Just last month I had the pleasure of working as a volunteer at the first Women in Travel Summit Europe in Riga. WITS brings female travel bloggers, influencers and content creators together to network, learn and exchange ideas. And it not just a very useful event, it’s also super fun! Aside from the great keynotes and workshops, there were special events for us to join. The team at Live Riga organized a great kick-off party and tours for us to attend and get to know the city.
Being a major foodie, I of course immediately signed up for the Food Tour. Sights and museums are great, but trying local foods is one my main reasons for traveling. The food tour included a tour around the Central Market in Riga by the famous Latvian chef Martins Sirmais. He showed us typical Latvian products and gave us plenty to taste. At the end of the tour, we visited his restaurant 3 Pavaru Restorans. There we got to try their Insta-famous starter which was like an incredibly tasty painting.
As it turns out, Latvian cuisine is right up my alley: lots of pickled vegetables, rye and cream. It’s sort of like a combination of Eastern and Central European cooking, with Russian and Nordic influences. If you like hearty dishes, Latvian food is for you. And although it is mostly meat and fish based, there are also plenty of delicious vegetarian options. In fact, I was surprised how easy it was to find quality vegetarian food in Riga!
I had a great time exploring the food scene in Riga, both on the Live Riga food tour and on my own. These were my favorite dishes and things you should eat while in Riga:
Forget wheat, rye is the most important grain in Riga. Being half German I grew up eating German rye bread and it’s still my favorite type of bread in the world. There is something about the herby, hearty flavor of rye that just can’t be beat.
Unlike German rye bread, Latvian rye bread is a bit sweet and has a softer crust, which I wasn’t a huge fan of. However, there are lots of different versions as you can see above. A great excuse to try as many different breads as you can 😉
I love pickles. So the Central Market in Riga was like food heaven for me. Because Latvians pickle everything. From different types of cabbage to whole tomatoes and garlic bulbs. I have to admit that the pickled garlic was a bit strong, even for my pickle and garlic loving taste buds.
But all the pickled cabbages were delicious. They’re all different colors and flavors, depending on what’s added to the pickling liquid. Beetroot juice makes the cabbage sweet and pink, while turmeric makes it spicy and yellow.
As you walk through the market there is a whole section dedicated to heaps of pickles. Doesn’t it look so pretty?
You know how every cuisine has their version of a dumpling? So do the Latvians. Latvian dumplings are a bit like a mix between ravioli and pierogi. There are different versions with meat, fish, cheese and vegetables. Adn they come either boiled in broth or deep fried.
You can get dumplings at different restaurants, but there’s one place that specialises in them: XL Pelmeni. This is where locals go for a drunk meal in the middle of the night. But they’re also open during the day of course. You serve yourself and pay for the dumplings by weight. So basically like Latvian fast food but a lot healthier. It’s a great budget option for a quick lunch or dinner.
Latvians have a real sweet tooth and there are cafe’s everywhere selling delicious cakes and pastries. And you can find chocolatiers all around the city as well.
But my favorite treat in Riga were Karums. They look like little cakes, but are actually cheesecake bites. They’re not overly sweet and a little tangy, like a yogurt flavor and coated in chocolate. You can get them in any supermarket and they come in tons of different flavors. My favorite was the caramel one, which had a caramel coating instead of chocolate. They have to be kept refrigerated and eaten quickly as they start to melt a little, so they’re not a great travel snack. But you should definitely try them when you want to indulge in a little sweet treat.
Balsam & rye drink
Latvians are big on beer, but it’s not the drink they’re famous for. The national drink of Latvia is Black Balsam, a liquor infused with botanicals. The infused spirit is mixed with honey, caramel and natural juices before being bottled in a clay bottle. It has a really interesting flavor, almost like a super concentrated fruit liquor.
You can drink balsam on the rocks, straight mixed with water or my favorite: hot. Hot Balsam is basically Latvias take on mulled wine. It is warm, fruity and spicy and the perfect drink for cold weather.
Another typical Latvian drink is Kvass. It’s made from fermented rye, but has less than 1.2% alcohol. So it’s considered non-alcoholic. The taste is really interesting and unlike any other soft drink you’ve ever had. It’s similar to stout or triple Belgian beer, but softer, sweeter and without the alcohol. If you’re a fan of dark beers, you’ll probably like Kvass. I thought it was really good and a great non-alcoholic option if you still want to feel like you’re drinking beer.
As you can tell, there’s plenty to taste in Riga. What’s your take on Latvian food? Excited to try it for yourself? Tell me about your favorite Latvian foods in the comment.
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