Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Moment in Tallinn

"I'm from Estonia... *long pause* It's...a country in Europe.... *long pause*'s....close to Finland, and also Sweden.......*long pause*....yeah there you go. You know those. Okay so let's just say I'm from something like that, fine."

I was born in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. When I tell people this, they are genuinely confused because as it stands, Estonia is the one country in the world that has never been mentioned in any remotely relevant way whatsoever (well, unless you count Barack Obama visiting it as something important???). It's just my parents and Val and I here - everyone else is an ocean away (or two oceans? help a sista out, geography connoisseurs. Just kidding, I know it's one!). I've always envied people who can say things like "I can't come to your batmizvah Susan, grandma and grandpa are coming in from Sault Ste-Marie"  (my grandma did Skype me from a rural cabin in the Ukraine though) or "Sorry I won't be there for your Fifty Shades of Grey potluck, Robert. I'll be in Oshawa with my aunt and uncle that weekend."  I wish I had relatives on this continent, preferrably the type who like to host dinners and always tell me I need to keep eating because I'm practically wasting away.  Just having a slightly bigger crowd of people who know how to pronounce my weird last name would be nice. But alas, they are all far, far away. Anyway, so a couple of months ago, after we visited London, we dropped by to see my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Tallinn.  My dad, as I mentioned in the London story, was planning to have my aunt (who is a dentist) fix our teeth.  I, however, planned on eating all of the cake.

Growing up in Tallinn, my obsession with cake developed with a violent incline and a steadfast pursuit of the next best creation.  Why have I spent the past twenty-two years of my life passionately admiring everything that is frosted? Because since birth, I've been exposed to fresh, organic ingredients masterfully folded, swirled, and sprinkled into delectable masterpieces, each with its own key notes and epic finish.  This. Is. Cake.  

Passion fruit dark chocolate mousse, honey-glazed phyllo delicately wedged between layers of cold, freshly whipped cream, field berries scattered over an aged vanilla-bean custard, and a blackberry reduction to top your Scandinavian dairy cheesecake: all made daily, with love, the way pastries are supposed to be. 

Estonians take cake seriously to the point where they don’t want you to bite off more than you can chew. Seriously.  Cake is usually sold by weight, so if you’re having a great day and just want a little after-dinner treat, three hundred grams should do, but if you just bombed an interview, they’ll cut you the whole slab, guaranteed.

The best part about Tallinn, aside from its epic culinary achievements, is the Old Town.  Part gothic, part Victorian, the Old Town is made up of cobblestone streets and narrow, winding towers.  Around Christmas, the town square is decorated with an enormous Christmas tree which my cousin and I climbed and lit on fire when we were five. No further comment.

After moving away, I’ve had the same dream about this specific street, over and over again.  It leads to my mom’s favorite coffee shop, Maiasmokk -inarguably the best coffee shop in the city- where the walls are made of mirrors and the pastries are classic works of art, year after year.  My mom used to take me out of school and we’d eat cake and ice cream all day long, and my mom would earnestly explain to my aunt: “She didn’t want to go to school, so we had cake instead.” 

Indeed, Maiasmokk was a top must-see on my list, and while at first, my dad left us there to eat our pastries in solitude (“Cake, Alisa?? AGAIN??”) he quickly returned to eat a slice with us, pensively.

On the way out of the Old Town, you pass a row of flower stalls where little old ladies used to sell Lilly of the Valley in newspaper cones. 

Then, years later, someone decided to juxtapose the city’s vintage charm against the sharp lines of this unexpected architecture.  I won’t pretend to know what this is (someone’s house? A business?), but it sure looks cool…

One of my dad’s properties was a condo in this building. This is where I was born. 

And this is an endless supply of fish that my aunt cooked which was so, so good.  Estonia is also known for its incredible selection of seafood.

At the market, you can expect to find wild boar pepperoni, or this cray selection of dried fruit…

And at the grocery store, an homage to fruit hunters: this is a guide to exotic fruit!

And..a Cappy…which doesn’t look like something else…at all..

And if you’re looking for hot love, look no more..

Or perhaps you would like a very provocative hot dog. We’ve got those, too..

And don’t forget to pose with this fine betch..

I stumbled across these white berries while hiking through the towers just outside the city centre.  My Godmother- my mom’s best friend- would often walk with me through these towers and on our way back, as we waited for our streetcar, we would step on these berries to make them burst. Have you ever done that? It makes the most satisfyingly crisp pop, and it’s utterly addictive. I stepped on a couple, thinking of her…

Fo tha homies!

Tallinn doesn’t feel like home anymore. It hasn’t in a very long time. But every time I go, I remember something new, the way you might stumble across a roll of undeveloped film.  I find these memories in the most unexpected places, or they find me, like the tiny rays of sunlight between the town’s little houses. And that’s where I was born, so there you have it.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Alisa for the nice report on Tallinn, I really enjoyed walking with you through the narrow streets of the Old town, almost feeling the aroma of "kohv koorega" in Majasmok.
    The town where you, as a child, preferred drinking "Gogel" to going to a kindergarten.
    Thank you for the wonderful pictures which filled my heart with love for the city, Estonian people, and our past.