Tere everyone. Welcome back to isadaddy, your new best friend in the baltic blogosphere. I'm here today with some exciting news from the world of Estonian cuisine!
When you first move to a new country, two of the most difficult things to get used to are the language barrier and the lack of all of your familiar comfort foods (or anything familiar at all, for that matter). Not being able to properly read labels or easily ask a deli clerk for what you want can be truly intimidating and disheartening at first (I'm ashamed to say I once went to a Pizza Hut the first day I visited Korea).
So for those first few days after arrival, it's always easier to just grab whatever is familiar and doesn't require trying to talk to anyone, or causing an international incident because you don't know about taking a number first from this little machine with no sign on it hiding way down at the very end of the insanely long deli counter (UPDATE: it has been brought to my attention that there is indeed a sign - a giant "arrow" sign hung high overhead that is probably the biggest I've ever seen for "take a number." In my defence, the sign is just way too big to be effective).
So this is how I latched onto Selver's "Köök" pre-packaged spaghetti bolognese option. It didn't look that amazing - neither the packaging nor the contents - but at least I could grab 'n go and I knew exactly what it was.
So imagine my surprise when I popped those gloppily sauced noodles out of the microwave and hesitantly dug in.
"This isn't the worst thing I've ever tasted!" I remember shouting.
In time I became half-obsessed with the stuff, to the point I actually considered contacting Selver to learn more about this delightful Eesti-Italia marvel. I'm sure I was slightly insane from homesickness and repressed nerves (we had a baby on the way at the time), but I truly enjoyed Selver's "ready-made" spaghetti option.
Now don't get me wrong. Selver's spaghetti is horrible. I mean, in terms of a real, authentic pasta dish? Yeah, it ain't good, make no mistake. It's a 2,49 € pasta dish, c'mon. However...it is just the exact right kind of horrible! A perfectly decadent and delicious horrible - the guilty pleasure horrible you like to enjoy on a solitary Saturday afternoon with some trashy TV.
Canadians are well familiar with this. The lovable Chef Boyardee brand - canned pasta that barely qualifies as astronaut food - is a staple of every Canadian kid's diet (unfortunately). Chef Boyardee's stuff was gross. Yet we ate it all the same. My brother actually loved the chef's ravioli. So maybe I was primed from childhood to tolerate this kind of product.
Fast forward several months (and one baby). In July I returned to Canada for a bit of work and to visit family while I awaited my Estonian permanent residence. Imagine my surprise when I returned to Tallinn and found that Selver/Köök had completely re-vamped their spaghetti!
Now, at first I panicked because the package seemed to have vanished from the shelves. I was left quite baffled as to why they had discontinued my favourite quick and easy pleasure. HOW DARE THEY.
One day, totally by chance, I happened to stumble upon the answer: they hadn't! Oh sweet elation - they had just changed the packaging! And the product was now in a different place - to accommodate this crazy new packaging! I had failed to notice because, to me, the whole store is basically "new packaging!". Again, another pitfall of living in a new country.
Well, this was exciting indeed. Especially because the reason for the change was the addition of new condiments! Whaaaaat???! Before, all ya got was a tangled lump of noodles and a ladle full of sauce just dumped together into a clear plastic container. Now the contents came in a sleek and sexy black plastic tray with three compartments separating things. What could this mean?! Are you desperately bored enough to read on and find out?!
Then join me now in reliving that exhilarating experience as we delve into Selver's redesigned and enhanced ready-made spaghetti!
Okay, first, look at that attractive packaging! Köök indeed! In North America, the umalaut is considered very badass and heavy-metal (I made sure my daughter's name had at least one). So you know it's serious when you have DOUBLE ö's.
Seriously, though, the cardboard sleeve is a nice touch. Wasteful, but does look rather high end. Much better than what they used before, which was nothing. I award Selver three points for this inspiring change.
Here's what the packaging used to look like:
So after removing the cardboard we get not one, but two great surprises. First - everything is in spiffy compartments! Cool. These compartments contained: NOODLES, SAUCE, and - lo and behold - PARMESAN CHEESE?! Be still my low-expectationed heart!
These compartments are so groovy and up-scale. I feel like such a fancy-pants. Like Gordon Ramsay says about releasing the yolk in a poached egg, I think a person should have the privilege of applying their own supermarket sauce - it's just proper.
Second surprise - another new condiment! Look at that - the aforementioned cheese and what looks to be basil leaves! Nice! What a sweet, marvellous little package.
I would say this new presentation is worth at least eight points. Hell, let's make it eight point five.
This is also a nice touch, one that I really appreciate:
An easy to open, pull-up corner. Most Estonian products are quite smart in this manner. We notice and appreciate these things, Selver! Four points to Selver! Okay, so let's tear the plastic covering off and for the first time feast our eyes directly upon the contents.
My mouth is watering already! But wait a minute --! What the hell?! Those aren't basil leaves! So upon closer inspection, it is my sad duty to report that the two leaves included in the package are not basil. I don't know what the hell they are - probably some plant that grows right outside the factory. They look pleasant, but if they're not basil, what the hell's the point? Baffling. Points off, Selver. Say, minus six. No - seven!
Okay, all that is left to do now is combine everything and nuke it to hell. I'm pleased to report that the amount of sauce provided is sufficient to cover and coat the noodles to my satisfaction - and I'm a big sauce guy (I've been known to ask for a bit more sauce at restaurants). I wouldn't say the portion is exceedingly ample, but it's not a total rip off like you usually receive. I swear, there are whole entire food-science labs out there whose only purpose is to determine the absolute, bare minimum amount of sauce to include in these meals. So, nine points to Selver!
The same can be said for the cheese. You actually get much more than you need, IMO, so let's give Selver, like, twelve points for that.
And here we are! Buon appetito!
So how about the taste? Well, the sauce is quite fragrant with a bold and zesty tomato kick. You can certainly taste the beef, and even see a few bits here and there. Overall, I would describe the flavours as tasting "fresh-ish." I'm not sure but I believe I also detect traces of onion and thyme, and I think a hint of rubber from the factory conveyor belts. Not absolutely sure about that last one. Could just be me projecting.
The cheese is good and grated to sheer perfection. The leaves are...well, I actually didn't eat the leaves. Just normal leaves? So weird.
Handy tip: use half of the cheese up front in the microwave, to get a good melty covering. Then sprinkle the rest on top when you pop it out. Ta-da! Best of both worlds! Palun.
So there ya go. I'm sure to Estonians this is not exciting or even news. For North American visitors to Estonia, however, it's good to know that Selver has you covered when it comes to such easy and delicious items that really have no business being as good as they are. You can grab this and head to the check out with pride, confident in your selection and secure in the knowledge that you won't starve while you're working up the courage to talk to the scary and intimidating deli clerks.
I salute Selver for striving to improve their products and I look froward to trying the other new options in this line, like their Pasta Carbonara. I'm sure it's brilliant.
If anyone from the Köök kitchens reads this I hope you take great pleasure in this glowing report. Well done! And to anyone in Selver's marketing or management departments, I would totally accept a year's supply of these things.
Um, what else? Oh yeah, the final score. I wasn't really keeping track so let's just give this twenty-four stars out of thirty-six and a big thumbs up!