2015 | 59 | 97-124
Article title

Sibul, kadakas ja kuuslauk – toidutaimed ja regionaalne toidukultuur Eestis

Title variants
Onion, Juniper and Garlic: Food Plants and Regional Food Culture in Estonia
Languages of publication
The article discusses the role of food producers and tourism industry in shaping Estonian regional food traditions. The authors base their study on three regional culinary symbols – onion from the area of Lake Peipsi, juniper from Saaremaa Island and garlic in the focus of Jõgeva Garlic Festival – and analyse the way that a region can define itself, both culturally and economically, by means of a concrete plant. Different regions compete as tourist destinations and food plays an important role in the shaping and marketing of such destinations. Throughout times seeking for authentic experience has been an issue of some significance in tourism. For a tourist, genuine food experience inherent in a particular region could add extra value: food can be consumed on the spot; while eating or buying food one can socialise with local people; food products can be taken back home as culinary souvenirs; photographs taken of the meals eaten during travels can be shared with friends on Facebook, etc. There is a whole range of niche products and services in food tourism: food festivals, wine tasting trips, cooking courses conducted by local chefs, etc. In recent decades, Estonia, like other European countries, has been searching for and rediscovering the regional features of food culture. Both on state and local levels attempts have been made to define Estonian food, to find customers for local food on globalised markets, etc. The Estonian Culinary Route website (, which introduces local food to domestic and foreign tourists, emphasises that Estonia is comprised of six unique food regions – northern Estonia, eastern Estonia, southern Estonia and Mulgimaa, Setomaa, western Estonia with the islands (Hiiumaa, Saaremaa and Muhumaa), and two smaller ones (Kihnu Island and Old Believers’ villages in Lake Peipsi area) – and adds that each region has preserved its historically evolved unique dishes and food culture. So the generalised national cuisine model has moved towards mapping more diverse and regionally varying Estonian food culture. Emphases on the peculiarities of food regions help the entrepreneurs in food manufacturing and catering differentiate from one another. Just like in Scandinavia, top chefs foster food culture in Estonia; for instance, the project “Landscape on a plate 2014–2020”, initiated by Dimitri Demyanov merges the cuisines of different Estonian regions: southern Estonia (Võru County), Setomaa, Mulgimaa and Old Believers’ cuisines and those of the coastal regions and islands. The three food plants on which the article focuses aptly illustrate the usage possibilities and problems associated with a plant as a symbolic culinary identity marker. In the case of the onion from Lake Peipsi area, one can speak about the valuing of the region’s plant cultivation and food traditions, but also about marketing the plant. Historical tradition is an extra value in its own right, and is easier to sell as authentic. The difference as compared to the other two examples is that in Lake Peipsi area it is the primary product itself rather than food products and dishes made of onion that is marketed. The juniper from Saaremaa Island offers an interesting example of the intertwined traditions and innovation, as well as the natural and cultural, on the example of one food plant. Juniper has grown in Saaremaa for centuries, and it still does, and has been used as a food plant earlier on, which helps to create cohesion between the region and traditions. Today juniper is used to add regional flavour to food, and in addition to older, culinary use, novel product development solutions are searched for, a good example of which is juniper syrup. In comparison with the former two, Jõgeva Garlic Festival is probably the most recent example of a consciously created regional (culinary) identity, which combines several cultural elements of different origins. Estonia has no historic tradition of garlic growing or usage. So it is definitely an ‘invented tradition’, which relates to similar events with a comparatively short history in other parts of the world, which try to advocate a region by means of a food and a food festival. On the basis of the explored examples the authors maintain that food products and food tourism need not be a key to regional development; they rather simply contribute to the development of a certain region. The future of Estonian rural regions, including (small-scale) enterprises, requires complex regional politics on state level. Nevertheless, a consciously chosen and interpreted local food plant could offer opportunities to a region to diversify the product range, strengthen the (culinary) identity of the region, and thereby enhance both cultural and economic survival in the globalising world and global competition.
  • Estonian Literary Museum, Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu, ESTONIA
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Publication order reference
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