The Riga food scene is definitely alive and kicking. I had no idea what to expect from Latvian food, but I spent a lot of my time in Riga eating! After exploring the origins of Latvian cuisine and trying as many Latvian dishes as I could, I’ve come up with this list to help you decide what to eat in Riga.
This post was created in collaboration with Magnetic Latvia and Traverse Events as part of the #TasteOfLatvia campaign.
Typical Ingredients in Traditional Latvian Food
Latvian food has developed its own unique style, taking influence from its history with and proximity to Russia, Germany and its Baltic neighbours.
Pork is the most common meat in Latvian cuisine, appearing in various forms from breaded cutlets to the speck (bacon) that adds flavour and protein to otherwise vegetarian dishes. Fish is also popular, as Latvians enjoy the spoils of a long coastline and rivers running through the country.
Mushrooms are also very popular, along with sauerkraut pickled cabbage and potatoes. Latvian food isn’t heavily spiced, with black pepper, dill and seeds such as caraway and hemp seeds providing added flavour.
What to Eat in Riga
Grey Peas with Bacon (Pelēkie Zirņi ar Speķi)
I hate peas. Or so I thought! It turns out that grey peas are quite different from their green cousins and are more like chickpeas in texture. Traditionally served at Christmas, most Latvian restaurants in Riga have them on the menu all year round.
The peas are stewed with onions and pieces of bacon (speck) and are delicious! They are also deceptively filling, so even a small portion will do the job.
Dark Rye Bread (Īstā Rupjmaize)
Rye bread is a quintessential Latvian food you must eat in Riga. It’s rich and flavourful but can also be soft and chewy. You’ll often get a basket of bread with a meal, usually with some smooth herb butter to spread on.
Rye bread also makes a great bar snack, it’s usually served in chunks, lightly fried so it’s crunchy and accompanied with a thick garlic dip. Delicious!
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Palmeni were probably my favourite food in Riga, adopted from Latvia’s Russian neighbours. Kind of a cross between dim sum and tortellini, palmeni are handmade dumplings filled with meat or sometimes cheese or fish fillings. Hand Made Kitchen make some of the best palmeni in Riga, and you can choose from various gourmet flavours like salmon and prawn or mushroom with truffle. You can also choose how many you want, so it’s perfect for a snack or a main meal.
Bacon Rolls (Speķa Pīrāgi)
These small fortune cookie-shaped snacks are incredibly moreish – I defy you just to have one! Soft pastry filled with a mixture of bacon and onion are best when they’re still warm and fresh from the bakery. You can also find piragi with different fillings such as minced meat, cheese or cabbage but bacon is most common.
Smoked Fish (Kūpināta Zivs)
Latvians make good use of their beautiful coastline, and fishermen along the coast have been smoking fish for centuries to preserve it. Baltic Herring, Baltic salmon and the river fish lamprey are common here, and are eaten fresh or preserved by pickling, smoking or soaking in tea.
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Blood Sausage (Asindesa)
I love a good black pudding, and Latvians apparently do too. These blood sausages are made from barley, oatmeal and speck bacon with a dose of pig’s blood, and although that may not sound appealing, the rich sausages are delicious and great for tucking into on a cold day. They are usually served with a tangy berry sauce to balance the richness.
Pork Schnitzel (Karbonade)
I didn’t try this when I was in Latvia, as I ate about a hundred Wiener Schnitzels when I was in Vienna! However, I have no doubt that they are just as delicious in Latvia as they are anywhere else. Pork steak is pounded flat, covered in breadcrumbs and fried. In Latvia, karbonade is served with a creamy mushroom sauce, unlike the potato salad which accompanies the traditional Austrian dish.
Pickles/Sauerkraut (Štovēti Skābie Kāposti)
Pickles are a great way to preserve vegetables throughout the winter months while still keeping their vital vitamins which are even more needed. Pickled cabbage or sauerkraut is usually served as a hot vegetable with a main course, whereas pickled gherkins, cabbage, carrot etc are often served as snacks with cured meats, cheeses and a cold beer.
Soup is big in Latvia. Warming and comforting, Latvians make soups from all sorts of ingredients including a cold beetroot soup in summer, rye bread soup as a dessert, and hearty vegetable soups in the winter. Another summer speciality is blueberry soup with dumplings, which sounds delicious!
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Cottage Cheese (Biezpiens)
Cottage cheese is very common in Latvia, and is often served with different fruits and rye bread for breakfast, or with herring and new potatoes as a main meal. Another Latvian speciality is Jāņi, a more solid cheese flavoured with caraway seed.
Desserts to Eat in Riga
Black Rye Bread Desserts (Maizes Zupa & Rūpjmaizes Kārtojums)
Latvians also use rye bread to make desserts. I loved the savoury rye bread, but I have to say I wasn’t as keen on it in a dessert! I always go for chocolate desserts and although the bread does have a sweetness to it, I really missed a hint of chocolate in there.
Desserts made with rye bread include Maizes Zupa, a rye bread and fruit soup with whipped cream and Rūpjmaizes Kārtojums which is layers of rye bread crumbs with fruit and spice flavours such as cranberries and apple and topped with whipped cream.
Chocolate Eclairs (Ekler)
It seems that no matter where you are in Riga you are only a few steps away from a bakery or a cafe. Although I’m not a coffee drinker I do love cake, so when I realized that cakes and pastries, particularly chocolate eclairs were huge in Latvia I was very happy indeed! I don’t think the eclairs are particularly traditional, but they are everywhere and delicious, so I had to include them on this list.
Every bakery will have the standard chocolate eclair, but some will also have a variety of flavours like pistachio or coffee. Instead of being filled with vanilla cream like traditional French eclairs, these ones are filled with flavoured cream – so a chocolate eclair not only is topped with chocolate but is also filled with chocolate cream. Heavenly!!
What to Drink in Riga
Riga Black Balsam (Melnais Balzāms)
Originally made as a medicine, this liqueur will cure anything that ails you! It isn’t for the faint hearted but will warm you up in the coldest weather. If you fancy something lighter, choose the fruit flavours like blackcurrant or cherry which aren’t quite as eye-watering. In Province gastropub you can have a tasting of 4 flavours for €10.
Latvian Beer (Alus)
I’m not a beer drinker (cider is my preferred pint) so I can’t comment on the taste of Latvian beer, but I can tell you that craft beer is a booming business in Riga. Check out the beer list at most bars and you can choose between a variety of beers and ales. Don’t forget to order some bar snacks such as crispy rye bread to go with your pint!
Fruit Wine (Augļu Vīns)
While I was on a day trip to Sigulda from Riga, I went for a wine tasting at Krimulda Manor. The Manor used to be a luxurious private home in the Gauja National Park, but now it is a health spa and hotel with pleasant grounds where you can arrange a wine tasting of some delicious wines made with local fruits and flowers. Flavours include dandelion wine, cranberry wine and lilac wine so I highly recommend trying some during your visit to Latvia.
I didn’t manage to try any of this when I was in Riga, but I am adding to the list for my next visit. Latvian’s favourite ingredient – rye bread – is fermented with sugar or fruit to make a slightly alcoholic drink (around 1% proof). Apparently, it tastes kind of like a sweet beer, which may mean I’d like it more than actual beer!
Where to Eat in Riga
The Central Market in Riga
A visit to Riga’s Central Market is a must for anyone interested in Latvian food or culture. Markets are where the real soul of the city is, and Riga’s Central Market is unique as it is housed in old German Zeppelin Airship hangars. It is the largest market in Europe, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site along with Riga’s old town.
There are some 3000 stalls at the market, with some outside around the hangars as well as inside. You can find anything you need there, and I loved exploring the stands filled with seasonal produce. It was November when I visited, and there were stalls of ruby red cranberries, every kind of pickle you can imagine, cheeses, fish, bread and meat. Don’t miss it!
Restaurants in Riga
There are lots of fabulous restaurants in Riga, but they can be pricier than you might expect. Restaurants in the Old Town seem to charge a premium for the location, but you can still find delicious, good value food in Riga. These are some of my favourites:
Lido is a no-frills restaurant chain selling traditional food with several locations around Riga. Pick up a tray and choose what you want from the counters and the servers dish it onto your plate – pointing and smiling did the trick for me, even if I wasn’t 100% sure what I was choosing. Once you’ve filled your tray with goodies, take it to the till where you pay for your food then find a table to eat. Delicious, filling and cheap – if reminiscent of childhood school lunches! See Map
Hand Made Kitchen
This is the place to go for pelmeni dumplings. Choose from 12 different flavours of dumplings, from meaty fillings like meat or veal, seafood flavours, vegetarian or sweet options, and choose how many you can eat. Hand Made is also a great choice for a (non-traditional) brunch in Riga, with dishes like omelette on toast with bacon, avocado toast and waffles. See Map
Folkklubs ALA pagrabs
A very popular place, especially on weekends, it’s best to book if you want any chance of sitting at a table. Large portions of hearty Latvian pub dishes are served up with plenty of beer and live music performances. It’s great fun and good quality for food, or just pop in for a drink and bar snacks. See Map
Another popular option, close to the House of the Black Heads. There was a mix of locals and tourists when I visited. Portions were generous, food was tasty and price was reasonable. See Map
This cozy restaurant has a menu filled with traditional dishes, and although they come with photos (which I would usually avoid) I enjoyed my meal of grey peas and black pudding! See Map
Other Recommendations for Restaurants in Riga
I hope I’ve given you some insight into Latvian food with these suggestions of what to eat in Riga! I had lots of fun exploring and eating my way through the city, and I can’t wait to go back and eat more. I am sure I’ll be able to add many more dishes to my Riga food guide, but in the meantime this is a good start!
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