The countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania lie along the coast of the Baltic Sea and make up what is commonly referred to as the Baltic States. The cuisine of the Baltics reflects influences from Scandinavia as well as Russia since the region was under Soviet rule for a long time.
Barley, potatoes, beets, dairy, rye, mushrooms, and berries are some of the common ingredients you’ll find in Baltic cuisine. Meat and heavy dishes are popular, especially during the cold winter months.
The region experiences four seasons, and the cuisine varies based on the ingredients in season at the time. Flavors tend to be simple, especially in Latvia where common spices include dill, caraway seeds, salt, and pepper. In Lithuania, seasonings like mustard seed, dill, caraway seed, garlic, and bay leaf are commonly used.
If you’re visiting the Baltic region on your upcoming travels, here are a few of the key foods to try:
Potatoes are at the forefront of the dishes you’ll find in Lithuania, and Zeppelins, or Cepelinai, are considered the national dish of Lithuania. They are basically large potato dumplings filled with pork and topped with sour cream and bacon.
Dark Rye Bread
Rye is a very popular ingredient in the Baltics, and the rye bread is worth eating every chance you get. Buy a big loaf in the local market and bring it back with you, as the bread here is pretty special. Try deep-fried rye bread in Lithuania and look for it in drinks like Kvass in Latvia, or Gira in Lithuania.
Made from beetroot and other ingredients like onion, carrot, and potatoes, beetroot soup can be found all over the region. During the summer, you’ll find the cold version, often containing small cucumber pieces and slices of boiled eggs. During winter, enjoy the hot version which is often more hearty, especially if its served with potatoes.
Räim is Baltic dwarf herring, which is very popular in Estonia. It’s a subspecies of the Atlantic herring and is leaner than its Atlantic counterpart. Look for it on nearly every menu, prepared in a variety of ways.
This sweet pie is popular in Latvia. Sklandrausis is made with rye flour and is filled with potato and carrots, then seasoned with caraway. It’s such a unique dish; it’s been granted “Traditional Specialty Guaranteed” status by the European Commission.
If you visit one of the local food markets, you’ll see entire booths devoted to pickled foods. Purchase items like dill pickles, cabbage, onions, carrots, and beets. These are inexpensive and absolutely delicious.
Aside from beverages made with rye like Kvass or Gira, be sure to seek out local liqueurs and even craft beer. Lithuania has a huge craft beer scene, many of which cannot be purchased outside of the country. Try herbal liqueurs like Black Balsam in Latvia, Krupnikas, a grain-based spirit with honey popular in Lithuania, or Vana Tallinn, a rum-based liqueur found in Estonia.
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