Riga is rapidly building a reputation as a food destination. The number of people around the world discovering a flight or a maritime route to Riga is increasing, and they will leave with a good flavour in their mouths. Those who only visit Riga during their visit to Latvia are not doing themselves any favours, as they miss out on many interesting sights and tastes. The budding food culture in Latvia is overwhelming. There is so much of everything new that even the locals have a hard time keeping up. Martins Ritins, who managed Vincents, Latvia’s most popular and successful restaurant for 23 years running, has made it his mission to develop the country’s local food markets. We ask him to name the three most important contemporary tastes of Latvia and where to find them.
Raimonds Tomsons and Matins Ritins
There are quite a few artisan rye bread bakers in Latvia, but the ones that stand out the most are the Lībieši bread by Atis Gavars, Vecpiebalga. It is not only the rye bread that is in demand, but also the apple and rhubarb cake/bread that is made after the last breads have been baked in the wood-burning ovens and the temperature has started to drop. It comes out as a big slab, call it what you want, but it is so unique and the recipe has been in the family for generations. The only places where you can purchase the bread are the Slow Food Market at Sporta 2 kvartāls and the Kalnciema market.
Rafa Kaņepes – Rafa Hemp
Ingus Niedra is a young and attractive eighth-generation farmer from Blankenfeld who grows and specialises in hemp. His products range from traditional hemp seed butter and hemp seed oil to modern hemp chocolate, hemp pesto, hemp halva, and trendy hemp protein. You cannot miss him, as he is always present at the Slow Food Market at Sporta 2 kvartāls or the Kalnciema market.
Organic farm Ragāres
One of the first certified organic farms in Latvia. Jānis Vaivars, the owner, safeguards and spreads his grandparents’ lifelong and scientific knowledge of organic farming, wild and domestic herbs, and fruits and berries. He continues their work at the farm by enhancing and maintaining the herb garden and orchard, looking after meadows and forests, and harvesting produce all year round – dried and fresh herbal tea, spices, birch and maple sap, wild edible herbs and flowers, and the very best berries in town. Meet Jānis at the Slow Food Riga market at Sporta 2 and at the Kalnciema Market.
Raimonds Tomsons is the current manager of restaurant Vincents. He recently won the title Best European Sommelier. Who would be better suited to give advice on what three beverages you must taste when visiting Latvia?
Family winery Ledus Vīni, winemaker Lauris Salenieks
Latvian apple ice wine, from naturally frozen Latvian apples.Quality grapes struggle to grow in the Latvian damp and cool climate but we have wonderful apples! For years now, Lauris has been specialising in making ice wines from naturally frozen apples. It is a luscious, sweet, and dense dessert wine with a fresh acidity and complex flavour of dried apples, honey, mushrooms. At restaurant Vincents, we serve it with caramelised apple tart in autumn, during apple season. The wine can also be bought in different seasonal markets in The Ethnographic Open Air Museum.
Craft brewery Alķīmiķis
Latvia’s beer culture is ancient. Many craft breweries have emerged in the past years, influencing and changing the country’s beer culture. Alķīmiķis is a small, new high-quality craft brewery based here in Riga, brewing different styles of beer. One of my favourites, especially in the summertime, is Saison: a light, aromatic, and fruit-driven pale ale!
Organic farm Ozoliņi and their herbal tea Anna
Latvia has a long tradition of growing and collecting different herbs, drying them, and making healthy tea infusions. This tea is made from wild raspberry leaves, peppermint, birch leaves, oregano, lemon balm, lady’s mantle, meadowsweet, camomile, and calendula. An aromatic, harmonious, and calming tea that is good for your health! Annas herbal tea is possible to buy in the Gardumuti market.
After tasting the first real flavours, you wish to look a little further to find more. There are interesting villas and manors at every turn in Old Europe. Handed down from generation to generation, they are the main bearers of local traditions.
There is a unique opportunity in Latvia to witness and cheer for the restoration and rebirth of these traditions. We introduce three manors that were returned to private hands and turned into hotels after the fall of the Soviet Union. New cultures and customs are being shaped there at this very moment.
All three manors witnessed dramatic moments during recent history, as the valuable properties and lands recklessly switched hands or were allowed to deteriorate.
The estate of the Malspils manor was divided up during the agrarian reform. The manor housed a basic school, then a sanatorium for soldiers, a technical school, a state farm, and finally, a museum of agriculture. Now, the manor is a 22 room hotel that combines historic and modern interior design. Every room is different. The hotel’s restaurant is known for its weekend brunch. Its signature dishes feature pheasant and ostrich meat.
Liepupe manor is located in Vidzeme, a municipality comprised of 16 villages, with a population of 2,000. The history of this manor is less dramatic. It was also used as a schoolhouse and it housed the offices and club rooms of a state farm. The rooms were well preserved but they were vacant for quite a long time until the manor was remodelled into a hotel in 2004. The manor has 16 rooms and a restaurant with a picnic area in the surrounding park. The menu is classic French. The restaurant takes pride in serving champagne and Crémant.