They may not be an obvious choice, but it’s not difficult to see why the Baltic states have been on the rise as European travel destinations: Latvia and its neighbours are cheap and easy to roam, they offer a little bit of everything – from history to nature, beaches and cultural traditions to adventure… AND Latvian food is delicious! In fact, along with Riga’s colourful medieval Old Town, Latvia’s culinary specialties might just be one of its strongest selling-points.
Need convincing? Here are 5 Latvian dishes you should put on the menu!
Must-Try Latvian Foods
1. Cold Soup
If you’re visiting Latvia in the sunny season, you probably won’t be able to avoid it: cold soup is the summer staple of Latvian food. This pink concoction made of beet, dill, small cucumber cubes, and slices of boiled egg is as light and refreshing as it gets.
Don’t be put off by the flashy colour or the strange mixture of ingredients: even non-beetroot-lovers are likely to be won over by this creamy, soft preparation.
2. Pearl Barley Risotto
A risotto only by name, this barley-based dish is another of Latvia’s surprisingly subtle and flavourful traditional fares. Served on its own or as a side, this risotto enriched with smoked meat, onions, and cream may have little to do with the rice version, but it is no less scrumptious!
Pelmeni are the Latvian variety of dumplings or ravioli found in most of Eastern Europe. Of Russian origin, they can be filled with minced meat (pork, lamb, beef, or any other kind of meat), fish, or mushrooms, and come accompanied with generous helpings of another Latvian food favorite: sour cream. They’re as yummy as they’re ubiquitous, and make for a perfect snack at all times!
4. Rye Bread
Forget plain toast or white wheat: in Latvia, your daily bread comes black and made of tasty sourdough rye, a cereal that grows abundantly in Nordic and Baltic countries. It’s particularly healthy and nutritious, but beware: you might get addicted to its strong flavour, and your regular bread may start to taste a little bland in comparison!
5. Grey Peas and Bacon
Bacon is always a winner, and its pairing with one of Latvia’s most emblematic ingredients, grey peas, makes for no exception! Add onions into the mix and you have yourself a hearty savoury meal.
This is Latvia’s national dish (it even earned European protection), and comfort food at its best.
What About Latvian Drinks?
As someone who doesn’t like beer, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of drinks available in Latvia. Don’t get me wrong: if you’re into your lagers and ales, you won’t be disappointed. But if, like me, you prefer a good wine or cider, Latvia also caters for you. In fact, it even has its own champagne!
So for a full experience, don’t forget to wash down your Latvian food with traditional local beer or cider, a glass of Riga champagne…or even Latvia’s (in)famous spirit, Balsam liqueur (if you’re not really into strong drinks, try the blackcurrant flavoured version, it’s my favourite)!
My Favourite Restaurant to Try Latvian Food in Riga
I’ll let you in on a secret: the number one reason I love Latvia, and particularly Riga, is because one of my top hangouts in the world is there! When I’m in the city, it’s hard to pull me out of Folkklubs ALA Pagrabs‘s basement!
More than a restaurant, it’s a Baltic-style gastro pub, an underground medieval tavern, and – as its name suggests – a folk club. The ambience is at once warm, inviting, and exciting, as the large venue is divided into different rooms, each with its own atmosphere. There’s a quieter library section, a wide bar area in the middle of the vaulted space, and a stage where performers (often joined by customers!) dance to the sound of traditional music.
Folkklubs serves all of the dishes listed in this post, together with an extensive drinks menu. For a fun introduction to Latvia, its food, and its capital, I strongly advise you make it one of your first stops when you reach Riga!
Have you tried any of these dishes? What Latvian food sounds the most appealing? I love hearing your thoughts, so let me know in a comment below! 🙂
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