About the food of Latvia

Beehive transport in Latvia. Photo by Tiago Fioreze.

Maybe it’s this time of year – when the days are wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations and living so far away from my Bostonian roots feels so excruciatingly wrong – but five minutes into cracking the book on Latvia and I felt like I was in New England.

Wishful thinking?


Seascape by Liepāja town, Latvia. Photo by Chmee2.

But, with Latvian’s weighing in with favorite foods like apples, cranberries, meat, potatoes, and gingerbread – it’s hard not to draw the comparison. Apples make their way into sauces, pancakes [Recipe], ciders, breads, pastries and more. Cranberries are whipped up into layered bread puddings, traditional cranberry sauces [Recipe], and jellies. Meats are stewed and potatoes are served alongside, often boiled. And gingerbread? It makes its way into cookies [recipe], houses [epic], and more.

The deeper I dug however, the more I realized the resemblance to my hometown ended there. Latvia is loaded up with other dishes I haven’t seen anywhere near Boston. Just for starters, there’s aspic (gelatinous savory jellies filled with chunks of meat and vegetables), sauerkraut, fishy potatoes (tossed with herring and smoked salmon, for example), and all manner of rye bread.

Riga at night. Photo by Pudelek (Marcin Szala).

Also, they typically celebrate name days instead of birthdays. And they do it with a bread. A sweet bread, but bread all the same  [Recipe].  With candles in it. Fabulously different from my childhood, although my mom did once make my brother Damien a birthday pie upon his request. It was apple.

Anyway, all this food – familiar and unfamiliar – has me excited to be visiting the Latvian Global Table, all the way up in northern Europe, along the ambling Baltic sea.

What are your favorite foods from the region?

Turaida Castle in Sigulda, Latvia Photo by Maurice. Maps and flag courtesy of CIA World Factbook.


  1. Emily says

    While you are cooking, I suggest enjoying some of the traditional song festivals such as these from YouTube:

    Group singing actually has a remarkable history as a mechanism for expressing political discontent throughout Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania:

  2. Madeline says

    I have pie every year instead of cake for my birthday! A sweet bread sounds like fun! Maybe next year.

  3. Brian S. says

    On the map Latvia looks like it’s stuck in the middle of nowhere. But historically it was not. Starting a thousand years ago lots of other countries passed through (usually with armies) so, though it wasn’t a cultural center like Paris or even Prague, it got cultural influences from all over. In the Middle Ages it was ruled by Germans and its ports were big trading centers. Later on, Swedish, Danish, Russian and Polish armies came.

    • Sasha Martin says

      You can really see the German influence in the food. Many similarities like the sauerkraut and meats, gingerbread etc.

  4. Jessica Bennett says

    The Baltic area is high on my list of places I’d like to visit (and I even know someone in Riga I could stay with). I’ve made a few things from the region- mostly fish and potatoes, but not fishy potatoes- that sounds interesting.

  5. In the old days in Sicily (and the rest of Italy I believe) people never really celebrated birthdays, it was all about the name day. But you probably already know that thanks to your partly Italian descent.

  6. Sandra says

    A little correction here. We (Latvians) still consider birthdays to be the main celebration. Name days are like additional celebration. For birthdays we throw parties, but name-days are more like “friends coming over to have some glass of whine and piece of cake”, sort of reason to come together. And if someone is having a name-day, you can go to visit this person even un-invited.

  7. Sandra says

    Regarding food, wanted to add, that yesterday my family had for dinner – boiled potatoes with curds mixed with sour cream, and salted herring filet. Yammy!!
    Stuffed potatoes with herring or salmon is more like restaurant food. We usually do not make it at home.
    But we have – cabbage leaves stuffed with grind meat/rice; cold soup which is made from kefir, beet roots, cucumber, spring onion; some families still eat different kinds of milk soups (rice, noodles, buckwheat – you name the grain. 🙂 All grains can be made in milk soup).

  8. Kristine Kniploka says

    Dear Sasha, I’m happy that you’ve made an effort to make some latvian food. Sorry to be nitpicky, but those recipes would not taste very latvian. 🙂 Latvians are pretty conservative when it comes to spices (for traditional latvian dishes, of course), so saffran, cardamon would be a big no no. Yoghurt on pancakes – blasphemy. 🙂 As for the dear cranberry – we make cranberry jam, used for desserts, NEVER for savoury dishes. Not really sure what you mean by “fishy potatoes” (and I’m well-versed in latvian fish dishes), but it made me laugh. 🙂

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