FOOD LATVIA

Traditional Latvian Cuisine: What’s In The Menu?


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?

Traditional Latvian Food:
What’s in The Menu?

Traditional Latvian cuisine: What's in the menu?

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, traditional Latvian cuisine has a lot of foreign elements. Germans eat sauerkraut – Latvians eat sauerkraut. Swedes eat yellow pea soup – Latvians eat that 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 A LOT of it, accompanied with pork in aspic, herring in a jacket, caraway cheese with rye bread, pearl barley with hazelnuts….

So in other words, to eat like a Latvian is to eat in abundance.

You eat until your stomach starts hurting.

And when 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.

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.

Latvian traditional food is Sklandrauši

Sklandrauši, a traditional Latvian appetizer. Photo: Laura Kalnroze

 

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!

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.

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.

Herring with cottage cheese and potatoes. Photo: IEVAS receptes

 

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!

Rye bread dessert is a traditional Latvian dessert

Layered rye bread dessert is one of the most traditional Latvian desserts. Photo: Viesturs Masteiko. Source: Lindas Virtuve

 

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%).

 

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)

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)

Over to you!
Have you tried any dish from traditional Latvian cuisine?

45 Comments

  • Reply
    hassan
    April 15, 2015 at 8:48 am

    mmmmmm!

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 15, 2015 at 8:58 am

      I know, right? Yummy!

  • Reply
    Eden
    April 16, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    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

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 17, 2015 at 2:44 am

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

  • Reply
    Roaming Renegades
    April 17, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    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.

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 18, 2015 at 1:54 am

      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!

  • Reply
    Danka
    April 18, 2015 at 8:45 am

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

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 18, 2015 at 10:43 am

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

  • Reply
    Carol Colborn
    April 18, 2015 at 8:55 am

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

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 18, 2015 at 10:42 am

      You won’t regret it!

  • Reply
    Andrea
    April 18, 2015 at 9:13 am

    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!

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 18, 2015 at 10:41 am

      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

  • Reply
    Vicky and Buddy
    April 18, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    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 ;)

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 19, 2015 at 11:28 am

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

  • Reply
    mary
    April 18, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 19, 2015 at 11:33 am

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

    • Reply
      Mara
      April 28, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      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.

  • Reply
    Joe Ankenbauer
    April 19, 2015 at 1:15 am

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

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 19, 2015 at 3:37 am

      I’ll post a recipe later on! :)

  • Reply
    Brianna
    April 19, 2015 at 9:06 am

    That cranberry pudding looks spectacular!

    • Reply
      Mara
      April 28, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      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.)

      • Reply
        Olga
        April 29, 2015 at 1:56 am

        I should try that! Thanks!!

  • Reply
    Gemma Two Scots Abroad
    April 19, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Potato pancakes, yes please!

  • Reply
    Jess
    April 19, 2015 at 3:03 pm

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

  • Reply
    Alli
    April 20, 2015 at 8:42 am

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

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 21, 2015 at 2:11 am

      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 ;)

  • Reply
    Alejandra
    April 21, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    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!!!).

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 22, 2015 at 2:30 am

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

  • Reply
    Meesh
    April 28, 2015 at 12:36 am

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

  • Reply
    Miss A
    April 28, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    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)!

    • Reply
      Olga
      April 29, 2015 at 1:55 am

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

  • Reply
    Gu
    April 30, 2015 at 4:07 am

    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

  • Reply
    d.
    May 1, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    melody pittman
    May 23, 2015 at 6:05 pm

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

    • Reply
      Olga
      May 24, 2015 at 1:54 am

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

  • Reply
    Dace Strautkalne
    August 12, 2015 at 10:35 pm

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

    • Reply
      Olga Rabo
      August 13, 2015 at 3:29 am

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

  • Reply
    Sanita Upe
    August 13, 2015 at 6:27 am

    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.

    • Reply
      Olga Rabo
      August 13, 2015 at 8:56 am

      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!

  • Reply
    Aleksejs Ivanovs
    August 13, 2015 at 8:04 am

    “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.

    • Reply
      Olga Rabo
      August 13, 2015 at 8:55 am

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

  • Reply
    Gunta Ubele
    August 16, 2015 at 10:04 am

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

    • Reply
      Olga Rabo
      August 17, 2015 at 2:23 am

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

  • Reply
    Aigars Mahinovs
    September 4, 2015 at 12:03 pm

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

    • Reply
      Olga Rabo
      September 4, 2015 at 1:40 pm

      Thank you Aigars :)

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