Sunday, August 26, 2012


We spent the entire summer at our cabin one weekend. We went to Kuressaare twice, Pärnu three times, Tallinn eight times, Võru fifteen times, as well as stops in Põlva, Rakvere, Põltsamaa, Elva, Viljandi, Türi, Haapsalu and…Rapla. Rapla was an interesting place, surprisingly developed. What I mean is, Tartu is Estonia’s second city, so you'd think everything else in Estonia, Tallinn aside, is not going to be as nice in terms of infrastructure, right? Think again. But that’s not the point of this post.

The first time I was in Estonia I asked for something distinctively Estonian. I got kama served in kefir. Kama is a mix of different types of flour (barley, pea, and so on) that is mixed with various foods, mostly served today as a dessert. It kind of tastes like dirt, and if you like dirt, you’ll like kama. I never thought I would crave dirt for dessert, but I do. Dirt grows on you if you eat it enough.

So when Mrs. Mingus suggested lunch in a place called Kamahouse, in Tallinn at the corner of Kopli and Ristiku Streets, I didn’t expect much. “The burgers there are pretty good, I hear.” I imagined dirt mixed with pork and spicy ketchup for ten euros. It’s art.

But no, immediately upon entering it feels like a mix not of dirt and pork, but of Europa and Americana. The owner is an artist, as you can see by the use of red. The service was quick, friendly and polite, and each waitress wore a tag on her butt that read, “Hands Off!” Krista, our waitress, was kind enough to allow me to photograph hers. But only after she removed it and placed it on the table. I’m talking about the tag.

I have to say that the Kamahouse Burger was actually very good, especially at five euros. Served fast, with fries ordered separately. And this was the first place in Estonia (at least that I’ve seen) that offers a free refill on coffee. All too often restaurants are rigidly greedy and unbending in their thirst for money. One place in Tallinn charged me a whole euro for a glass of undrinkable, yellow tap water. I sent it back. “It smells like your toilet,” I complained. “You ordered it,” the waitress informed me. I still had to pay because she had already put it in the computer and couldn’t be bothered to delete it. The same place also charged me four euros for a Coke. These prices were not on the menu.

But not Kamahouse! Free refill on coffee, and other hidden goodies that Westerners take for granted in their own countries. Even the toilet offers you a choice, based on how badly you need to go. Coffee here (and remember, free refill!) costs one euro, according to the Bewerage Card. Lots of bewerages available here.

So as summer is over, I would like to compare some of my experiences from around the country.

Best burger: Sadhu in Kuressaare.

Worst burger: Pub Vaekoda in Kuressaare.

Most interesting justification for pricing: Ränduri Pubi in Võru. I eat and drink coffee here fairly often. Earlier this summer the coffee was substantially cheaper. Served in stone mugs, I just like it. I look forward to it. It’s still cheap, but it’s almost twice as expensive as it was a couple months ago. Here’s my conversation with Krista, the waitress, upon ordering:
“The coffee here used to be sixty eurocents.”
—No, no. It’s always been one euro.
“Always?” I asked.
—Yes, Krista replied.
“What was it two years ago?”
—Ten kroons.
“And how much is ten kroons in euros?”
—Um, about sixty eurocents.

Best sense of humor: the meat market in Tartu. I bought a carton of thirty organic eggs, got home, opened it up and found what is in this image. In English: “Please don’t eat us, we’re babies”.

Best overall dining experience: Meat Market Steak and Cocktail, in Tartu. The name says they just have one cocktail available, but that’s not true. A separate review of this place is coming soon, but I just have to say one thing about it here. We ordered a full meal. First was delicious bruschetta with bacon, and a board of food piled high. We were stuffed, and enjoyed our meal. But then Krista, our waitress, asked how we liked our steak. We hadn’t finished yet! The food was so good, and so much of it, that I wanted to “enjoy it in reverse”, if you know what I mean, just to feel human again in my stomach. Serious overeating involved in this restaurant. Soovitan! (The next image is from Meat Market, but the new Blogger software is very difficult to use.)

Worst overall dining experience: Citi Pubi, in Pärnu. At least, I believe that was the name. We sat down and decided to get one of the sandwiches from the menu. We had already ordered juice for the kids, so we couldn’t really leave. “Sorry, we’re out of sandwiches,” Krista the waitress informed us. I ordered soup instead. “Sorry, we’re out of soup.”
—What about this? I asked.
Krista frowned at me, saying nothing.
—What do you have then?
“We have sausages,” she eagerly replied. Despite the well-stocked nature of this place, the service was polite.
—Alright then, sausages for everyone!

Four plates of Estonian viinerid were served, three to a plate, surrounded by a mountain of fries literally dripping with potato seasoning, and a spoonful of shredded carrot. At that moment the large speaker behind my head came on, as it was time for the deejay to go to work. “Excuse me, could you turn that down? It’s right in my ear,” I kindly asked. I was told that it wouldn’t be fair to the other customers, who wanted to listen to Phil Collins.

Most interesting conversation with a taxi driver: Reval Takso, in Tallinn. I’ve been using this company for years. Cheaper than in Tartu, normally polite service, and fast. This time, however, was just funny. I stepped into the taxi early one morning, eager to get back to Tartu after a work meeting in Tallinn.
—Morning. Train station, please, I greeted Kristjan, the taxi driver.
“Seriously? I just came from there.”
—Sorry, but that’s where I need to go. (I already knew this was going to be fun.)
Kristjan sighed that heavy, Estonian sigh, then called it in over the radio. He said, “Get this: I just came from the train station with that foreigner. Now I’m going back. With another foreigner.”
—Um, you do realize I’ve been speaking to you in Estonian, right?
“Yeah,” Kristjan said. “But you don’t understand anyhow.”