJo - you've got to go!! I want you to go to Estonia and fall in love with it and and blog about it, so I can read your blog post and feel envious that I'm not there with you!

  13. I loved Estonia too! I remember being out in the sticks somewhere and finding Estonian tofu in the supermarket - dill flavour and caraway seed flavour. So good!

    1. Yay!! Another friend who loves Estonia!! <3 This makes me so super happy! I also was amazed at vegan options even off in tiny towns! I really want to go back and explore more of Estonia.

  14. I am planning a trip to Estonia because of this!

    1. Suzi! This makes me so super happy. Please go and then tell me about it! I hope you like it too!

  15. Good, thorough list of veg eateries in Estonia! I've been twice to Tallinn - for the every-five-years Song and Dance Celebration - and ate at Vegan Restauran V as many times as possible. Such wonderful food! I intend to return in 2019 for the next Laulupidu - it is incredible!!


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