Latvian food journey
I had no idea what to expect of Latvian food before my trip to Riga. Research suggested that dishes typically consisted of meat (especially pork), potatoes, fish and rye bread. Herbs, particularly dill, were commonly used. Latvian cuisine dates back to peasant culture when Latvia was occupied by several countries, and simple ingredients were used in the 19th century alongside of potato farming. I read about heavy and fatty meals, but when I was there, it wasn't too bad and the food was pleasant. In fact, the cold beetroot soup (šaltibarščiai) was so refreshing that I kept going back for more. Here's my recommended list of foods to try in Latvia. Let me know your experiences with Latvian/Baltic food.
Beetroot soup (šaltibarščiai)
I had this soup with a number of meals throughout the trip. This bright pink beetroot soup is popular amongst the Baltic region. Made from beetroot, kefir, potato, cucumber, onions and topped with boiled egg and dill, it is served cold which makes it perfect for a warm day. In Lido (a self-serve Latvian restaurant chain serving traditional food), you will see many locals drinking this soup. If in Lido, don’t forget to pop over to the salad section and add a boiled egg to the soup.
2. Traditional pork chops (Karbonāde)
Served with fried potato, mushroom sauce and salad, this is Latvia’s version of the Weiner Schitnzel, and is a traditional dish that is commonly made at home. The pork is pounded thinly then deep fried.
3. Potato pancakes (kartupeļu pankūkas)
Latvians do love potatoes and it can be found with almost every dish. Here, I had it with chicken kiev, creamy mushroom sauce and cauliflower.
4. Jāņi cheese
This is Latvia’s national cheese and is eaten on Jāņi, a mid-summer festival between 23rd and 24th June. It is Latvia’s national holiday and their biggest celebration. The festival usually takes place outdoors where family and friends gather to eat, drink and dance for the whole night. Bonfires are often lit too. Jāņi cheese would be found on every table with beer. Jāņi cheese is a sour milk cheese made from curds and contains caraway seeds. I had it with Latvian dried cured meats, fish, eggs and bread.
5. Dark Rye bread (Rupjmaize)
Rye bread is common amongst the Baltic region and can be found everywhere in Latvia. People have been consuming rye bread for hundreds of years. As this traditional dark bread is available all season, it has become a staple Latvian diet. I had fried rye bread with butter and served with eggs and bacon.
And to drink…
Riga Black Balsam
You must not leave Latvia without trying out the Black Balsam. This traditional alcoholic drink is found all over Riga, in restaurants, bars and shops. We were in a souvenir shop and the shop assistant gave us different flavours to sample. He explained to us that this herbal drink is made from a number of natural ingredients (24 to be precise). Traditionally, people used this as medicine to cure colds but now it is commonly enjoyed with ice cream, coffee or with a mixer. My favourite was the black current Black Balsam with coca cola. With a high alcoholic content of 45%, the drink is pretty strong.