A Singaporean View: The Tartu Market, a Landmark To Be Visited

Saburi Ken is a first-year student of Business Administration at the University of Tartu. He comes from Singapore and represents our university as an international student ambassador in his home country.

Saburi Ken
During one of our Student Ambassadors meetings, we were all faced with this one question: Where would we take our friends if they flew over to Tartu?

Rapid responses from the others included visits to the various museums, the botanical garden, several cafes, pubs and clubs, but I was in deep thought as to what would be really different from the conventional suggestions and places that my friends would sincerely enjoy.

I thought, “If my best friends were to fly here from 13,000 km away and have limited time in Tartu, I ought to blow their minds. Definitely, certain museums would be interesting for them, especially the KGB museum, but it would not achieve the benchmark I have set. Hmmm…”

As all young men, I pretty much think and work the same way: food and action.

“I’m going to take my best friends to the Tartu Market, epic paintball activities and maybe pay a visit to some Estonian graveyards” (In hindsight, graveyards would not exactly be the place to go. I wanted to say strip clubs though).

Silence fell over the room. Priceless.

People could never get why I picked such places because those suggestions are definitely not mainstream or conventional in any way. However, a Singaporean would relate and recognize the underlying attractiveness of the places named.

So, today I shall introduce and share more about Tartu Turg.

Tartu Market Exterior View

Tartu Turg, a.k.a. Tartu Market. Photo by Saburi Ken.

Tartu Market dates back to 1938 and has been the cornerstone of fresh, quality and inexpensive meat, dairy products and vegetables. Located at the heart of Tartu, alongside the river and opposite modern shopping malls, it is an under-appreciated historical monument that withstood the pains of the Second World War and Soviet rule.

At first look, I assumed it was some kind of ancient transportation depot or a government office that was off-limits to the public. Sadly, there were no visible entry signs or banners that told me, as well as other international students and tourists, of the secrets and joy the market brings.

It wasn’t until my good Italian pal, Marcellino, brought me and showed me the wonders of the market (because he wanted to cook some risotto).

Holy cow, what can I say?

Dozens of stalls displaying impressive cuts of meat, neatly organized vegetables and numerous dairy products that blew my mind.

Once you have entered the market, you will sense somewhat of a wave of life that you would not expect. Vendors buzzed about to fulfill customers’ requests and the locals were walking around to check out the freshest goods of the day.

On a side note, I did have a chat with my favorite pork stall vendor, Ms. Tens. As one of the youngest vendors in the market, she was a ‘curious case’ for me. She told me the reason she was working at Tartu Market was because of her sentimental connection to the market where generations of her family have worked, and for her it was a norm to help out starting from childhood. This speaks to its value to the working locals and the historical sentiments that have been woven into its social fabric.

As you can see, look at all the inexpensive meat I can get. I could have endless carnivore festivals with my friends (Take note that my friends and I enjoy BBQ meat parties and eating to our hearts’ content)!

Meat stand at Tartu market.

Meat stand at Tartu market. Photo by Saburi Ken.

1) A kg of minced pork costs from 2.70 – 3.40 euros.

2) A kg of pork belly costs from 3.00 – 3.80 euros.

3) A kg of lean pork leg costs from 3.20 – 4.00 euros.

Singapore’s supermarket rate (an approximation):

1) 9.00 – 10.90 euros

2) 11.50 – 12.80 euros

3) 10.20 – 11.50 euros

The above comparison shows why my friends or Singaporeans would be amazed and why Tartu Market would be a good place to bring them.

Furthermore, how the market looks within and the culture is totally different to what Singapore has. I think that getting into the locals’ way of life is something more fascinating than historical sites that can only tell of past glory. We want to feel the vibe and life that makes the city. Then again, I am definitely not setting an undertone or lessening the importance of the museums, just saying that Tartu Market would be chosen when under resource constraints.

Putting financial motivations aside, the market’s selection of dairy products and seafood are really unusual and unique to me. Though the varieties of seafood are limited to salmon, herring and some mysterious Baltic fishes (I assumed), it is worth the moment to gaze upon the seafood vendors’ display. As you can guess, South-East Asia has a different variety of fishes and we do not dry nor salt them – it is all fresh in the markets.

Speaking of the dairy products – super duper awesome. Period.

Homemade cottage cheeses, local butter, yoghurts and multiple selections of pre-cut cheeses only indicates that Estonians are spoiled for options when it comes to these products.

Smoket meat and sausages at Tartu Market.

Smoked meat and sausages at Tartu Market. Photo by Saburi Ken.

Back home, we do have our kinds of dried meat and sausages but the ones in the market are unparalleled. Personally, I haven’t bought any of those yet but I think I should! Probably because I do not know what food and ingredients to match with it.

Really, if you have not visited Tartu Market, you need to! Don’t forget to look out for the smiling pig statue at the main entrance! It’s waiting for you!

Pig statue in front of the Tartu Market

The pig is waiting for you! Photo by Saburi Ken.

Read also Ken’s story: Tartu: A Rock N Roll Night, which he wrote for the UT Student Blogger Contest last autumn.

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