When you think of “gastronomic tourism”, Latvia isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind, but if you dig a little deeper, there’s actually a lot to uncover - and here, we mean “dig” quite literally, because in Latvian gastronomy, root vegetables are what take the pride of place. You can observe it, especially during autumn when it’s harvest season, when the many flavours of Latvia truly come alive. This is the time when Latvians harvest and celebrate the fruits of their springtime labor, resulting in all sorts of culinary treats.
In this article, we will take a look at the Latvian flavours that are really highlighted during the autumn season and some of the places where you can find them.
The best things in life are what come naturally - and that’s no exception when it comes to food. In the vast natural expanse of Latvia, you can find plenty of treats just ripe for picking. Latvians even have their own sort of rituals, when it comes to foraging for berries or mushrooms. We get up early, put on our best pair of Wellingtons and, armed with a basket and mushroom knife, venture out in the forest.
Some of us even get a little competitive regarding the best mushroom spots, so don’t expect a true Latvian to simply give away his favourite place to gather mushrooms - you have to find one yourself! But don’t fret, because we will let you in on a little secret: in Latvia, wherever there is a forest, there’s bound to at least some boleti, chanterelles or other edible mushrooms. After all, Latvia hosts over 300 species of mushrooms you can eat. But remember to be on the safe side and watch out for those toadstools!
However, if berry or mushroom picking isn’t your thing, you can always find plenty of natural goods at one of Latvia’s marketplaces, whether it’s potatoes, pumpkins, apples, cranberries or any other local autumn goodies you can think of. And, if it’s in the market, it’s probably organic, too, because in Latvia, there’s a very short chain of supply from the field to the marketplace and we absolutely love growing our own food! Also, be sure to keep an eye on the calendar, because the best goods are always around September 29th, which is when we celebrate Miķeļi - the autumn solstice celebration.
Of course, Latvians are not only keen on growing food, but preparing it as well. Every year, the owners of various households and farms all over the country host impromptu restaurants - which means that you can experience the authentic Latvian cuisine the way it’s meant to, with food made from local ingredients, with care and love and with the company of the chefs themselves! Just be sure to follow the information about Latvia’s Home Cafe days for next year and book your visit beforehand.
Another option is to visit some of Latvia’s countryside restaurants or pubs, which usually offer authentic food as well, albeit in a more “restaurantly” fashion. On the upside, they are open all year long: Spēlmaņu Pub, Jaunpils Castle Pub, Bīriņi Manor Restaurant and Dzirnavu Pub at Bīriņi Manor. On a side note, if you see the marking “Latviešu virtuve” at a restaurant, you can rest assured that they serve food that’s locally sourced and based on Latvian tradition.
Obviously, this list wouldn’t be complete without a “fine dining” section! Sure enough, there are plenty of Latvian restaurants which raise traditional Latvian cuisine to a whole different level. The food you will find in these establishments will not only be unique - they will also provide a deeper insight into the bigger picture of what Latvia has to offer in terms of national cuisine. If you’d like to venture outside of Riga, be sure to visit Kest in Cēsis, which combines Latvian flavours with those of the rest of the world, or Pavāru Māja in Līgatne, for example. But, if you’d like to taste the flavours of Latvia in it’s capital, we’d recommend trying out Entresol or Ferma Restaurant for some truly exquisite food and atmosphere.
Feeling hungry yet? If you’re a foodie (and let’s face it - who isn’t?), be sure to put Latvia in your trip planner; hopefully, we will see you soon. Meanwhile - bon appétit, or as we in Latvia like to say: Labu apetīti!