Estonia is a small country on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. The development of our national kitchen is influenced by northern climate and changing of seasons, traditions of our ancestry and kitchens of manors and nearby neighbours as well as further nations. Catering traditions of town folk have developed slightly differently than those of the country people, and of the rich families compared to those not so wealthy. Very little is known about the everyday and festive meals of the Estonians before the 19th century. Supposedly, food was rather homogeneous and scarce back then. Only in the middle of the 19th century the Estonian kitchen begun to develop, as we know it nowadays.
Also today, the traditional food of the people living here varies in the rhythm of the changing of seasons. Darkness and cold weather bring sour kraut and oven dishes as well as jellied meat, blood sausages, thick soups and casseroles on the table. Facetiously it could even be said that during white nights Estonian people do not need any other food besides sunlight and summer warmth. This is a period when all light and fresh grown on own allotment or picked from forest is preferred.
Rye bread has always been a part of the Estonian table. In addition, also graham bread, scones from barley flour, pies and porridges. From meat Estonian people prefer pork, which is usually eaten with boiled or oven-baked potatoes and vegetables. Unique dishes in the Estonian national kitchen are Mulgi cabbages, and jellied meat, boiled from pork or veal and flavoured with spices.
In addition to meat, Estonians have always favoured fish. Fish friends do not let by the time in July-August to taste fired or grilled flounder. Delicious experiences are offered also by fresh hot smoked flounder, smoked small herring, bream and eel. From forest, self-picked mushrooms and berries find their way to the table of the Estonians. Marinated milk mushrooms or a salad from salted milk mushrooms with sour cream and onions you will find from the rich festive table, mushroom sauce (especially from golden yellow chanterelle) is yet beloved everyday meal of the Estonians. Every self-respectful farmhouse hostess has a store of self-made jams in her cellar. You can also often find self-made pickles and sour kraut and other preserves out of vegetables there.
From drinks the ancestors preferred kvass and mead, in springtime, birch and maple juice. For feast-days homemade beer was brewed in open vessels, to which also juniper flavour was added. More than milk, curdled milk was used in old times in Estonian kitchen. From milk also curd and sõir was made. Today, Estonians prefer milk, besides which also a wide variety of curd and cottage cheese products as well as yogurts and cheese can be found. Also today we do not refuse also beer and kvass.
In the Estonian national kitchen, most dishes are known and acknowledged all over the country, but there exist also regional differences and peculiarities. Traditional food choice is rather followed on national holidays and weddings. Dishes deriving from the national kitchen can be found in the menus of very many enterprises and restaurants.