Estonia, Estonia. You never cease to surprise me. Just when I thought I had turned over every rock, leafed through every page, looked up every tree, a new piece of information assembled itself before my very eyes.
This new find has nothing to do with deportations or bailouts. It has to do with food. From hanging out at the local ökopood (“eco store”) in Viljandi, I have learned that there are exactly two kinds of foods in Estonia: magustoit (“sweet food”) and midagi soolast (“something salty”).
Forgive me if I seem naive, but I never really thought of food this way. Sure I understood that junk food basically fell into two categories: salty and sweet. On one side you have your potato chips and on the other side you have your chocolate chip cookies. But to take that principle and apply it to all foods? That’s what is new to me.
Under this new Estonian principle, if a food has salt in it, it is described as midagi soolast. This is the most important information the Estonian eater needs to know. Whether it is pizza or Indian curry or pork chops and sauerkraut, it’s all just food from the saltier side of the spectrum. And so the seller doesn’t ask, “Do you want Indian curry or rhubarb pie?” or even, “Do you want lunch or a snack?” She asks, “Do you want something salty or something sweet?” It’s all just midagi soolast or magustoit.
More baffling to me is if all Estonians actually think this way. Rather than desiring a particular kind of meal, be it Indian curry or pork chops and sauerkraut, the hungry Estonian’s brain only registers desire in terms of salt and sugar. The Estonian doesn’t think, “I could really go for some Armenian food.” The Estonian thinks, “I could really use something salty. Maybe followed by something sweet.”
I guess I think similarly, but in my mind, salty food is just regular food. Breakfast, lunch, dinner — 90 percent of the time, all the food items are salty. There is no need to define it as salty as far more important information can be shared about it. And, to me, “sweet food” is simply dessert. In fact, the very crude Estonian-English dictionary in my brain translates magustoit as “dessert.” The terms are equivalent.
Even more peculiar here is the Estonian habit of mixing salt and sugar in the same food. This is most likely to occur with some kind of porridge or pudding. You add equal amounts of salt and sugar to the mix, producing an odd yet stimulating taste. These recipes call for dishes that are “not too salty, not too sweet.”
I’m really not sure into what category these mixed dishes fall. Are they midagi soolast or magustoit? Is it possible that they could actually be both?