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Flavours of Latvia
Visitors to Latvia often compliment the pureness and quality of ingredients. While visiting, be sure to indulge in local cuisine, be it traditional or contemporary. You’ll find a great mix of dishes on offer, from light summery soups to hearty pastries.
Latvians really do pride themselves on spoiling their guests and never leave them hungry. Enjoy the hospitality and journey of flavours!
#1 Rye bread
Rye bread is a popular gift to bring Latvian friends and family living abroad. There’s just something magical about it that makes it very different from the bread you get elsewhere. Numerous locations in Latvia, such as Lāči bakery and Aglona Bread Museum, give visitors the chance to bake their own loaf.
Latvians also make a number of desserts from rye bread – look out for rupjmaizes kārtojums (layered rye bread dessert with berries and cream) and maizes zupa (bread "soup" or pudding with dried fruits) on restaurant menus.
#2 Pickles and sauerkraut
Preserved vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins for the colder months of the year. Visit Riga Central Market to get a good impression of the amount of pickles and sauerkraut Latvians consume. Pickled garlic and tomatoes, Korean-spiced carrot, pickled cabbage salad with curry and pomegranate marinades – this is just part of the variety on offer.
#3 Chilled beetroot soup
Served cold, this beetroot soup is a summer favourite. Made on a kefir or yoghurt base with grated beetroot, egg, spring onion and dill, the soup is light yet filling. For a bit of zing, it’s flavoured with mustard and horseradish.
You can even buy takeaway versions at petrol stations and convenience stores!
#4 Sklandrausis – carrot and potato pie
The sklandrausis sits somewhere between sweet and savoury on the flavour scale. It’s a truly traditional treat hailing from West Latvia. Carrot and potato mash are layered inside a rye dough base and sprinkled with caraway seeds. Some recipes also suggest adding a top layer of sweetened sour cream and cinnamon.
#5 Wild mushrooms and berries
Come late summer, you’ll see hordes of Latvians venturing into the woods armed with buckets or baskets for the annual mushroom and berry “hunt”. Once collected, the berries and mushrooms are cleaned and sorted. Some are eaten right away but many are preserved for winter. Smaller mushrooms are pickled while larger varieties are chopped and dried or frozen for use in soup or sauce.
Typically, Latvians don’t like to share their favourite foraging grounds and like to keep their location a family secret.
#6 Grey peas with bacon
Latvians are very proud and protective of their grey peas which have been included in the European Protected Designations of Origin list. Served with a bacon and onion sauce, the peas are a hit in winter when we tend to seek heartier meals. This dish is best washed down with a glass of kefir.
#7 Fruit wine
For many years, Latvia was home to the world’s northernmost vineyard, however, the amount of grapes produced hasn’t been enough to kickstart a local wine industry. Although some producers are experimenting with grapes, it’s more common to come across fruit wine made from apple, blackcurrants, dandelions, aronia berries, rowanberries and other typical fruits and flora.
For something really special, try sparkling rhubarb or birch sap wine! Less common and slightly wild flavours include pumpkin and oak leaf.
#8 Smoked fish
Historically, fish has been smoked for preservation purposes but in this day and age of refrigeration, Latvians also just enjoy the flavour. Pick up some of the freshest smoked fish at the stalls and farmsteads at Latvia’s fishing villages along the coast – Pāvilosta, Ragaciems, Lapmežciems, Salacgrīva and others.
Local fish from Latvia’s lakes, rivers and the Baltic Sea include herring, plaice, pike, cod, trout, zander, salmon and catfish.
With no shortage of green spaces in Latvia, our fields and forests provide a good home for bees. There’s no wonder we are big fans of honey, pollen and ambrosia, and believe they do wonders to our health.
#10 Regional culinary heritage in Latgale
Besides having wonderful names, the foods of Latgale are delicious and hearty. Try kļockas - a cottage cheese dumpling, or kuģelis - a grated potato dish, or gulbešnīki - stuffed potato dumplings. They taste best when paired with some šmakovka or moonshine.
Locals are well known for their sincere hospitality. If travelling in Latgale, be ready to try the homemade brew at almost every stop. Enjoy regional delicacies at locations including Andrupene Farmstead, Ludza Craft Centre and Latgale Culinary Heritage Centre in Krāslava.
#11 Riga Black Balsam
Most Latvians have tricked their international friends and family at least once by serving them a straight shot of Riga Black Balsam. Don’t fall for it! The strong herbal beverage is best enjoyed as part of a hot drink. Two popular recipes are hot blackcurrant juice with balsam, and coffee with balsam and whipped cream.
If you prefer your drinks straight, try the blackcurrant or cream liqueur versions of Riga Black Balsam.