Cyprus Mail
Food and Drink Life & Style

What’s eaten where: Estonia

This is the swinging capital of the world. No, not that kind. There are no keys in bowls here: this is the healthy, kids in the park on a Sunday type of swinging, and Estonians excel at it. It’s called kiiking, and it’s been around since the early 1900s, though it was local man Ado Kosk who took the sport to new heights in the 90s, attaching himself to a giant metal contraption which rotated through 360 degrees. Weirdly, this really caught on, and Estonians now enjoy a good swinging competition of a weekend. They’re also pretty adept at wife carrying: the World Championships has been won for the past 11 consecutive years by Estonian couples, who have developed a popular carry method (wife backwards over husband’s shoulders, legs around his neck – we kid you not!) that’s apparently highly effective.

Of course, the winning factor here could be the massive pool of women from which to choose one’s (small, light, flexible and portable) wife: Estonia boasts one of the highest female to male ratios in the world. At 100 Estonian women for every 84 men, only the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Pacific, has a smaller percentage of males! The nation also has a plummeting population (a 15 per cent drop over the last 30 years), and Estonia clocks in as one of Europe’s least populous (1.3 million) and least crowded countries (only 28.4 people per square kilometre). What they do have is trees (over half of the country is forested), islands (2,222 at the last count) and education – at 99.8 per cent, Estonia has one of the highest adult literacy rates in the world! Oh, and sausages. Blood sausages to be precise…

While local cuisine has always been of the hearty, cold-beating variety (think meat and potatoes, rye bread and fish), and the drink of choice is – of course – vodka, it’s blood sausages which are the meal du jour in the depths of winter: a traditional Christmas food known locally as verivorst.

Basically, this is sausages filled mainly with blood (plus a bit of pork and barley and a few spices), oven-cooked and pan-fried until everything solidifies. Often consumed with a side of lingonberry jam, butter or sour cream, verivorst is considered one of Estonia’s most important national dishes, along with verikäkk – a blood dumpling that apparently looks so unappealing that even locals have lost their taste for it!

Of course any visitor is unlikely to be served a plate of verivorst upon arrival. It’s more of an acquired taste, and tourists are generally quite happy with the more usual selection of pickles, cold cuts, soups, salads, and stews – including mulgikapsad, the local version of sauerkraut stew. You might also get pirukad (pastries filled with meat, cabbage, carrots and rice) along with marinated eel and räim (the local Baltic herring). Which should be plenty enough to fuel any man intent on throwing his wife over the shoulder and legging it off to the nearest swinging session…






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