“The glutton is the least honorable individual when it comes to gastronomy, because he ignores its principle element: the sublime art of it is in chewing!”
Honoré de Balzac
Latvia is situated in northern Europe, bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south and Russia to the east, and the influence of each of these countries has always been present in the Latvian capital. In order to get to know Riga – the city our team will visit mid-July – a little better, and to observe how it is influenced by other countries, we bring you a post focusing on one of the strongest pillars of international culture: gastronomy.
The Royal Spanish Academy defines gastronomy as “the art of preparing a good meal,” “the affinity for eating well,” and “the combination of typical dishes and culinary traditions that characterize a specific place.” We, just like the RAE, understand that gastronomy is nothing without an artist, an affinity and above all, one’s own culture. As a result, in this post, we’ll take a closer look into Latvian culture through its gastronomy, as seen through its most characteristic dishes, desserts and drinks.
Although many countries identify with one representative or characteristic dish, we can’t say the same about Latvia. Latvian gastronomy is strongly influenced by its coasts and rivers, and for this reason, it shouldn’t seem strange that its fish-based dishes (mainly consisting of salmon and trout) are in highest demand. It’s important to note that Latvians also eat a lot of meat, pork above all.
In Riga, much like in the majority of the region, the influence of neighboring countries is notable, as many of the region’s most popular dishes boast a fusion of cultures. Key examples include: pīrāgi (bacon and legume turnovers with a Russian origin), palmeni (a type of ravioli from Germany), and blinis (salty crepes imported from Poland).
In addition, Latvian cuisine commonly features a large variety of soups, which boast both vegetable and meat bases, along with potatoes, eggs and grains.
On the contrary, Latvia does identify with a key traditional dessert known as Alexander Torte, a small puff pastry with strawberries, blackberries, cherries, blueberries and raspberries.
And, just as in cultures worldwide, chocolate pastries are all the rage.
In order to digest all of these lovely delicacies, we can’t forget about the national beverage: Melnais Balzam, or Black Balsam, a herb-based liquor produced since 1700 via a secret recipe that supposedly has medicinal properties. It can be drunk by itself or mixed with coffee or tea. Finally, Latvia also has its own beer brewery, in which the main brand Aldaris is featured.
We can confirm that gastronomy is a human being’s relationship with his or her surroundings, meaning it is a different, more enjoyable way to get to know and experience other cultures. We hope that after you’ve read this post, you’ll have the same desire and excitement to visit (and eat through) Riga, as well as to learn about this beautiful city through its irreplaceable culinary tradition.
In order to spike your appetite, we’ve compiled a list of the most typical dishes that pertain to the region.
- Pīrāgi: Typical dish that consists of a puff pastry filled with onion and bacon.
- Pelmeni: Very similar to Italian ravioli. Essentially, pasta filled with minced meat.
- Zirņi ar Speķi: A stew featuring peas, bacon, onion, pepper and curdled milk.
- Putraimdesas: Sausages with barley.
- Zirņu Pikas: Meatballs made with grey peas, bacon, bacon, onion and butter.
- Skābu Kāpostu Zupa: A soup made of cabbage, carrot, sour cream, onion and pork.
- Rupjmaizes Kārtojums: A traditional Latvian dessert with a rye base and topped with blueberries, heavy cream, sugar and cinnamon.
- Sklandu Rauši: Carrot and potato tartlets (similar to a minced pie).
Translated by: Kirstin Meyerhoeffer