Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Estonia - a nation alive with tradition

The other day I was asked to get some proper food, so I and a friend went to the Keskturg local market (this time some translation and guidance was necessary, and someone to play around with the camera - next time I can go there on my own).

My girlfriend is regularly somewhat cheerfully amazed with what crap Swedes eat (or what Swedish students like I used to eat at least). We think it is processed beyond recognition, preserved, intermediate goods and fast food. Estonian cousine, to me, is predominantly fresh, non-preserved, home-cooked and eating at restaurants.

"Oh you're exagerrating, it's just your life which has changed since you moved there and you stopped being a student bachelor or something", you may think, and of course there is some truth in that objection. But ask yourself what Sweden would be without Gorby's piroger and a "pizzeria" at every other corner? On the other hand, I'm convinced part of the reason Estonia has so little fast-food options (and instead sell more ready-made lunches in grocery stores) is the lack of Iraqi, Turkish or Balkan immigrants to run such businesses. I find it almost impossible to find proper junk-food in Estonia! Anyway eating out at restaurants is generally more affordable and common (possibly also for the natives) than in Sweden. And so this time we went overboard in the other direction by visiting the local market to get ourselves some quality vegetables.

This time the market visit resulted in, among other things 2kg wonderful strawberries, half a water-melon and the ingredients of an excellent dish of "new potatoes" with fried onion and chantarelles and a (admittedly ready-made) piece of meat loaf on the side.

Another thing which may appear curious to visiting Swedes is how happy Estonians are to be Estonian. Sure many of us are happy to be Swedish as well, but comparatively we're not proud to be Swedish and "nationalism" has much much more negative connotations in Sweden than in Estonia where even such a thing as the "Fatherland-party" (IRL) is considered generally unremarkable.

The most curious thing about Estonian mentality for a swede how carelessly they dress upp in "folkdräkt" (traditional costume) and participate in various traditional events such as the song and dance festivals. When did you last actually dance "Små grodorna" around the may-pole? Traditional costumes are specific to each village or county and it's perfectly acceptable to wear them also at other festive events (it's not like in Sweden only the oddballs who wear "folkdräkt"). At Viljandi folk-music-festival each and every person is wearing the traditional Estonian hats, and my spontaneous reaction is of course "OMG LOL, they must get so teased about them!". But no-one teases anyone, not even the kids seemed to mind, because everyone wear these odd clothes and hats. It's just very Estonian.

PS. Check out the Estonian foreign ministry on flickr, they have lots of pretty pictures of Estonia


† herzleid † said...

I don't personally recognize myself in your description and I refuse to be lumped into a group like that. There are those of us who try to steer clear of the processed foods you know. I've been to both the US and the UK this summer and their eating habits are indeed appalling and far far from my habits in Sweden.

However I have seen figures of how much the (in my opinion) "americanized" way of eating, the processed, ready-made, pre-cooked food, microwave "TV-dinners" and other such products is growing, so it is a trend I suppose. But to say that ALL Swedes eat badly is to push the envelope a bit, imho. Whoever said that just haven't met the right Swedes yet :P

Personally I like to cook and my family almost always cook/eat home made food. If you don't make it yourself it just doesn't feel like "real food" to me. I think the pre-fabricated dinners are mostly bought by students and single households in larger cities. Which is strange, since in the long run, it makes for more expensive living than if you make your own food...

Maybe you've just been a bad ambassador for Swedish cooking =P

Carl-Johan Sveningsson said...

Hi, thanks for your comment, it's very interesting to hear what others have to say on the topic!

I think I made a decent effort on covering my ass in my generalizations and hope I didn't lump you personally into any group.

Also I didn't really compared to other countries than Sweden and Estonia, my point is essentially that much of the junk food we've gotten used to in Sweden is much harder to come by than it is in Estonia, fortunately... except of course it is still possible to eat trash also in Estonia, and I do eat a lot more cauliflower and stuff nowadays... :-)

I try to be the best ambassador possible for myself, maybe that means a bad ambassador for Sweden.

Giustino said...

I think Estonian nationalism owes a debt to Swedish nationalism, especially of the 17th century, Protestant warrior variety.

Every Tartu graduate gets his photo taken next to the statue of Gustav Adolph.