A belated tänan väga to Christina and Pawel for the hospitality they displayed at their recent Estonian/Polish bash. After being greeted by the hosts, who were resplendent in Estonian traditional dress, we settled in for a pleasant evening of Esto-Polish delights.
The vast array of dishes on offer is a blur to me now, although I remember the blood sausage with special fondness. Served with potatoes, Estonian sauerkraut and cranberry relish … mmm, delicious! Also on offer – courtesy of Yusuke – was okonomiyaki, a sort of “Japanese pizza”, which was a revelation. This is definitely something to look out for. But perhaps my favourite was Pawel’s Polish apple pie, which had me saying “tak, proszę!” to a second (and third) helping.
Another highlight of the night – at least for Rach and I – was our discovery of Żubrówka, a distilled rye vodka flavoured with bison grass from the ancient Białowieża Forest. Polish infants are weaned on this stuff at an early age, but sadly I had to wait 39 years for my first taste. The customary drinking technique is for all present to drink a shot in unison, with a hearty cry of “terviseks!”, followed by a swig of apple juice. Alternatively the two can be mixed, but the vodka is pleasant on its own.
Each bottle of Żubrówka traditionally contains a blade of bison grass, purely for decoration, although this didn’t stop certain Antipodean party-goers from attempting to consume the grass once the bottle was empty.
Topping off a perfect evening, Rach and I were lucky enough to win what was possibly the first ever Estonian/Polish trivia competition, our prize being a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka! Jah!! (I always knew my encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of Polish trade unions would come in handy one day.)
During the course of the night I couldn’t help but be impressed by the music that was playing quietly in the background. The unusual mixture of traditional Eastern European folk, eighties pop and Lloyd Webber-style musical theatre was ear-catching to say the least. I made a mental note to see what I could find out about the Estonian rock music scene.
Although viewed as undesirable by Soviet authorities, popular music established itself in Estonia in the seventies, in the form of a heavy-style progressive rock. One of my favourites is Gunnar Graps Group (or simply “GGG”), who in appearance and sound are very similar to UK metal pioneers Judas Priest, while also incorporating a distinctive Eastern-European melodicism.
Here is GGG performing the song “Hingeleegid”:
Of course, the story of Estonian music doesn’t end with Gunnar Graps Group. There is something for everyone, whether it be the runic-folk-metal of Metsatöll, or the chart-topping girl group Vanilla Ninja. Let me end by playing another clip, this time by subversive punk rockers Singer Vinger. Here they are in 1987 performing “Mina pean sambat tantsida saama”. (I’d give anything for the lead singer’s T-shirt.)