Fresh seafood, craft beer, locally harvested produce, and game meat are some of the delightful foods you can try when visiting the Baltics.
Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, often referred to as the Baltics are located in the northern region of Europe and on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. One-third of the land is forest area, and there are about 7,000 lakes not including peat bogs, swamps, and marshes. Naturally, game meat, wild berries, wild mushrooms, and seafood, particularly freshly caught fish are in abundance in the Baltics. It’s the region to enjoy natural and high-quality food.
Things may change in the Baltics. For now, here are 10 foods to try when visiting the Baltics.
Herring, cod, sprat, and halibut are the most common type of fish in the Baltics. Freshwater fish like perch, trout, eel, and pike are popular too. Often prepared whole or fillet, these fish are baked, fried, pickled, smoked or dried. Long winter months make it essential for Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians to pickle, smoke and dry their catch of the day.
On a recent trip to Estonia, I tried a variety of fish dishes in several restaurants prepared by innovative chefs. This poached halibut with creamed leeks, spring onions and seaweed sauce in Ribe turned out perfectly moist and flaky.
I’m also a fan of sprats for breakfast particularly those canned sprats from Latvia. Sprats are small fish from the herring family. Sprats are delicious served on top of rye bread with some dill. You’re bound to find sprats on breakfast buffet tables in the hotels throughout the Baltics.
Zeppelin, also known as cepelinai, is Lithuanian comfort food. These are potato dumplings with meat filling served with sour cream. It would be a crime to visit Lithuania without eating zeppelin.
3. Rye bread
The Balts love rye bread. Rye bread is served during breakfast, lunch, and dinner – a staple of the diet. This dark whole-grain rye bread has different names in the Baltics. It’s called rupjmaize in Latvia, rugine duona in Lithuania and leib in Estonia. For some tourists, these moist, dense and sour dark rye bread may be an acquired taste.
Give it a try when you’re there.
4. Cold beet soup or saltibarsciai
You may not find the cold beet soup or saltibarsciai in winter. But in summer, it’s a refreshing dish and served in most restaurants throughout Lithuania. Popular in Lithuania, cold beet soup is made of beet, yogurt, buttermilk, cucumbers, radishes, sour cream, and fresh dill.
5. Karbonade or schnitzel
Latvians favorite dish, karbonade is pan-fried, breaded and thinly sliced pork cutlet. Latvian pork cutlets are usually served with mushroom cream sauce or topped with melted cheese. In Lithuania, meat is often accompanied by baked or boiled potatoes.
6. Latvian barley and smoked pork porridge
This savory dish is made of pearl barley, fried pork pieces, onions, garlic, potatoes, and milk. This traditional Latvian dish is almost like the old fashioned Georgian savory grits, hearty and loaded with carbs.
Barley, oats, and buckwheat are steamed as side dishes or cooked as porridges with meat.
7. Kybyn or kibinai
Kybyn or kibinai are the “empanadas” of Lithuania. These crescent-shaped traditional Lithuanian pastries made famous by the Karaim ethnic minority in Trakai. Traditionally filled with minced mutton, now you can get a variation – chicken, beef, cheese, or vegetables. Best eaten with clear chicken broth.
8. Garlic ice cream
For something out of the ordinary, eat garlic ice cream at the Balthasar, the garlic restaurant. Balthasar is located in the old Town Hall Square, offering beautiful views of the old town. You can choose indoor or outdoor seats.
At the Balthasar, try ordering vineyard snails with cambozola cheese and garlic butter for an appetizer, grilled venison tenderloin with roasted garlic, tomatoes and blackcurrant sauce for entree and garlic ice cream for dessert.
9. Potato pancakes
Just like the other former Soviet republics, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia love their potato pancakes. Potato pancakes are pan-fried mixtures of freshly grated potatoes, onions, flour, and egg. This dish is usually served with a dollop of sour cream. Potato pancakes go well with a glass of cold beer.
Traditionally, semla or vastlakukkel is a special treat for Estonians to celebrate Shrove Tuesday; a festival celebrated before the Lent period. It’s the day when Mardi Gras happens in New Orleans and Canada they call it Pancake Tuesday. In Estonia, families go sledding and have a fun day with friends and family. Then its time to drink pea and bean soup, boiled pig trotters and semla – sweet buns filled with whipped cream.
You can get semla or vastlakukkel year-round in Estonia in cafes and bakeries.