The first time I … ate bear meat.
Music from the harp, fiddle, lute and strings fill the air, as I make my way aimlessly around Tallinn Old Town, Estonia’s enchanting medieval city.
It doesn’t matter that the melodious strains are probably blaring from someone’s Spotify playlist. I’m captivated.
Surrounded by grand spires and Gothic architecture, I wander along the meandering cobblestone streets – a hunter, eyeing its prey (okay, more like a hungry tourist who doesn’t know where to eat because she didn’t do any research before coming).
I spot someone in costume, manning an interesting sweets and snacks stall, outside the imposing Olde Hansa (or “old tribe” in German) restaurant. I’m sold.
There are tables outside and the sky is a marvellous blue. But I’m in the mood for dim and musky. So I pop in, hoping that the food is authentic and the place, not too tacky.
If the heavy drapes, candles, stained glass and dark wooden furniture weren’t convincing enough, the menu – though limited – surely was.
I ask the server, what the “must haves” are.
“But of course, the Game Fillet of the Burgemeister – our seasonal game fillets with vegetable dainties. You’re in luck because we have bear today,” he replies, smiling sweetly.
Having sampled everything from crocodile, horse and reindeer, to spiders, worms, insects and snails, I was game (pun intended).
The fear that I’d be chomping down on an endangered animal made me want to change the “yea” to a “nay”, but he assures me that the restaurant has a licence to serve bear meat and that there are many still wandering around in Estonia’s wilderness.
The triple-storey building seats a whopping 300 but today, it’s only me and three other weary travellers experiencing 15th-century Hanseatic customs and cuisine. Some 20 minutes later, a huge plate with pieces of meat covered in a thick, dark sauce, and a colourful mix of side dishes, arrive.
The dish didn’t look very appetising but perhaps that’s because I knew what was on the plate!
I down my poison – wild forest berry schnapps – a strong spirit (made by someone in a monk’s habit, no less) with “great healing” properties.
I brace myself for the bear, pick up a fork and dig in. I chew and chew, and chew some more. Stewed in wild berry sauce, the meat is a little tough but not too leathery.
The smell, like most other game meat, is strong. Aromatic spices like black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, saffron and cloves, help with the masking.
The place uses fresh, country-grown ingredients. And you can definitely taste it.
There were at least eight pieces of meat on my plate. It was a struggle to finish but I wasn’t about to let my 42 euros (RM200) go to waste.
The interior decorations, servers, rustic furniture and food, takes you on a journey back to medieval times. Unlike most thematic restaurants, this feels real. But that’s probably because I’m tucking into a bear dish a million miles from home.
I’m not sure about how legit the food is by “medieval standards”, but for the experience, it’s money well spent.
*Warning: If you’re about to eat, stop reading now.
My only grouse is that bear meat makes your poop smell funkier than usual – an unpleasant “surprise” I discovered the next day.