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Eating traditions

Latvia is a real paradise for gourmands – here you can enjoy a traditional meal as well as modern cuisine. Eating well is popular in Latvia and, also, as Latvia is on the crossroads between East and West, and North and South, you can observe the influence of many different national cuisines and enjoy the result – borrowing the best from each.

  • Potatoes
  • Photo: Jasinskis
Dark rye bread on Latvian linen tablecloth.
  • Dark bread
Traditionally prepared beer in restaurant Lido.
  • Beer
Small fish dried on cord in Latvian fishing villages.
  • Air-dried fish (voblas)
  • Traditionally produced cheese
Honey jars, pollen, beeswax and more.
  • Honey and various honey products

Food in Latvian cuisine is rich in calories and Latvians like eating out. In everyday life a Latvian would indulge in meat croquettes, meat and fish, pork ribs, steamed sauerkraut, baked potatoes with sour cream, vegetable salads, soups, but for the ancient annual festivities – Easter, the Summer Solstice (Jāņu day), the Autumn Solstice (Mārtiņi day), and  Christmas – a Latvian would opt for traditional food and old traditions. Then, the dark rye bread, grey peas, baked or stewed pork, variously prepared vegetables, home-made fresh cheese, fish, meat pies, cakes, biscuits and desserts made of local fruits and berries topped with whipped cream are put on the table, along with beer and home-made wine. But this is only a part of the treat – every Latvian hostess is happy if she can surprise guests with something special seen in a restaurant, on a trip, in a magazine or a cookbook. It should be noted that almost everyone knows how to make real Ukrainian borsch, then, on Christmas, there can be a carp, made in Polish style or Jewish forshmack (herring spread), and so on.

Ecologically clean food

Many people in Latvia grow their own food, thus, it can be said that ecologically clean food is widely available. Every person living in the countryside grows food for himself and city dwellers can purchase the farm-grown food in so-called green markets. Almost every second Rigan owns a countryside house and it is again becoming popular to tend a vegetable garden, plant small herb gardens and buy fresh cow’s milk and freshly laid eggs from neighbours.

Cuisine of different nationalities

Present day Latvian cuisine includes influences from different regional cuisines – like German, Slavic, South European, and even Asian. For centuries the territory of Latvia was under German rule, and so in bishops’ castles as well as free citizens’ houses, western cultural standards prevailed. Latvians came into German cuisine through their estate kitchens in which, either under the guidance of a German chef or with the help of a German cookbook written in Latvian, they learned how to prepare food for the baron’s table, and then later applied this knowledge at home. So in many respects Latvian cuisine has a flavour of German cuisine – from the Germans, Latvians have learned affection for potatoes, pork, and steak with onions (LV, sīpolklopsis), cakes, prepared desserts and drinking chicory coffee in the morning.

Similarly, many recipes which now seem to be indispensible in the Latvian cuisine are borrowed from the Eastern neighbours – Slavs. Some examples are the soļanka soup that only a few restaurants do not add to their menu, cabbage soup, and cold soup – okroška –, and then there are festive pies with different fillings, pelmeņi, bļini, topped with sour cream or red caviar, vinaigrette and rasol (meat salad). In Latvia the drink kvass is popular and people here can tell an excellent from a not so excellent vodka.

Post-WWII Latvian cuisine was enriched by the best dishes of the nations of the former Soviet Union. Some examples are the Caucasian specialty shashlik (grilled meat), the filled cheese bread dish hachapuri, excellent pelmeņi, made in the Siberian style, Central Asian sun dried fruits, juicy watermelons, and pomegranates... Now, the latest additions to Latvian Cuisine are from Western Europe and the East – French fries, pizzas, sushi and other dishes.    

Present day cuisine

In fact, Latvian traditional cuisine fully corresponds to the modern fusion principle, namely, it is a mixture of different ethnic and national gastronomic traditions, and is clearly seasonal and uses Latvian grown and processed products. A year ago, the best Latvian chefs, restaurants and gourmet journalists, following the Scandinavian example, created a movement and signed the Present Day Latvian Cuisine Manifesto which supports good taste, food quality and concern for a healthy diet. This is why in Latvia it is possible to indulge in a lamb shashlik that tastes almost as good as in the Caucasus, or treat yourself to  Asian food. The various ethnic restaurants in Latvia are widely representative and offer opportunities to taste these and other dishes which are of good quality and affordably priced. Latvia’s restaurants can surprise you with their wide and high quality offerings – the menu is based mostly on European classic gastronomic values, accented by the chef’s creativity.

Lately, more fast food restaurants have opened, such as kebabs and pizzas. Another trend is that almost every week a new bakery opens and for customer friendly prices offer coffee or tea, or pastry, salad, and a dessert. Unfortunately, vegetarian restaurants were not overly successful, yet every restaurant respects the customer’s wishes – just look for the corresponding menu section. Speaking of vegetarian restaurants, "Rāma" and "Kamāla" deserve special mention.