Traditional Latvian food is heavy, so while we did our best to try most of the items on our list, our stomachs just couldn’t handle it all. Instead, we switched out some of our plans for lighter fare (think: beet salads) or food from cultures that heavily influence the cuisine in Riga and still managed to indulge a few too many times.
Salmon Roe: This is not a traditional Latvian dish, but it was my favorite that we had in Riga. If you get the chance to go to Uncle Vanya, try this (served with thin potato pancakes) and one of the soups. It could’ve just been that we were starving, but this was easily my most memorable dish on our trip (including the other cities we visited).
Bacon Rolls (piragi): These rolls are shaped like half-moons and stuffed with onions, eggs, and bacon. You can get them at pretty much any meal.
Herring (with cottage cheese & potatoes): One of the most typical Latvian dishes you can get, herring served over cottage cheese and potatoes is one of those heavy meals that’ll both warm your insides and coat your stomach in a layer of fullness that refuses to dissipate for many hours.
Potato Pancakes: Almost as delectable as the Czech versions, these crunchy-soft treats are a great end or beginning to a meal. We ate them multiple times, each time a bit different. Some of them are served very thin, almost like crepes, whereas others are as thick as hash browns.
Cold Beet Soup: This is exactly what it sounds like. Beets are a staple in Eastern European cuisine and Latvian tradition is no different. I am particularly partial to this dish because I love all-beet-anything, but even if you don’t like beets this is worth the try. (That is not beet soup to the right. That is mixed berry soup and it is also delicious.)
Rye Bread: A traditional Latvian meal is not complete without bread, rye bread to be specific. There’s even an alcoholic beverage based on rye bread: kvass.
Rye Bread Dessert: Cranberry jam, whipped cream, and rye bread crumbs make up this light-seeming dessert. This is one of those sneaky desserts that feels light and fluffy but is actually filling and super high in sugars. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but definitely don’t have it more than once – and you should probably share.
Black Balsam: An herbal liquor mixed with natural ingredients and pure vodka. It has a 45% abv and comes in shots, mixed in cocktails, and even in teas. It’s a must-try while in Riga, but consume it wisely.
– M. Ray Hall