FEATURE: Welcome to Latvia
Spotted with lush forests and pristine lakes, Latvia is a country where old meets new. Located between Estonia, Lithuania, and Russia, it offers visitors a peaceful balance between the bustling cosmopolitan city life in its capital, Riga and peaceful solitude in the country’s unspoilt natural landscape.
Covering an area of 64,589 square kilometers, Latvia’s pristine nature is no exaggeration, where you can enjoy everything from hiking to bird watching. Just an hour’s drive from the capital, visit some of the country’s most impressive architectural monuments. Spend a night or dine in one of the many historical manors throughout the countryside. Enjoy the amazing landscapes of Gauja National Park or soak in the tranquillity and beauty of any of Latvia’s beaches along the Gulf of Riga.
Due to its hilly location, Sigulda is referred to as the Switzerland of Vidzeme. Its landmarks, Aerial Cableway, Turaida Museum Reserve, Gūtmaņala (Gutman’s Cave, the biggest cave in the Baltics) offer outdoor recreation and cultural heritage to show the true beauty of Latvia.
In Cēsis, history meets modernity. It is one of the oldest towns in Latvia and former residence of the Livonian Master, a member of the old Hanseatic League. Cēsis is situated in the northern part of the Vidzeme Heights, next to Gauja National Park. The Cēsis Castle complex lies in the heart of the city with its Livonian Castle Ruins and several parks.
Riga - the capital of Latvia, is known for its Art Nouveau buildings, historic Old Town and of course, cultural life. World-class opera, theatre and classical music concerts are only a part of the cultural fun offered by Riga. Art lovers will enjoy the collection of the newly restored Latvian National Museum of Art. And of course the food - just like the country, modern Latvian cuisine is an innovative blend of old and new.
Latvian gastronomy is multi-layered. The influence of hundreds of years of occupation by Germany, Sweden, Poland and Russia has left their mark on the traditional rural peasant cuisine influenced by seasonality and pagan celebrations.
Latvian cuisine today has by no means lost its connection to the land and the seasons. Latvians are knowledgeable in hunting and gathering. Foraging for wild mushrooms and berries is still widely practiced and home vegetable gardens are commonly kept, as hunting and fishing traditions continue as well.
A typical meal is rarely complete without pork, potatoes or cabbage. Karbonāde ar kaulu (grilled pork chops), karbonāde (pork schnitzel) and cūkas stilbs (pork knuckle) are common, but for something a little different, look for cūkas ausis (pig’s ears), grūdenis (pig’s head stew) and cūkas kājas (pig’s feet). Kartupeļi (potatoes) are served either boiled, fried, boiled or mashed. Kāposti (cabbage) is served cold as a salad or hot as a side dish like skābie kāposti (sauerkraut) or štovētie kāposti, a sweeter and darker version of sauerkraut stewed longer with sugar.
For the last four years, Riga has been named as the Baltic Capital of Gastronomy. Riga does its best to promote Latvia and the high value of its culinary heritage.
Foods to taste
Sour cherries are known for their health benefits, in addition to their taste. Many home cooks insist that jam or wine should only be made from sour cherries.
Cloudberries grown deep in Latvia’s marshes. If you are lucky enough to find them, they are wonderful honeyed jam that is often served with cheeses.
Pelēkie zirņi (grey peas), often referred to as the Latvian national dish, is made with big, grey round peas that are boiled and then fried with bacon and usually served with a glass of kefīrs (kefir) or topped with skābais krējums (sour cream).
Jāņu siers (Midsummer cheese) is traditionally served during the celebration of midsummer, but can also be enjoyed with honey and a cup of tea.
Like many countries, Latvia has a long bread baking tradition. Try īstā rupjmaize (dark rye bread) or saldskābā maize (sweet sourdough rye bread).
Dried and powdered, the red-orange rowan berry is used as a mild spice in various sauces and marinades. As a jelly or marmalade, it also pairs well with meat dishes or mild cheeses.
Turnips are used widely in Latvian cuisine, from stews to salads served with smoked fish and nuts, or simply baked in the oven.
Sorrells mark the start of spring. They are used in salads together with chives or goosefoot mushrooms, nettles and dandelion, with cottage cheese, as pie filling, in lavish stews, and in soup with potato and smoked meat.
The colder the winter, the sweeter the sap. It can be fermented with a pinch of sugar, raisins, and a black currant twig to make sparkling wine.
Also known as quince, is referred to as Latvia's lemon. It is used in marinades for lamb, a tangy additive in homemade sweet wines, or as a jam served with cheese.
While great in a stew, the best way to taste Latvian venison is as a tartar.
Penny bun - baravika
The penny bun mushroom is considered the ultimate prize for those venturing into the woods. It can be sauteed with butter, braised in cream with new potatoes, dried, and more. ¨
Gastronomy Fairs and Festivals 2017
The Riga - Gauja Region’s “Wild at palate” concept has won the title of European Region of Gastronomy 2017. The European Region of Gastronomy title is meant to foster conserving food cultures and traditions, as well as gastronomic innovation and tourism. In 2017, new events in the Riga-Gauja region will go side by side with already well-known food festivals and events.
First and Third Sunday of every month, Straup Parish
At Straupe Market you can taste bread baked in a century-old oven or cheeses made with fresh milk. Producers also sell fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables, smoked hams, homemade blood sausages, and much more.
Smack Your Lips in Valmiermuiža
February, March, May, June, August, September, November, December
Valmiermuiža manor, Dzirnavu iela 2, Valmiermuiža
Ar Gardu Muti Valmiermuižā (Smack your lips in Valmiermuiža) is a fair and celebration of food that takes place eight times a year in line with the ancient Latvian calendar. Vendors come from near and far to sell their delicious homemade bread, cheese, smoked meats, lamprey, honey, herbs, homemade wine, juice, candied fruit and more.
In the warm summer months, life mainly happens in outdoors in Latvia. In 2017, festivals will have a special focus on gastronomy and the link between people and nature.
Riga City Festival and Riga Restaurant Festival 11-13 August
Cesis City Festival 21 – 23 July
Sigulda City Festival 27 – 28 May
Valmiera City Festival 10 – 13 August
Riga Restaurant Weeks
8-14 May; 9-15 October
Riga’s very best restaurants open their doors to welcome gourmands seeking a great meal for an even better price – three course menu for €15 or €20.
Restaurant Weeks in Sigulda and Surrounding Areas
April and November
Twice a year, restaurants in the town of Sigulda and surrounds showcase the best foods for great prices.
Valmiermuiza manor, Dzirnavu iela 2, Valmiermuiza
Just a week before Latvia’s biggest festival, Līgo or Midsummer, the park at Valmiermuiža Manor hosts an event in honour of the summer solstice – Saulgriezis. Live music and dancing are accompanied by farm-fresh foods and handicrafts, and, naturally, draft beer from local craft beer producers.
Āraišu vējdzirnavas (Āraiši Windmill), Āraiši, Amata District
This lively festival celebrates the first baking of rye bread after the harvest and pays homage to grain growers, millers and bakers. Local ladies host a banquet of pancakes and Jacob’s bread. The Kukuļtirdziņš Market offers products from local cheesemakers, beekeepers, bakers, herbal-tea gatherers and craftspeople.
Cēsis Castle Medieval Days
First weekend in August
The historic and romantic milieu of Cēsis Medieval Castle is a prime attraction for tourists and local residents alike; it is a place where more than ten centuries of Latvia’s history converge. During the Medieval Days festival, learn ancient skills and crafts, and taste authentic foods and drinks.
Cēsis Castle Garden, Cēsis
An annual event where visitors can buy seasonal homegrown products and handicrafts. Enjoy live music and dance. Miķelis Day fair will offer to taste and buy various rural goods - apples, pumpkins, cranberries, herbal teas, honey, bread and bacon, as well as mushroom baskets, clay pots and other Latvian crafts.