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Get to know the best Latvian food, drink, and desserts to try at home or on your future trips to Latvia.
Cold countries with tough climates and rugged landscapes have a wonderful habit of developing hearty cuisines made from belly-filling carbohydrates and meats, as well as a love of forest-floor foraging. Latvia is no different. This Baltic country’s cuisine is full of good fish and mushrooms, with a penchant for pickling everything. These are the hearty Latvian foods and iconic drinks to enjoy by the fireside with friends.
In this guide to Latvian food, you’ll learn about the country’s most beloved and classic soups, breads, meaty meals, and some unique Latvian desserts. We’ll provide you with all you need to order a three-course meal at a restaurant in Riga, as well as the best Latvian alcohol to accompany your dinner.
Let’s start with some traditional Latvian foods and meals, then we’ll move on to Latvian soups, desserts, and drinks.
Hearty Latvian Foods
With Latvia being a country that sits at the edge of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga, there are plenty of unique fish-focussed dishes in that wealth of unique Latvian foods. But, if fish isn’t your favourite, Latvians also love their breads and carbs; they pickle almost everything; and they enjoy foraging for the best fresh local Latvian mushrooms for their heartiest dishes.
1) Pelmeni Dumplings
This is one of several Latvian foods which shares its roots, and even its name, with a Russian counterpart. The name pelmeni derives from the ear-like shape of the dumplings themselves.
Pelmeni dumplings, like any dumplings you might find in Poland, China or Japan, comprise two parts: a dough casing and a meaty filling. That meat is usually beef or pork (or a mix of the two) and the finished dumplings are usually bite-sized or a little larger. A plate of pelmeni dumplings makes for a tasty and filling lunch.
2) Dark Rye Bread (Rumpjmaize)
Dark rye bread is a food that can be found all over Eastern Europe and Russia, including Latvia’s neighbouring countries: Estonia and Lithuania. It’s a very healthy, hearty, and filling bread with a uniquely bitter flavour.
Rumpjmaize is a staple part of the Latvian diet and, like rice in Japan, is often seen served with every single meal. For an added drop of sweetness, apple juice is often used in the recipe for Latvian dark rye bread.
Often paired with the popular side dish known as grikl (buckwheat), karbonade is a uniquely Latvian dish which will look familiar to anyone who has ever enjoyed an Austrian wiener schnitzel (Viennese cutlet).
Latvian karbonade is a thinly-sliced pork cutlet, coated with flour and eggs. It’s one more uniquely Latvian food but one which, in Latvia, is a very commonly enjoyed main dish, often made in the family home but also enjoyed in iconic restaurants like Lidos.
4) Pelēkie Zirņi
Literally meaning ‘grey peas’, pelekie zirni isn’t only another uniquely Latvian food; it is also Latvia’s national dish. While they’re farmed and cooked in abundance in Latvia, pelekie zirni aren’t often seen outside of the Baltics and, so, are a truly unique Latvian food.
A popular traditional Latvian Christmas dish is to serve grey peas with bacon. But pelekie zirni can also be found as part of a range of different home cooked meals in Latvia. You’ll often find grey peas on the side of a dish with a meaty centerpiece.
We mentioned just above that pelekie zirni (grey peas) are traditionally served with bacon for a proper Latvian Christmas (this dish is known as pelekie zirni ar speck). That bacon is also a uniquely Latvian food known as speck. Put simply, speck is smoked bacon made from pork belly.
Compared to the bacon often seen and enjoyed in North America, speck is a particularly fatty form of bacon. That fat, especially at Christmastime, is especially useful for rural farmers and workers who would need extra energy and insulation.
latvian drinks riga blackRead More: 10nique Things to Do in Riga, Latvia
Satisfying Latvian Soups
As we’ve already mentioned, colder nations love warm, satisfying, filling soups, and all three of the Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — have a knack for putting together some of the heartiest soups known to man. Here are three unique Latvian soups for you to try when you visit Riga, or any other town in Latvia.
6) Aukstā zupa
This is an exciting, intriguing, and unique Latvian food (although, for clarity, this dish can also be found and enjoyed in Lithuania). Auksta zupa is a soup which, at first glance, may put people off. American tourists often liken its appearance to pepto bismol.
Stick with it, however, because auksta zupa is utterly delicious. It is a sweet cold soup made from beets and kefir (hence the vibrant pink colour). To add some richness to the dish, dill and spring onions are also found in auktsa zupa.
7) Frikadeļu zupa
A favourite dish for many Latvians, frikadelu zupa is a Latvian meatball soup. As with many, many Latvian dishes, frikadelu zupa is usually served with a side of rye bread and a generous mound of sour cream.
Though the meatballs themselves (usually made from beef) are the main ingredient, frikadelu zupa also consists of carrot and potato chunks, and seasoned with pepper and the aforementioned sour cream. It’s a simple dish; hearty and beloved in Latvia.
8) Skābeņu zupa
At first glance, skabenu zupa looks an awful lot like a hearty bowl of Japanese ramen (sans the noodles). And that isn’t actually far off. This is a Latvian soup made with beef stock, sliced pork, barley, onions, potatoes, and a hard boiled egg. The bubbly broth, with meat and eggs visible on the surface, certainly is reminiscent of ramen.
Indulgent Latvian Desserts
When we think of desserts, our mind’s eye often flits to countries like France and Italy, but Latvia offers a surprisingly deep and satisfying tradition of good local desserts for you to try. It’s surprising how many countries have local desserts that feel like suspiciously kept secrets (Romania is another fine example; their desserts are wonderful). Here are three delicious Latvian desserts for you to enjoy.
9) Maizes zupa
You’ve probably noticed by now that the Latvian word zupa means soup. And so, yes, technically maizes zupa is a soup. But it is a very sweet soup and, therefore, is traditionally served as a Latvian dessert.
Budding linguists will also note the similarity between maizes and maize. This is a bread soup, made from Latvian rye bread which is fed through a sieve and mixed with dried fruits, sugar, and various spices before being served cold.
10) Rye Bread Pudding
By now, you can probably see the abundance of rye bread in Latvian cuisine for yourself. Not only is rye bread served as a side in many dishes, but it is also used as an ingredient in soup and pudding. For clarity, the name ‘rye bread pudding’ is also sometimes attributed to the above maizes zupa; the Latvian name for this dish is rupjmaizes kārtojums, and it most closely resembles an English trifle.
The rye bread used in the pudding is first turned into breadcrumbs, and layers of blackcurrant jam and whipped cream are then added to create the trifle shape. You’ll often find cinnamon and dark chocolate added for even more flavour.
This is another strikingly pink Latvian food. This time, it’s fruit which makes it pink, rather than beets. Debesmanna is a Latvian dessert made from cream of wheat and berries (usually cranberries, hence the pink colour).
For an English name, debesmanna could be called a cranberry mousse, and is made — as we mentioned — with farina (cream of wheat), cranberries, sugar, and either milk or water. What you’re then served is a sweet, vibrant pink mousse.
Iconic Latvian Drinks
Latvia is a great country to visit for people who love a good drink, and there are a few local drinks that are a must-try when you visit Latvia. You may have already come across at least one of these Latvian drinks before; they’re arguably more famous than most of the Latvian food we’ve mentioned so far.
12) Riga Black Balsam (Melnais Balzāms)
Here’s one Latvian drink that needs no introduction. Riga Black Balsam is, possibly, Latvia’s most well-known export. In case you aren’t familiar, however, Riga Black is a liqueur which comes in several flavours, the most popular of which being blackcurrant and cherry.
Riga Black Balsam works well served over ice, or as a key ingredient in a variety of different cocktails. These include a Black & Stormy, a Cherry Soda, and a Hot Lullaby. Because Riga Black Balsam also comes in an espresso flavour, you can use that to make an Espresso Martini.
Don’t forget to say cheers! Priekā
Rye bread rears its lovely head yet again. Kvass is an iconic Latvian drink that can also be found right across the Baltic and Slavic nations. Kvass typically has a very low alcohol content of less than 1% (as such, it is not classified as an alcoholic beverage in most Easten European countries).
Because it is made from fermented dark rye bread, Kvass has a naturally dark colour, and it is often mixed with berries for added sweetness. Despite being incredibly popular in Russia, kvass is also a commonplace and beloved Latvian drink as well.
This post was created in collaboration with Magnetic Latvia and Traverse Events as part of the #TasteOfLatvia campaign.
You can visit Magnetic Latvia for all the information you need about Latvian travel and culture.