The most important tip I can give you on Latvia local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Latvia, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Latvia
The country offers plenty of varieties of bread, milk products, ice cream, sweets (loose sweets, made by Laima) etc. In the open air markets of Riga, Liepaja and other cities and towns, the local fruits, vegetables and mushrooms are a great option, such as freshly picked wild strawberries or blueberries from the forests, or some big strawberries, apples, rhubarb pie and a crunch made of fresh stalks straight from the garden. This is, of course, available mainly in summer and autumn season.
Latvian cuisine comes from its peasant culture, and is based on crops that grow in Latvia’s maritime, temperate climate. Rye, wheat, oat, peas, beets, and potatoes are the staples; smoked bacon, sausage, and other pork products are favourites, smoked and raw fish is common. Many types of food are flavoured with caraway seeds, especially cheese and bread.
A cheese similar to smoked gouda, but softer, is the cheapest and, arguably, tastiest variety. Latvian rye bread is heavy and flavourful, and goes well with hearty Latvian meals like pea soup, potatoes, and schnitzels. Restaurants in larger cities often offer stews in clay pots. Latvian cuisine is typical of northern countries, especially close to Finland; it’s high on butter, fat, and grains, low on spice except for caraway and black pepper. If you are from the Merranean, you might find it bland, but if you come from England or the Midwestern US, you’re not likely to have trouble getting used to it. Koknese castle ruins A more exotic Latvian dish is a sweet soup made from rye bread (maizes zupa). Black bread is extremely important part of Latvian food.
There are many types of black breads and they are believed to be much healthier and better than white bread. Latvia is much richer in milk products than an average Western country. Try Biezpiena sieri? – a curd snack with sweet taste. Many types are available, the most popular being Karums and Baltais. Try the dessert Maizes zupa (bread soup, made of black bread and fruits). Taste the Bieu zupa (red beetroot soup). Any Latvian would tell you that chocolate of Laima, the local sweets factory, is much better than Belgian chocolate. Laima offers not just chocolate, but also konfektes – candies of different types, sold by grams and kilos and the price is about 8 per kilo.
The best candies are Rudzupu?e, L?c?tis ?epain?tis, Seren?de, V?tras putns, R?ts, Soho, Sarkan? magone, V?ver?te etc. An assortment in a nice box can also be a nice gift to friends who stayed home. Try Zefirs – a soft marshmallow-type sweet. Goti?a (cow in the diminutive ) is a famous milk candy. The Emihls Gustavs chocolate factory in Riga is more exclusive and they make little sculptures of different shapes of chocolate, but it is a bit pricy. It is important to know that in Latvia the whole concept and meaning of words Cafeteria (Kafejnica), Canteen (Ednica) and Restaurant (Restorans) are different than in other countries.
A Cafeteria or Kafejnica is not just a coffee shop. Usually you can have all meals that you would probably expect in a restaurant. The difference is that in Kafejnica you sometimes bring your food to your table yourself. However, some Kafejnicas have waiters, but these are then something in between of Kafejnica and Restorans. Restorans is usually a more or less top class place.
Ednica is a canteen of schools, universities, factories etc. They are very cheap, but sometimes have limited access. Some specific food in this area: Biezpiena sierins – curd actually, but with sweet taste Kefirs – specific dairy product (vegetarian) Kiselis – thickened stewed fruit (usually cherry or rhubarb) served for dessert (vegetarian) Griki – buckwheat, eaten as main course Skabeti kaposti – sauerkraut Piragi – bacon and onion wrapped in a thin-ish yeast dough. A real classic of Latvian cuisine. Other mentionable food and dishes: Smoked cheese – goes very well with wine Eclair – cake with sweet cream inside Eel Frikadelu zupa – meatball soup Biesu zupa – red colored beetroot soup (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) Rosols – salad with sour cream (Salad Olivier), usually non-vegetarian Kotletes – meatballs served with potatoes Gailenu merce – chanterelles sauce in sour cream, usually served with potatoes (vegetarian) Si??e ar biezpienu – herring served with cottage cheese Commorgan-wieders(old name)- once braised chuck, ground with celery, onions and wrapped in a crepe and resauteed.
What to Drink in Latvia
Beer, the most popular alcoholic beverage in Latvia, is excellent. Beers, such as Aldaris, L?vu, and Sen?u can be bought almost anywhere but local people are very proud about local small breweries, try Bauskas, Tervetes, Piebalgas and some other beer. A special ‘live beer’ like Uavas can be found in selected pubs and restaurants. Don’t forget to try the locally distilled Black Balsam (R?gas Melnais Balzams). It’s a strong (45%) infusion of various herbs, roots, and spices.
It will cure your flu in no time. Add a few drops to flavor your tea, or a few spoons to lace your coffee, or in various cocktails. By itself it can be a very strong beverage! Wine is also grown in Latvia in small quantities. It is one of the most Northern places in the world where the wine can be successfully grown. Vineyards can be seen in Sabile (in Latvian). Some possible places to have a sip: Krodzins “Riva” in Jurkalne, could be seen from Liepaja – Ventspils highway, a small pub near a waterfall and a wooden bridge. Raganas Kekis, .
The name means “witches kitchen”. Located in Ragana village (which obviously means the “witch” in Latvian), in the Vidzeme region. You will see it if you travel to Valmiera or Limbazi by road. Rossini, . Near castle ruins and museum in Valmiera. Nice surroundings, serves Italian food. Don’t visit this establishment if you’re on budget. It is common to tip 10% of the bill depending on the service you encountered. Make sure you check the receipt, as some establishments automatically include a 10% tip in the bill.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.