Friday, July 10, 2009
As mentioned before, the guy who owns Café Truffe also opened a “gourmet fast-food kiosk” behind Club Tallinn, in Tartu, on Narva Street. It’s called YamYam. And it’s pretty good, fast and cheap. Not so cheap if you compare the quantities with other places though. Gram for gram the prices are average.
Where else could you get sushi in Tartu in less than three minutes? Not sushi technically, but maki. YamYam has a good selection too, especially considering its kioskness. I’d like to be perfectly honest though—I love sushi, but it all tastes the same to me. Sushi, maki, tuna, salmon, cucumber, cream cheese and so on—regardless of what it has in it, it tastes the exact same on my tongue. I am only able to notice subtle differences in ingredients like soy sauce, sugar and rice vinegar in the sushi rice, wasabi and gari. I might only notice a difference if you served it with raw buffalo liver.
The other Asian foods—stir-fried rice or noodles basically—are also decent, but nothing special in the end. Estonian restaurants tend to offer thick, gooey sauces that ultimately are a bit sweet for my taste buds, and claim they are Chinese. I’ve never been to China or Indonesia, but there are enough authentic (albeit “localized”) Asian places in the States to lead me to believe that Estonian Chinese is really some sort of Indonesian creation. Which makes sense because Tsink Plekk Pang, the first Asian restaurant in Tartu as far as I know, has Indonesian cooks. It’s not bad at all, but it’s not Chinese either.
Some other items I’ve ordered on my two visits: the Caesar salad wrap, the chicken kebob wrap (I couldn’t really tell the difference between the two, but at twenty-five kroons or so each they were still good), fish and chips for the kids, and of course the hamburger. The woman at the window—Kristiina—couldn’t immediately confirm that the meat inside was in fact beef, but there were two small patties overlapping, resulting in large swathes of delicious hamburger minus the burger. Eating this reminded me of a high school girlfriend who one day turned vegetarian. Not quite knowing what to eat exactly on her new diet, she once ordered a Philly cheesesteak sandwich and asked the waiter to hold the steak.
The fish was delicious, the three or four small pieces in the order. But the chips—fries in American—were absolutely horrible. HORRIBLE. YamYam has brought Estonian frying to a new low. It’s not so much that these chips were greasy, but soggy. Both times they’ve been included in an order, on different visits. They were also smothered in potato spice. I can’t understand why this stuff is everywhere. Estonians can’t seem to get enough of it. Whenever I ask for the kitchen to hold the spice, I’m met with looks of disbelief. “How can you not just adore Santa Maria’s potato spice?!” Because as strange and foreign as I may be here, I’m quite content with salt, and salt alone.
When I eat something, I usually eat it for the natural taste that comes with it. If I don’t like the real flavor, I won’t want to eat it with all manner of perfume for the mouth either. Bacon, cheese or dill flavoring isn’t going to change the fact that I just don’t like a certain food. Which leads me to believe that Estonians, for all the potatoes they consume, don’t actually like potatoes.
The main problem I’ve had at YamYam is the other customers. The staff have been extremely polite, willing to answer any questions I have. When I asked Kristiina, for example, what the Chinese in their logo meant, she eagerly asked the cook, who of course didn’t know. But instead of giving me the typical “Ei tea” (dunno), she suggested that it might mean “greetings” or something or other. I conjured up images of an English restaurant with English cuisine opening in a place where literally no one spoke English, and the logo had some gold-toothed chav and the word “Hi” boldly printed on his Burberry hat.
But the clientele problem is largely due to the location. Yeah, you make money, but you get a ton of teenagers whom I suspect of consuming something a bit stronger than beer and cigarettes, coming out of Club Tallinn. The first time I went there was after a late showing at the movies with a friend who got the midnight munchies. The kids standing outside in the road didn’t want to move so I could drive up to the kiosk. As the food was on its way, I took a good, hard look at today’s youth. A massive, six-foot-plus neo-Nazi in a bomber jacket speaking Russian (which always confuses me—didn’t Hitler hate Slavs?), mid-pubescent girls scarcely clad in pantyhose and some guy named Priit who kept going around the corner to pee.
Mrs. Mingus and I went there one sparkly afternoon, and while we were looking at the large menu mounted on the wall, a group of kids pulled up, got out, and stood directly in front of us, blocking our view. One of them felt the urge to hock a loogey and it almost landed on my foot. Sometimes I just can’t get over how rude people are. They say that lack of respect comes from the parents. And these parents got it from their parents. But I’ve seen these grandparents—very nice people who have lived through great hardship. What gives? It’s something that’s happened very suddenly, most likely due to one main cause and several contributing factors. What could they be? It’s not poverty. I’ve been in some truly destitute places and the people are amazingly hospitable. No, there’s another force at work here.
Potatoes and milk can supposedly provide all the nutrients a person needs to be healthy. The only problem is that most of the good parts of starchy spuds are in the skin. Estonians don’t eat the skin—the best part, in my opinion. It would even help if you boiled the potato and then peeled it. So Estonians are in fact consuming pure starch and carbohydrates—calories—with very few vitamins. I postulate that if you were to take away all potato products in the country, or at least teach people to eat the skin, a very large part of the rudeness would just go away. And the coming obesity epidemic. Why eat something if you don’t like it?
Anyhow, YamYam is a good place for a light dinner or snack. It won’t break your bank, but it won’t fill you up either. I don’t know if I’d call it gourmet though.