15 Traditional Latvian Foods & Dishes You Should Try

Pickled herring, rye bread and moonshine!

Traditional Latvian foods incorporate numerous meats, fish and rye bread. Similar to Finnish foods, there’s heavy use of berries and beetroots. These dishes that have been passed down from generations ago reflect upon the harsh winters of northern Europe, but also the accessibility to fresh seafood near the Baltic Sea. Here are some of the popular traditional Latvian foods and dishes travelers will most likely see on a menu in Riga!

Riga Black Balsam

Black Balsam
Black Balsam. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

If you haven’t tried Riga Black Balsam then you haven’t been to Latvia. The world’s oldest bitter brand dates back to 260 years, and was created in an apothecary meant to heal and stored in flasks. Apparently, Russian Empress Catherine the Great stopped by Riga on her way home but fell sick. She was healed after taking the balsam which led to the popularity of the drink in the next 50 years. It’s taken as a shot, it tastes like dark herbal liqueur with a hint of black current.

Pelmeni (dumplings)

Tēvocis Vaņa dumplings
Tēvocis Vaņa dumplings. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

In general, pelmeni is popular throughout northern and eastern Europe. In Latvia, it’s quintessential. These delicious dumplings originate from Russia and are filled with lamb, pork, beef, fish or mushrooms. Since Latvians love sour cream, plates of pelmeni typically come with a generous dollop of sour cream as well!

Aukstā zupa (Latvian cold soup)

Aukstā zupa Latvian soup
PHOTO WENDY HUNG

With a beautiful shade of pink, aukstā zupa is made for beet lovers! Add that with cucumbers, milk sausage, kefir, then top it all with a hard boiled egg. For garnish, chopped scallions and dill are commonly used. This delicious soup is tart and creamy, typically chilled in the fridge for awhile before serving which explains that most summer menus will feature aukstā zupa in most traditional Latvian restaurants.

Herring

Herring Latvian traditional food
PHOTO WENDY HUNG

The most popular category of foods in Latvia has to be seafood, above all else, herring is the go-to fish. Pair that with baked potatoes, and you’ve got an iconic traditional Latvian dish. Herring is often added to milky soups with vegetables. At Central Market, you’ll be able to eat herring with cottage cheese or sour dream.

Garlic rye bread

Ala Pagrabs
Rye bread. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Latvian rye bread, or rupjmaize, is just as essential as pasta in Italy. It’s at the table along with starters and main dishes. Some households will add apple juice to the rye bread for a touch of sweetness. Garlic rye brea, on the other hand, is even better! Latvians use raw garlic on top of rupjmaize since it can better absorb more garlic and oil.

Frikadeļu zupa (meatball soup)

Latvian meat ball soup
INSTAGRAM @this.tasty.thing

Latvian meatball soup consists of beef, lamb, chicken or pork. The broth is quite simple and minimalistic, adding vegetables at times. Some families also add dumplings or noodles in the soup. But this one is particularly hearty and comforting on harsh winter days in the Baltics.

Karbonade

15 Traditional Latvian Foods & Dishes You Should try
Photo by 24kitchen_nl on Instagram

Karbonade is Latvian’s version of wiener schnitzel – thin pork cutlet coated with flour and beaten eggs then fried. There’s a mushroom sauce glazed over slices of pork before the meal. The sides typically include french fries, pickled vegetables, boiled potatoes or, of course, rye bread. If you’re ever invited to a Latvian wedding, there’s probably karbonade being served at the banquet.

Latvian beer

Ala Pagrabs
Ala Pagrabs. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Latvian beer isn’t only prevalent, it’s also delicious and of premium quality! There are two types: pale (gaišais) or dark lagers (tumšais.) Opt for the popular brand Madonas, if you don’t see any microbrews on the menu. Most beer brands aren’t recognized even by beer lovers since Latvian beers are normally made with a shorter shelf life since they’re made without any preservatives. In addition, the names are complicated to remember – for non-Latvian speakers.

Maizes zupa (bread soup)

15 Traditional Latvian Foods & Dishes You Should Try
Photo by ilkrogs on Instagram

Bread soup, or maizes zupa, is made from soggy rye bread. Add it with sugar, spices and dried fruits with whipped cream on top. For fans of bread pudding, maizes zupa would be your jam. This is Latvians way of improvising what to do with leftover rye bread, while balancing its sour taste.

Pelēkie Zirņi

15 Traditional Latvian Foods & Dishes You Should Try
Photo by Labumu.bode on Instagram

It is believed that on New Year’s Eve, the pot of peas must be finished so no one sheds a tear. Pelekie zirni is a Christmas favorite, and often also considered as Latvian’s national dish. This wintery stew is a blend of grey peas (Latvian chickpeas) with fried onions and kefir (fermented milk.) These peas are a staple in Latvian cuisine since they’re full of vintamins B, C, and E.

Kvass

15 Traditional Latvian Foods & Dishes You Should Try
Photo by Jenny McGruther on Instagram

Kvass might be one of the tastiest beverages in the Baltic states. It’s a fermented cereal-based drink that contains low alcohol percentage. Though its color is commonly muted and muddy; the taste can be both acidy and sweet. Back in the day, kvass was made from the flour used to make rye bread, malt and hot water. 12 hours after fermentation, add the combo with sugar and yeast.

Sklandrausis (sweet rye pie)

15 Traditional Latvian Foods & Dishes You Should Try
Photo by Ilzesalna on Instagram

Made from rye, butter and water; sklandrausis is a sweet pie filled with potatoes, carrots, sour cream, eggs, butter, sugar and salt. Often, sklandrausis are served with honey and milk. This vegetable pie (or tart) can also be enjoyed cold with tea. Replacing other heavy and dense pastry options, this one is on the healthy side so you can indulge without an ounce of guilt.

Smoked meat

15 Traditional Latvian Foods & Dishes You Should Try
Photo by SIA Rubeni on Instagram

In the Baltic states, smoked meats are quite popular. In Latvia, SIA Rubeni sure is a favorite as well. These smoked meats are created by using alder firewood, and clean wood chips. The end result is a uniquely fragrant type of smoked sausage ready to be devoured or kept for awhile.

Debesmanna (Latvian cranberry mousse)

15 Traditional Latvian Foods & Dishes You Should Try
Photo by recepsukolekcionars and ozulo bites on Instagram

Debesmanna is a fluffy cranberry mousse, made from farina which is cream of wheat, sugar, milk and water. This Latvian dessert translates to, “celestial farina.” A pretty name for an even prettier dessert. For folks that don’t prefer cranberries, it’s often replaced by cherries, blackberries, strawberries or even pomegranate.

Moonshine

15 Traditional Latvian Foods & Dishes You Should Try
Photo by Baltic Alcohols on Instagram

Moonshine is a big deal in Latvia. Kandža, as locals call it, contains 45–55% alcohol, mostly made from potatoes or grains, yeast, water and sugar. After weeks of fermentation, it’s distilled with wood cooker. At Folkklubs ALA Pagrabs restaurant, there’s a bar downstairs where different flavors of moonshine are served: garlic, horseradish are among the delicious tastes. The restaurant’s owner Krišjānis Putniņš decided to make traditional moonshine from vodka. Now it’s one of the most popular drinks among locals at the tavern.

Wendy Hung

CEO, FOUNDER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and St. Bart's because they were all so different!

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