How much do you know about Latvian food?
Before arriving in Riga, we barely knew anything about food in Latvia. We had heard of the dark rye bread people love to eat, but that was pretty much all.
As we soon learned, Latvian cuisine has a lot to offer. You will find delicious soups, smoked fish, fantastic drinks and even desserts made with dark rye bread.
Sampling Latvian food is easy as you can get traditional dishes in restaurants all over the country. Find out which specialities you have to try and which desserts are worth ordering:
Top 17 Traditional Food in Latvia
#1 Grey peas and bacon
During your trip, make sure to try the national dish of Latvia – grey peas and bacon. Did you know that Latvian grey peas have been entered into the register of EU national products and symbolise wealth and vitality in folklore?
Grey peas and bacon are especially popular in winter when they make for a hearty, filling dish. Eating a bowl of these peas will warm you up from the inside and give you the energy you need to keep exploring the country.
Sampling grey peas and bacon is easy, as you will find the dish on many menus all over the country. If you have the choice, go for the big peas. Two varieties exist, a smaller one and a bigger one. While the big peas are more traditional, they are harder to grow and are becoming increasingly rare.
But even if you can only find the small grey peas, we are sure that you will love this dish.If you want to recreate Latvian dishes at home, we recommend
#2 Rye bread
Rupjmaize, Latvian rye bread, is a staple that you will find all over the country. This bread has a dark brown colour and consists of rye flour, malt and caraway seeds. The mixture of flavours makes this one of the most intense types of bread we’ve ever tasted.
Being German, I love bread with a strong flavour and therefore absolutely loved rupjmaize. We often ordered a slice or two as a side dish, to eat with our dinner. Also, we had garlic fried rye breadsticks served with cheese sauce. While it might sound a bit weird at first, this is the perfect snack to eat in a bar! If you find them on the menu, make sure to order them.
#3 Smoked fish
If you look at Latvia’s long coastline, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that Latvians like eating fish. Initially, locals smoked the fish to preserve it. Today, they keep up with this tradition because they enjoy the taste.
If you try Latvian smoked fish, you will understand why this local delicacy is popular. The smoky flavour combines well with the taste of local fish like herring, pike, plaice or cod.
You can find smoked fish in most fishing villages along the coast. If you don’t have the time to visit these, head to the Riga Central Market. Here, you can buy and sample various types of fish and seafood. Or, if you want to taste Latvian smoked fish at home, you can find smoked sprats in oil on Amazon.
#4 Cabbage soup
You can find cabbage soup in many countries of Central, Eastern and Northern Europe.
In Latvia, this soup is called skābu kāpostu zupa, and it consists of sauerkraut boiled with potatoes, carrots and groats. You can also sometimes find a variation that includes bacon, and when we ate it, the chef served it in a hollow bread.
Just like grey peas, cabbage soup is the perfect dish to eat in winter when you want to warm up. This hearty dish will leave you satisfied and wanting for more.
If you’re visiting in summer and eating soup doesn’t sound right, order sauerkraut as a side dish. You will find this fermented cabbage on many menus around the country, so make sure to try it before you leave.
#5 Potato pancakes
Have you ever had potato pancakes?
You can find potato pancakes in many European countries (including on Lithuanian menus and at German Christmas markets), and Latvians also have their own version. We ate excellent potato pancakes in a restaurant in Riga, and we highly recommend that you try finding them during your visit.
Potato pancakes can come with various toppings. Ours had smoked salmon on top, which is a perfect combination, but sour cream and speck sauce are also a popular topping.
#6 Latvian meatballs
Meatballs, also called kotletes, are a popular dish in Latvian cuisine. Besides minced meat, these usually contain white bread soaked in milk, which makes them softer and juicier.
When you see Latvian meatballs on a menu, they often come with potatoes and sauerkraut. If you haven’t ordered it yet, this is another chance to try Latvian sauerkraut.
#7 Rye bread soup
The concept of a rye bread soup, known as maizes zupa in Latvian, might sound strange at first. But bread soup is one of Latvia’s most famous desserts and one of the must-try dishes on your trip to the country.
For making bread soup, locals use stale rye bread that they soak in boiling water. Sugar and dried fruit like apples, plums, and raisins give the pudding its sweetness.
You will often find maizes zupa with cream on top. If you want to try this unusual dessert, then you shouldn’t have to look around for long. Most restaurants in Riga (and in many other towns across the country) serve rye bread pudding.
Have you ever had Latvian dumplings?
Pelmeni originally came from Russia but are now a fixed item on many Latvian menus. The filling varies, and you can find them either stuffed with meat (pork, beef, lamb etc.) or with fish or mushrooms. Ours swam in a broth, but a fried variation also exists.Latvia isn’t the only Baltic country where locals love pelmeni. You can also
Pelmeni usually come with sour cream, a popular Latvian ingredient that you will find in many dishes.
#9 Pearl Barley Risotto
We came across this unusual dish in the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Riga, a restaurant and bar where we enjoyed fantastic food.
Latvian cuisine is rich in locally grown food, including potatoes, mushrooms, berries and various grains. One of them is barley, which you can find in soups, as a base for porridge or, also, as a base for risotto.
The risotto also included onions, smoked meat and sour cream, which combined to a hearty and delicious flavour. While this dish will warm you up in winter, we are convinced that you can eat it all year long. It is certainly tasty enough!
#10 Pork hock
Historically, pork was the cheapest meat in Latvia. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise you that it is also the most popular meat in the country. You can find lots of pork-based dishes in Latvia.
We already mentioned the meatballs above. Another great pork dish, especially if you’re hungry, is pork hock. The roasted pork is usually crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, and the portion normally so big that you’ll feel like you will never be able to eat again.
As you’re in Latvia, try to order the pork hock with a traditional side dish, like potatoes and sauerkraut. Yes, we know we keep mentioning cabbage, but it’s such a popular staple that we really think you should try it before leaving the country.
#11 Layered rye bread
If you ask me, rupjmaizes kārtojums, or layered rye bread, is one of the best desserts you can find in Latvia. I loved this dish even more than the bread soup we mentioned above.
Just like bread pudding, rupjmaizes kārtojums contains rye bread, layered with cream and jam. The dessert almost resembles a trifle but prepared in a very Latvian way.
The rye bread you need for rupjmaizes kārtojums has to be dry and toasted, so you can finely grate it. The crumbs are then usually mixed with sugar and cinnamon. Whipped cream gives additional sweetness, while the jams used are often a bit more tart or sour.
Popular preserves that we saw included blackcurrant and lingonberry. Their tartness contrasts very well with the sweet whipped cream, and the unique flavour of the rye bread binds everything together. Rupjmaizes kārtojums is unlike any dessert we’ve ever seen before, so make sure to try it when visiting Latvia.
#12 Beer snacks
I am not the biggest fan of beer, but I love the snacks that Latvians like to order with their beer. One popular dish that we already mentioned above is the garlic bread. These are breadsticks fried with garlic, which are incredibly delicious if you dip them into a cheese sauce.
Latvia is also home to tasty cheeses and cold meats. If you go to a bar, you can sometimes order a selection of those, together with some slices of rye bread. We also saw jams made from local berries. While I don’t know how well these go with beer, their sweetness combines exceptionally well with the dark bread.
#13 Sea buckthorn
Sea buckthorn is a plant that, as the name reveals, grows close to the sea. It produces small, orange berries that taste extremely sour if you eat them directly from the plant.
I had tried sea buckthorn in Northern Germany before (it grows naturally along our coastlines) but had no idea that it also existed in Latvia. And while it is not very popular in my home country, I discovered it on quite a few menus in the Baltics.
Sea buckthorn is an ingredient you can sometimes find in desserts and drinks (especially the tea cocktails we mention further below). It also tastes very well when turned into a jam. Therefore, if you see it on the menu, go for it. This is your chance to try these very healthy berries.
#14 Riga Black Balsam
One of the most typical drinks you can get in Riga is the Riga Black Balsam. This strong alcohol is made from herbs, and the liquid is just as black as the name suggests.
The original recipe dates back to 1752 and, even today, only the master distiller and his apprentices know the exact way of making the liquor.
You can find Riga Black Balsam all over the Old Town of Riga, so you shouldn’t have a problem hunting it down for a tasting. We even got two glasses for free when we ordered food from a restaurant.
The herbal bitter is quite strong, so if, like me, you prefer something milder, you can also opt for a cocktail that contains Riga Black Balsam.
When I was a child, we used to have a jar of kefir in the fridge. My parents would regularly collect the drink and then fill up the grains with milk to make more kefir.
Eventually, the kefir grains died, and I didn’t really drink kefir anymore. That is why I was very excited to re-discover this drink of my childhood in Latvia!
We found kefir on many menus all over the country. This thick milk drink is perfect for washing down a hearty meal. Plus, it is supposed to be quite healthy! If you don’t regularly get to drink kefir, then Latvia is the perfect place to try it.
Imagine a drink made of fermented rye bread.
That is kvass, and it tastes much more delicious than it sounds.
Kvass is made by boiling rye bread in water and then letting it sit until it ferments. Usually, bread and water are not the only ingredients, and you will also find fruit, like raisins or apples in there. These give the drink a sweet component. We promise, no matter how unusual it sounds, kvass is a great drink that you should try at least once when visiting Latvia.
Initially, by the way, kvass came from Russia. It became popular in many countries in Central and Eastern Europe and even spread as far as Western China, where local Uyghur enjoy drinking it.
#17 Tea cocktails
Tea cocktails might not be the most traditional item on this list. But as we’ve seen them in a few cafes in Latvia, and they are quite delicious, we decided to include them here.
Tea cocktails consist of tea and then a variety of other ingredients, usually juice and various fruit. I had a delicious hot cup of a drink which contained sea buckthorn in Riga. If you’re visiting in winter, these tea cocktails are a great way to get warm and enjoy a tasty beverage at the same time. And if you’re there in summer, and it’s a hot day, don’t worry. Many cafes will also sell you a cold tea cocktail.
We hope you now have an overview of typical Latvian dishes that you can try on your next trip. This list is, of course, not complete, so if you discover any other foods that you loved, please let us know in the comments below.
One of the best things to do in Latvia, if you want to discover new dishes, is to go into a traditional restaurant and ask a waiter for advice. They will be able to point out their favourite Latvian dishes on the menu.
If you’re travelling to Latvia, we also have lots of other resources that will help you plan your trip. Go and check them out:
- The best things to do in Latvia
- What to do and see in Riga
- How to spend a perfect day in the medieval town of Cesis
- Discover three castles in one day in Sigulda
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