[New & Improved!] While you might spot something online about a Kalamaja food tour, these culinary excursions are designed for those who are either new to Tallinn or new to Estonian food. Don’t worry, if you do go on one, you won’t get dunked into the proverbial culinary deep end along with all the verivorst (blood sausage) and sült (meat jelly or aspic). Instead, you’ll get to try some popular everyday Estonian food. But if you’ve already completed your basic Estonian Food 101 – or are just looking for a good street food joint in Kalamaja where you might grab a quick amps or bite to eat, then please read on.
The Kalamaja Fish House and its pelvic fin known as Telliskivi are home to Tallinn’s greatest concentration of eateries outside of Old Town. And yet, the quality of these culinary offerings can be quite erratic – and not everything is suited for eating on the move. To save you time, here’s my curated list of the top five places where I go whenever I want to grab something good to eat in Kalamaja:
BaoJaam (“Bao Station”) at Balti Jaama Turg or BJT (Kopli 1) is at the top of my list. While BaoJaam’s Taiwanese-inspired gua bao don’t reach the heights of London’s Bao (both the Soho original and her younger Fitzrovia sister are well worth queuing for), BaoJaam does make some very tasty gua bao. I usually go for their crispy chicken or roast pork. They also offer a beef bao for true carnivores as well as a fish one for pescatarians and a meat-free version (currently with portobello mushrooms) for vegetarians. And recently, they even introduced a chocolate bao for dessert! BaoJaam is open every day from 11 AM to 8 PM – although they sometimes run out of bao earlier in the day and so end up closing early. Please note that BaoJaam also takes an afternoon break between 3 PM and 4 PM each day.
One Sixty – or the 160⁰ BBQ joint inside Renard’s Bike Shop (Telliskivi 62) – makes a nice Pulled Pork Sandwich. Guess you could describe their BBQ style as North Carolina – although it is probably more Tallinn-inspired than anything else. One Sixty now has a very tasty “Dirty Burger” on their menu as well. Whichever one you choose, skip the chips and go healthy – order a side salad or their grilled corn when it is in season. While One Sixty is closed on Mondays, they should be open from 11 AM to 9 PM every other day – and until 11 PM on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Päästke Willy (‘Free Willy”) can be found at the Depoo Food Street Market (Telliskivi 62). Order their excellent fish minus the chips as their potatoes don’t quite make the cut. Their tempura-style fried fish is quite good – especially as it is brought in fresh from Lake Peipsi rather than from Tallinn’s fish market. If you want chips to go with your fish, then order the sweet potato fries. Otherwise, you could always pick up some greasy French fries from the nearby Shaurma Kebab. Not too long ago, Free Willy also added fried shrimp, fried mozzarella sticks, and fried chicken tenders (“The Tuna of the Land?”) to their menu. Or, if you want to be somewhat healthier, you can now order a side salad to go with your fish. If it is warm enough to eat outside, just be sure to protect your food from the starving seagulls and psychotic pigeons! Free Willy is open every day from 11 AM until 9 PM.
Samsa Family Bakers or SFB at BJT (Kopli 1) seem to follow the motto that “slow and steady wins the race.” While their deep fried chebureki are real grease bombs, one of their baked samsa savory pies – I usually go for either their lamb- or chicken-filled one – will often tide you over to the next real meal. SFB also bake vegetarian-friendly samsa – usually filled with cheese although sometimes only with vegetables. And, these days, you can also grab some of their signature Uzbeki plov (meat and rice pilaf) from their main kitchen – along with Uzbek soups and other savory offerings. Please note that while nothing at SFB is particularly spectacular, it is straight-forward family-style food. SFB is open from 9 AM to 7 PM – although they close early on Sunday at 5 along with the market.
Tokumaru (“Good Harmony”) at BJT (Kopli 1) serves up some decent Japanese food if you can figure out their counter and service system. I usually go for their chicken katsu – although you might want to try one of your other Japanese favorites. Tokumaru is open every day from 11 AM to 8 PM. Please note that BJT’s Tokumaru is a downsized take-away version of their flagship restaurant at Solaris Centre – which in turn is a blown-up copy of their miniature original known as the Momo Japanese Kitchen Store (Kunderi 29).
Whatever you do, please don’t make the mistake of ordering the pizza at BJT or at Depoo. If you have a real yen for pizza, then walk over to neighboring Pelgulinn and visit Kaja Pizza – run by the same guys who run One Sixty. You’ll be glad you did. Sadly, Kalamaja’s former go-to pizza joint – Ahi Pizza – has gone and left us. The late lamented Ahi Pizza was the only pizza place in Kalamaja which could compete with Kaja – and the best street food that London has to offer. If Ahi Pizza were to return to Kalamaja one day, then it would go straight to the top of this list pushing everyone down a slot – and knocking Tokumaru off the list all together.
Oh, yes. Dessert. If you feel like you want something sweet after your main savory snack, then there are two Kalamaja dessert options that I’d recommend. The first is to get some of Surf Cafe’s delicious soft serve ice cream at BJT (Kopli 1). They also make the market’s go-to coffee in case you need a caffeine fix to keep you going through the rest of the afternoon. Surf Cafe is open from 9 AM to 8 PM.
If you feel like you need a more “adult-style” ice cream – or maybe vanilla alone just doesn’t float your boat, then you can always head over to the Telliskivi Creative Hub and visit La Muu (Telliskivi 60a) which is open from 11 AM until 7 PM – with extended hours until 9 on both Friday and Saturday. La Muu serves up Tallinn’s most delicious ice cream – made right there at their on-site creamery. This is the kind of ice-cream that will turn any adult back into a kid. Me, I’m partial to their rhubarb and salted caramel flavors.
For those of you who might have the late-night munchies from drinking at one of Kalamaja’s many watering holes, then there are two options you might still find open. The first is the Tres Amigos Food Stall in the Telliskivi Rimi Parking Lot (Telliskivi 61) and the second is the Bueno Gourmet Food Truck in Telliskivi Creative Hub’s inner courtyard (Telliskivi 60a). Both joints offer Latin American-inspired tacos, burgers, and other bites at irregular but usually late hours – especially on Friday and Saturday evenings. As an added bonus, Arepas Factory now works out of Bueno Gourmet’s Food Truck every Monday from 12 Noon to 6 PM.
One final tip: always remember to go around to the back of BJT as one of Estonia’s food trucks might be making a random guest appearance at Tallinn’s best market just to spice things up.
As the old saying goes, “hunger is the best sauce” – or, in Estonian, “hunger is the best cook!”
[N,B. Kalamaja’s food scene is in perpetual transition. For example, there is a new container going into Depoo’s Food Street Market and it looks like BJT will be in the process of expanding its Street Food options into the shrinking meat market. So, stay tuned for a 2019 update!]
Last updated 25 November 2018
Image: From my collection of canvas tote bags – “Man Bites Bao” by London Bao’s Design Collective. If you’re in London on a Saturday around lunch time, do go and visit Broadway Market – my favorite London market – and its neighboring Netil Market. At Netil, you’ll find the original wooden shack where London’s Great Bao Empire got its start.