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The country’s occupiers throughout history have influenced Latvia’s cuisine. In other words, Latvian foods have been affected by both Soviet and German occupations. Latvian dishes feature lots of dairy, potatoes, wheat, pork, fish, mushrooms, and eggs. A surprising amount of dill and caraway seeds are used for flavoring.
You learn so much about a culture through its food. Here are the best Latvian foods to try while visiting Riga and the country. Try Latvian drinks which complement the flavors of the food. Some of these make unique souvenirs from Latvia!
BEST LATVIAN FOODS TO TRY
Pelēkie zirņi ar speķi
The national dish of Latvia is made with cooked grey peas, fried onions, and dried speck. It is a deliciously filling bacon-tasting stew-like meal. This dish is featured on many menus as the main plate or a side dish. Try it at the Riga Central Market in the meat hall eatery.
Rumpjmaize (Rye Bread)
Like other Baltic countries, Latvians consider rye bread a diet staple. The rye bread accompanies many meals and can be topped with many other items on this list. Try it freshly baked from a vendor at the Riga Central Market, though it often accompanies any meals you order.
Of course, Latvians have their take on the world-famous Wiener schnitzel. Made from pork chops (pork being the best-selling meat in Latvia) and covered with a light mushroom and cream sauce. Try it at Lido or the cafe on the ground floor of the Science Academy Building.
Speck is smoked bacon made from pork belly. At first, I was confused that it looked like I was putting raw bacon on a piece of rye bread, but now I’m a speck convert! Speck is added to many other dishes to add flavor (like Pelēkie zirņi ar speķi). Buy it from one of the meat vendors at the Riga Central Market and try it on rye bread.
This Latvian meatball soup consists of beef meatballs, carrots, and potatoes in a clear broth. The meatballs are very light and small. Try it at Folkklubs.
This Latvian buckwheat porridge is typically served with butter or sour cream. Griki makes for an excellent side for meat dishes featuring heavy sauces. You can try it at Lido.
Jānu Siers (Cheese)
This full-fat cheese made with caraway seeds is also known as John’s or summer cheese. The traditional recipe has been the same for hundreds of years. It is mild and also comes in four flavors other than the original. It is always made in a round shape to reflect the sun and the world, and consumers take part in the sun’s energy. While you can buy it at many grocery stores, buy it from one of the dairy vendors at the Riga Central Market.
Mushrooms can be found in many of the Latvian foods to try, so be on the lookout if you’re not a fan. Families enjoy foraging for mushrooms. Like other Baltic cuisines, you’ll find mushrooms served marinated or cooked in traditional dishes like the karbonade.
Latvians love dill! You’ll find dill in everything – as a topping, on potato chips, and added to sour cream and soups. Embrace the dill while in Latvia!
Latvian beetroot soup is served cold as a popular summer dish. The bright pink soup is topped with a hard-boiled egg. This local variation is adapted from borscht.
Bread Soup (Maizes Soup)
It sounds funny to have soup for dessert, but there you have it. Served cold, this soup is soggy rye bread mixed with spices, sugar, and fruit and topped with whipped cream. It reminded me of spice cake. You can try this at Lido, among other restaurants.
Debesmanna (Cranberry Mousse)
This sweet and tart dessert is based on cranberry or red currant juice and flour whipped into a mousse and topped with milk. This “celestial farina” (the literal translation of the name) is what Latvian kids grow up on, and you should try it. You can find this at many grocery stores.
BEST LATVIAN DRINKS TO TRY
Kvass is a carbonated drink made from rye. Do not confuse this with a soft drink since it does contain 1.2% ABV, a low amount of alcohol, though it is often listed on menus under soft drinks. It tastes a bit like a flat beer or a liquid bread – it takes getting used to! You can find it at every grocery store and restaurant in Latvia.
Melnais Balzāms (Riga Black Balsam)
This traditional Latvian herbal liqueur can be spotted all over Riga. It even makes a perfect Latvian souvenir. The taste is strong and medicinal, reminiscent of NyQuil. Fortunately, it comes in flavors such as cherry and currant, which make it easier to swallow and more blendable in a cocktail. Black Balsam is featured on almost every menu in town and can be purchased everywhere.
BEST PLACES TO TRY LATVIAN FOODS AND DRINKS
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Lido is the perfect way to try several Latvian foods and drinks because of its buffet-style facility. Pick a few of your favorites (caution – their portion sizes are GENEROUS!) and even share them with others in your party. This is the most affordable place to eat around Riga.
Aka Latvian Cuisine
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This restaurant takes pride in using locally sourced produce to recreate traditional Latvian recipes. Due to its reliance on what is in season, the menu changes constantly. You can expect a few soup options, several main dishes, and a dessert on every menu. Due to its location in Old Town Riga, it is the perfect spot to try some foods after engaging in a walking tour of the city.
Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs
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If you want to sample traditional Latvian cuisine in a historical setting, this is the place for you! Located in the basement of a building in Old Town Riga, from the stone walls to the large wooden tables are reminiscent of eating in a medieval establishment. Try the meatballs, bread soup, and horseradish moonshine! Everything is excellent.
Final Thoughts on Latvian Food
Cynics might say that there is no traditional Latvian food – instead, it is a mixture of recipes handed down by different occupiers throughout the centuries. But Latvian food does have its twist to those German, Soviet, or other Baltic cuisines. So bring your stretchy pants when you visit Riga and try fabulous new tastes!
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