Nestled in the heart of the Baltics, Latvia is a country where tradition and modernity blend seamlessly, and this is strikingly reflected in its cuisine. Latvia’s food culture embodies the simplicity of nature, with a focus on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients and time-honoured culinary techniques. Let’s take a journey through the five main cuisines of Latvia.
Rye bread, or ‘rupjmaize’, is a cornerstone of Latvian cuisine. With a history spanning over a thousand years, this dense and dark bread is made from whole rye grain and has a distinctive sour flavour. Not just a staple food, rye bread is deeply woven into Latvia’s cultural fabric, symbolizing the nation’s resilience and connection to the earth.
Grey Peas with Bacon:
Regarded as Latvia’s national dish, grey peas with bacon, or ‘pelēkie zirņi ar speķi’, is a comforting and hearty meal. The grey peas, unique to the Baltic region, are cooked until tender, then mixed with crispy bacon and onions. This dish, typically served during the cold winter months or on festive occasions, is a culinary homage to Latvia’s agricultural heritage.
Sklandrausis is a traditional Latvian pie with a sweet-sour filling that is both unusual and delicious. The pie has a thin rye crust filled with a layer of mashed potatoes and a topping of finely grated carrots, seasoned with caraway seeds and sweetened with honey. This unique dish, which enjoys the status of ‘protected cultural heritage’ by the EU, is a testament to Latvia’s innovative use of humble, locally-sourced ingredients.
Cold Beetroot Soup:
Known as ‘aukstā biešu zupa’ in Latvian, this vibrant, pink soup is a summertime favourite. Made with grated beetroot, fresh cucumbers, boiled eggs, dill, and often a dollop of sour cream, the soup is served chilled, offering a refreshing burst of flavours that is both healthy and satisfying.
Karbonāde, or breaded pork cutlets, is a beloved dish across Latvia. The pork is marinated, coated in breadcrumbs, and pan-fried until golden. Often served with boiled potatoes or a fresh salad, karbonāde is a simple yet delightful meal that underscores the Latvians’ affinity for pork.
Latvia are a tribute to the nation’s agrarian roots, the changing seasons, and its cultural traditions. From the ubiquitous rye bread that anchors every meal, the warming grey peas with bacon, the unique sklandrausis pie, to the refreshing cold beetroot soup and the satisfying karbonāde, each dish offers a glimpse into the country’s rich culinary tapestry.
Experiencing Latvian cuisine is a journey that transcends beyond taste. It’s an exploration of Latvia’s bountiful landscapes, a narrative of its history, and an insight into the lives of its people. As you break a piece of rye bread or savour a spoonful of grey peas with bacon, you’re not just partaking in a meal, you’re stepping into a millennia-old tradition of food and storytelling, where each dish is a delicious chapter of Latvia’s culinary saga.