FOOD LATVIA

Traditional Latvian Cuisine: What’s In The Menu?

Latvian cold beetroot soup. Absolutely mouth watering!

Let’s cut straight to the point: many people don’t know about Latvia. But even less people know anything about Latvian food. You’d be surprised – there’s a lot of people even here, in Latvia, who don’t have a slightest idea about the most traditional and the most popular dishes of the Latvian cuisine. Why? Maybe it’s because Latvia is home to many other nationalities other than just Latvians: there are thousands of Russians (like me), Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, etc, that altogether make up no less than 40% of the Latvian population.

But just because you’re of a different ethnicity and you like to keep your traditions alive, doesn’t mean that the traditions of the country you live in have to be ignored. Right? Right. But I deviate, sorry for that. Let’s talk about traditional Latvian cuisine instead, shall we?

Latvia is a relatively young country, but the century-long history of its territory is marked with German, Swedish, and Russian invasions, so, naturally, the traditional cuisine has a lot of foreign elements. Germans eat sauerkraut – Latvians eat sauerkraut. Swedes eat yellow pea soup – Latvians eat it, too. Russians love rye bread – and Latvians can’t imagine their cuisine without it. But despite all the similarities, typical Latvian food has its own individual motifs ...Image source: here

So what is the staple food of traditional Latvian cuisine?

To answer that question you have to remember that Latvians used to be serfs up until the early 1800’s, so typical Latvian food will always be high in calories, heavy, a bit fatty, and low in spices, which were very expensive to import back in those days.

Latvia is a relatively young country, but the century-long history of its territory is marked with German, Swedish, and Russian invasions, so, naturally, Latvian traditional cuisine has a lot of foreign elements. Germans eat sauerkraut – Latvians eat sauerkraut. Swedes eat yellow pea soup – Latvians eat it, too. Russians love rye bread – and Latvians can’t imagine their cuisine without it.

But despite all the similarities, typical Latvian food has its own individual motifs and is still pretty much “Latvian” – even in comparison to Lithuania and Estonia, the countries that look like siblings at first sight. As an example, Latvians eat a lot of beans that are very high in protein and are a perfect substitute for meat, which wasn’t affordable for many people back then. One of the most traditional dishes is grey peas with bacon, which was (and still is) usually served at Christmas. People believed that eating peas brought luck and money, so they ate it A LOT, accompanying it with pork in aspic, herring in a jacket, caraway cheese with rye bread, pearl barley with hazelnuts…. To eat like a Latvian is to eat in abundance, until your stomach starts hurting. And if that happens, you fight fire with fire by eating even more food: this time it’s soups. Sorrel soup, sour cream soup, sauerkraut soup, and even milk soup are the best medicine against stomach aches, as they help digestion, which was a huge problem for people living in the Middle Ages because of how heavy food was back in those days.

Bacon Rolls (Pirāgi): Best straight from the oven, pirāgi is half-moon shaped rolls stuffed with bacon, onions and eggs, and served with a cup of chicken broth. Piragi is, neither more nor less, the foundation of traditional Latvian food. Latvian Bacon Rolls. Image source: here

What does a typical Latvian menu look like?
If you go to a traditional Latvian restaurant, you will probably be served something like this:

APPETIZER

Bacon Rolls (Pirāgi): Best straight from the oven, pirāgi is half-moon shaped rolls stuffed with bacon, onions and eggs, and served with a cup of chicken broth. Piragi is, neither more nor less, the foundation of traditional Latvian food.

Vegetable Tarts (Sklandrauši): These delicious round tarts come with two types of filling: carrots or potatoes. The idea is to give the tarts orange color, make them look like Sun, and serve on the Easter table. But of course, sklandrauši are so good that people don’t wait until Easter comes and instead give themselves this little treat throughout the whole year. Which is totally understandable.

SOUPS

Cold Beet Soup (Aukstā zupa): This is the type of a soup that is typical for every Eastern European cuisine. It’s absolutely mouth watering!

Latvian cold beetroot soup. Absolutely mouth watering! Image source: here

Meatball Soup (Frikadeļu zupa): Another absolute delishiousness in the form of a soup!

MAIN DISH

Herring with Cottage Cheese and Potatoes (Kartupeļi ar siļķi un biezpienu): Three most typical Latvian foods combined in one, which makes this dish the ultimate formula of Latvian cuisine.

Herring with Cottage Cheese and Potatoes (Kartupeļi ar siļķi un biezpienu): typical Latvian food. Image source: here

Breaded Pork Chops (Karbonāde): One of the most common dishes on the Latvian table.

Groats Porridge (Bukstiņbiezputra): Grain porridge with potatoes and streaky bacon with cream… yummy! Sometimes Bukstiņbiezputra is served as a hot started in restaurants, but people eat it for lunch as well.

DESSERT

Potato Pancakes (Kartupeļu pankūkas): Crispy! Salty! With sour cream and berry jam! No one can refuse kartupeļu pankūkas!

Cranberry Pudding (Debessmanna): A sweet farina porridge with cranberries that is lighter than air and that melts in the mouth within one instant.

Layered Rye Bread Dessert (Rupjmaizes Kārtojums): This is an exclusively Latvian delicacy: airy, layered substance made of rye breadcrumbs, whipped cream, and cranberry jam. Sounds simple but this dessert is so good that its second name is Latvian Ambrosia. Because even pagan gods in Livonia used to love it!

Layered Rye Bread Dessert (Rupjmaizes Kārtojums) Image source: here

DRINKS

Latvian Beer: Valmiermuižas, Brālis and Brenguļu are the best brands in Latvia, where the brewing traditions date back to prehistory. If you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, Užavas beer will be a great alternative. The most popular brands, at the same time, are called Aldaris and Cesu Alus, but they’re really not that great, to be honest.

Riga Black Balsam: Traditional herbal liquor with an incredible amount of different ingredients mixed in pure vodka, not everyone is able to handle it. Riga Black Balsam comes in several tastes, and is usually added to tea or coffee, or even made into a cocktail.

Kvass: This is when Latvian love to bread finds its ultimate end: kvass, as you’ve guessed, is a rye bread drink with a small amount of alcohol in it (1.2%).

Kvass is a rye bread drink with a small amount of alcohol in it (1.2%). Image source: here

Traditional Latvian cuisine has kept its original medieval taste, which is far from being “plain” and “boring”, as many people might think. In fact, there’s way more variety in Latvian food than, let’s say, in Germany, which, as influential as it was, isn’t that much into fish, for example. It is only in North Germany where people traditionally eat Fischbrötchen, whilst in Latvia fish is the queen of the everyday table. I, therefore, dare to claim that Latvian cuisine is one of the best in Eastern Europe, as its main characteristics – variety and abundance – are accentuated more than anywhere else! In Latvia, you eat well, you eat plenty. And is there anything more one needs to be happy?

Bonus: other Latvian dishes suggested by the readers on The Russian Abroad:

Rye bred soup with whipped cream (maizes zupa ar putukrējumu)
Stewed sauerkraut cabbage (štovēti kāposti)
Fried salted herring and potatoes with kefir (Mazsālīta cepta siļķe ar kefīru un kartupeļiem)

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Over to you! What does a traditional menu from your country look like?

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  • mmmmmm!

    • I know, right? Yummy!

  • I don’t think I’ve ever tried any of these dishes before, but they all sound really good. Thanks for sharing!

    http://www.mintnotion.com

    • They sound good, look good, and taste good too! 3 in 1, special offer! :D

  • Love Eastern European food so looking forward to sampling more when we make it over to Latvia. That soup looks an amazing colour and lots of veggie options too which is great.

    • That’s my favourite soup, actually! We usually eat it at summer because it’s cold, but I eat it during winter too. I love it!

  • omg those pictures! I am so hungry now haha!
    The cold beet soup looks like borsc which I LOVE! :)

    • It’s kinda similar, but soooo different from borscht still!
      Cold beet soup is also part of the Russian cuisine, by the way!

  • Carol Colborn

    Look very different from what I am used to (Asian food)! But, hey I am willing to try!

    • You won’t regret it!

  • Reading through this post I can definitely see the similarities between the cuisine of my Polish and Ukrainian counterparts! Eastern European cuisine as you say is rich and fatty and good! Although I do tend to stay away from borsche (beet soup) and herring. Maybe I should give it another try? My Baba would be very happy!

    • Borscht is absolutely fantastic, and you’re committing a crime by staying away from it! Russian scientists have discovered that borscht improves the immune system, makes you smarter, makes you a better person, and makes you more beautiful… So make your Baba happy! Eat borscht! :D

  • I’m one of those people that don’t know anything about Latvian food LOL! But I sure wouldn’t mind trying it! Those bacon rolls certainly caught my eye! And I’ve never really been a fan of beets, but the soup really looks pretty so I might be willing to try it ;)

    • I love beets! Russians (and I think Latvians, too) also have beet salad, it’s amaaaazing!

  • Wow i had no idea what type of food you would find there. I think the bacon tarts and the potato pancakes would lure me in most!

    • My grandpa is crazy about the potato pancakes! He could literally eat them every day lol

    • Mara

      That was the best part of my trip to the old country!!! Food,beer,dessert, beer,food,beer,pastry,beer,etc.
      Can’t wait to go back!
      Latvians always have piragi (bacon rolls) handy in case someone stops by.
      Another popular beer food is rye bread bits toasted in butter (or deep fried)with chopped garlic. All bars serve as appetizers.

  • that beet soup looks amazing! I need to find a recipe for that. Or visit lol

    • I’ll post a recipe later on! :)

  • That cranberry pudding looks spectacular!

    • Mara

      Very easy to make. Make cream of wheat (farina) with cranberry juice. After cooked put in bowl and whip it with electric mixer until very light (approx. 15 mins.)

      • I should try that! Thanks!!

  • Potato pancakes, yes please!

  • Mmmmmm! Give me any of those desserts any day! Great Post!

  • These food photos are beautiful! Love the look of that beet soup :) Never tried one of those before!

    • You should! There’s the same food in Russian cuisine, so in case you never make it to Latvia, you know where else you can try the soup ;)

  • Your post just made me hungry!! Everything looks delicious. When I was living in Oslo my Latvian friend made a Latvian dinner based on a potato dish. It was SO good. He always joked that in Latvia all they eat is potatoes because they’re cheap xD When we went to Latvia the food was such good quality and affordable! Eastern European cuisine is one of my favorites (pancakes!!!).

    • hahahaha, YES, we make jokes about eating potatoes all the time aaaaall the time! :D

  • Meesh

    I have tried almost all. And i loved them. Please write more about cuisines that you liked abroad

  • Miss A

    Great article. All these brought memories back form my childhood! All are delicious and don’t forget biezpiena plācenīši, shuba (borrowed that one from the Russians) and honey cake (medusa kūka)!

    • Oh, I love shuba and honey cakes! Those were my favourite when I was a kid!

  • Gu

    Exactly! It’s just what I think about the Latvian cuisine. The variety is huge and quality is fantastic! If we look at the influences from Germany – all of those dishes are made in Latvia much better and more deliciouse as in Germany, where those specific dishes come from. So if you want to try German food in good quality, go to Latvia :D

  • d.

    Ok, but who said that rye bread comes from Russia??? Latvians have eaten rye from the beginning of the world! It is in our DNA, rye is sacred to Latvian!

  • You had me at “bacon roll”. Wonderful descriptions and photos. So hungry now!

    • Bacon rolls are gooooood… So good that you can’t stop when you eat them hahaha

  • Dace Strautkalne

    Thank you! Excellent story! Just as it is. Especially about eating a lot :)

    • Olga Rabo

      Because food (when it’s good) has to be celebrated in abundance!!

  • Sanita Upe

    But where is štovēti kāposti (stewed sauerkraut cabbage) and mazsālīta cepta siļķe ar kefīru un kartupeļiem(fried salted herring and potatoes with kefir) and Užavas beer and skābputra utt.

    • Olga Rabo

      It’s really unfair that these dishes were missed out, that’s true!!! I’ll update the blog post later on, thanks for your input, Sanita!

  • Aleksejs Ivanovs

    “Tervetes and Bruveris are the best brands in Latvia” << That's just not true. Tervetes is not so good, and Bruveris is made by Aldaris, which is the worst brewing company in Latvia.
    The best beer brands in Latvia are Valmiermuižas, Brālis and Brenguļu. Make sure you try the unfiltered versions of each, those are the best. If you want something cheaper you can try Tervetes, Bauskas or Užavas.

    • Olga Rabo

      Thanks, Aleksejs, I’m gonna include this in the blog post now!

  • Gunta Ubele

    All food is very yammy, but I do not see rye bred soup with whipped cream(maizes zupa ar putukrējumu).

    • Olga Rabo

      Added to the bonus list, check it out! Thanks for your suggestion Gunta :)

  • And here is the image source for the title image – https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigarius/143117450/ ;)

    • Olga Rabo

      Thank you Aigars :)