Dining out in Latvia has certainly improved over the past decade, particularly in Riga, but also in the various towns and cities throughout the country. Yet, despite the fact that a host of international restaurants have sprung up all over, the natives still like their traditional Latvian specialties. As well as the cabbage and pea dishes mentioned in the introduction, other typical treats include grilled pork ribs, smoked fish, piragi which is pastry filled with bacon and onions and Sorrel soup with pork, onions, potatoes and barley. And these are just the hors d’oeuvres.
On the upside of things, however, you have deserts including the delicious Alexander Torte which is made from pastry strips filled with raspberry or cranberry. Dairy products are also extremely popular and Latvian cheeses, while they might not be quite as famous as those from other European countries, are definitely worth sampling.
And, to wash all of this down, the local beers are pretty well known for their potency when compared with other European beers so be aware of this when you partake. Some of the darker beers include Bauskas Tumsais and Porteris while the more common pale beers are Bauskas Gaisais, Aldara Zelta and Aldara Luksusa.
Another traditional Latvian tipple is Riga’s Melnais Balzams or Black Balsam. This is a thick, black alcoholic liquid which supposedly cured Catherine the Great of fever when she visited the country. Nobody knows how it’s made because the Latvians refuse to disclose the recipe but if you are sampling it, try it in your tea or coffee first as it is quite strong. Strangely enough it’s also quite an effective hangover cure which is always good to know.