What is Latvia Like? It's Like This...

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EliseT
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2012/06/15 18:52:45 (permalink)

What is Latvia Like? It's Like This...

When my mother-in-law described her post-Soviet bloc Latvia, I definitely saw it in shades of gray. We watched a tour video that was so depressing it was laughable. My husband Bob and I joked to eachother in bad Russian accents, "We eat the rye bread. We go to the castle. We look at the crypt." I was surprised to arrive and find Riga to be a beautiful vibrant city of crumbling buildings, like New Orleans in some ways. This is the spire outside the window. 

 
Soviet organization and a Swedish simplicity make for very clean streets

 
As is common in Europe, hotels offer complimentary breakfast buffets. They usually include cold cuts, cheese slices, breads, soft-boiled eggs, steamed bacon (The goal is to retain as much fat as possible), sausages (often "hot dogs"), pastries and little pancakes. I fell in love with a cottage cheese pancake so good I bought a cookbook to try to replicate them. But you can buy wet or dry cottage cheese there. We will see if drying cottage cheese dripping it in the fridge will work.

 

 
 
  
There are many good international restaurants. We tried
 
Sushi

 
Indian

 
French-inspired

 
and Uzbeki

 
They are really into fish. Smoked and fresh halibut, salmon, carp, seabream. They are into eels, and lamprey eels, but not so much mollusks and crustaceons which are seen as insects.

 
Game is also very popular, and delicious. I was surprised that animals living on bark would taste so clean. It was explained to me the land is so green they never resort to bark and are essentially grass-fed. This is the best duck I ever ate from a restaurant themed on traditional Latvian food.

Rabbit

 
Black Balsam is the national drink. It tastes like herbs and old socks. It is considered to be medicine and is good for the heart. I liked the Alleze, which is a caraway liquer. You kind of have to like dill and caraway. They are in almost everything.

 
The beers are more hoppy and sweeter than American or German beers. The good one is called Tervetes. Names of beers are also printed on glasses, another genius idea.

 
There is some controversy over pierogies. These are what I call pierogies, having a Canadian-Ukranian experience. They do not. Their pierogies are leavened and filled with bacon fat or speck, or saurkraut.
Ukranian

Latvian

 
To be continued...
post edited by EliseT - 2012/06/16 08:10:32
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36 Replies Related Threads

    Sundancer7
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/15 19:23:59 (permalink)
    Sounds like a very good trip to me.  As far east I have ever traveled was Warsaw.  I almost made it to Russia but due to business, I had to reverse my trip.
     
    A super food adventure and good pics.
     
    Paul E. Smith
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    #2
    ann peeples
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/15 20:21:53 (permalink)
    How awesome was that!!!!!!!! Thanks for sharing.........
     
     
    #3
    mar52
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/15 20:32:28 (permalink)
    Hi Elise!  So nice to see you!
     
    I always love your trip reports and this one measures up to all of them.  Excellent!
    #4
    leethebard
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/15 20:42:28 (permalink)
    Fascinating. I learned a lot...and the food looks great. Can't wait for more. Thanks so much!!
    #5
    EliseT
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/15 21:56:37 (permalink)
    The rooms are simple and sparse but comfortable. Each side of the bed gets its own single comforter so no fighting over blankets.

     

     
    We went to the local market

     
    we picked up some cheeses and salami, their exquisite cucumbers and fresh fruit at the market and had a nice picnic in the hotel bar. While unpacking the bags I found a black block. I asked Bob if somebody had planted hash on us. Finally Bridin saw the black thing and exclaimed, “Oh, the butter!”
    “Black butter?
    “Well, I asked what can we get here that we can’t get anywhere else in the world.” She tried it and said it tasted like poppy seeds. Considering all possible things that could make butter black, that was the most pleasant one I could think of, so I tried it. I realized it wasn’t dairy butter. They had ground the poppy seeds into a paste like peanut butter. It still looked like hash.

     
    We saw a movie and I found a new treat. Like bacony packaging peanuts. Bacon chips forever!

     
    We did a lot of sightseeing, seeing a castle and a palace with crypts and drove into the country to find some ancestral site of my husband's. We had to drive down a really long unmarked unpaved road. I really didn’t think they were ever going to find it. We had to splosh through mud puddles at high speed so as not to get stuck, and the wake of mud bathed the car with every bump.
     
    I finally asked, “All this for a castle?”
    Bridin: It’s not a castle. The castle was wood and burned down. It’s a mound.”
    Me: All this for a mound?
    Bridin: If we’re lucky there will be a goat on it.
    Me: Well, OK then, if there’s a goat…
    Bob: Come o-o-o-n-n-n  goats!
    The woods were beautiful, and we found the ancestral mound, but alas, no goats.

     
    post edited by EliseT - 2012/06/15 22:02:23
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    EliseT
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/15 22:20:12 (permalink)
    Bridin befriended a woman on the plane whose daughter, Signe, happens to host dinner parties at 10 Lats a head. 10 Lats equals about 20 USD. When she told her daughter she had a returning Latvian to invite, they decided to make a traditional Latvian meal for us, and to have a friend hunt for boar. I’ve never had anyone kill a boar for me before. It’s very exciting. 
     
    Signe was congenial and outgoing, providing a lovely environment for the English-speaking friends she had invited. They did tend to lapse into Latvian though, so there was some confused nodding and smiling on my part. To drink, we had birch champagne, which was very similar to regular champagne. With the meat a blackcurrant wine was served. Although I don’t normally drink wine, I tried it and it was more like a liquer – very fruity with a sharp kick.

     
    The first dish was a soup. After a long and dark winter, one of the first signs of spring is a green that no one knew the name for, but it is like sour spinach. It may have been sorrel. It grows wild in the yard, “So you just cut the grass and you have soup!” There were also lovely new potatoes and quail eggs, which they set in your plate and ladled the soup over.

     
    Her bread was so moist it was almost like a quick bread, with a large, soft crumb. It was served with homemade dairy butter. Black bread, the national bread, was served with hemp seed butter – like the poppy seed butter we had bought at the market. 

    The next course was a selection of dried fish, including eel, which was delicious, and lamprey, which was kind of strong for me. I didn’t know the Latvian word for lamprey, so I asked, “Is this the one that sucks your face?” They pointed out the second one from the front of this picture, and said, “That is the one that sucks on you.” Signe said effusively in her Russian accent, “Take it! You don’t like it, I have big dog!”

     
    There was also an assortment of cheeses, including the same mild cheese with caraway seeds we had bought at the market.

     
    The main course was boar, which one of the guests’ husbands had shot. Boars in Latvia have to be certified. If they are not, you have to boil the meat for 2 hours to remove any parasites. The meat was very mild, being grass-fed as opposed to foraging. The side dish was a risotto made with hulled wheat and wild mushrooms, a perfect accompaniment to the boar as well as a vegetarian main course. Very smart.

     
    We had been seeing a rye bread dessert on menus, but it didn’t seem very appetizing. It took me about four bites to figure out this “cheesecake” was made from rye bread crumbs used like Graham crackers layered with a pastry cream.

     
    There was also apple cake, Bridin’s nemesis.

    post edited by EliseT - 2012/06/15 22:21:21
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    EliseT
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/15 22:57:08 (permalink)

       
     
    We spent a few days out in the country and attended a birthday party at a farm on the river. The farmwife made all of the food. There were ground meat rolls like kibbeh, plus potatoes, latkes, pierogies, homemade cheese and a specialty called herring in a fur coat, which is herring and sour cream covered by beets and chopped hard-boiled eggs. I finally decided at that point I was full.



     

     
    post edited by EliseT - 2012/06/15 23:02:41
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    UncleVic
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/15 23:10:36 (permalink)
    Nice report Elsie!  My parents and grandparents are from Latvia.  So needless to say I grew up on this food!  Also, those little treats you called Pierogies are actually called Pirags (pronounced p-rogs)...  I've made thousands of these in my lifetime (and they are a pain to make, let me tell ya).  I use ham, bacon and onion to stuff mine.  Cant wait to see more of your report!
     
    #9
    UncleVic
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/15 23:15:23 (permalink)
    Oh ya Elsie, I'll see what I can do to find the Cottage Cheese Pancake recipe for ya.  My mom has a massive collection of Latvian cookbooks.
     
    #10
    mr chips
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/16 03:30:14 (permalink)
    Great photos, great report.
    #11
    Foodbme
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/16 04:27:03 (permalink)
    The pictures have that "Old World" feel. Very Nice.
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    EliseT
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/16 08:08:03 (permalink)
    Uncle Vic, I would love recipes! I though pirag was just the Latvian word for pierogies! Also, there is a meatball soup with dill that is not in my cookbook if you have it. It looks like this when made with chicken balls...
     

    #13
    EliseT
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/16 08:27:38 (permalink)
    We also visited the seaside in Ventspils

     
    And spent 4 nights in Jurmula at an old Russian resort. Some water jets were so strong there were handles to hold on to. It was all about getting cold and hot, with 4 saunas and a place to rub snow on yourself. We were right next to a boardwalk with little huts for shopping. The country's main export seems to be amber. The second most common seems to be fake amber.
     

     

     
    Going to dinner one night we came across these crazy heavy metal album cover mountain goats...in a country that is completely flat.

     
    My mother-in-law remarked, "If I had to pick a color for Latvia, I would say green." Very different from the anticipated gray.

     

     

     
     
     

     
    In the end, we realized we ate the rye bread

     
    We go to the castle

     
    We visit the crypt

     
     
    post edited by EliseT - 2012/06/16 08:57:27
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    wheregreggeats.com
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/16 08:31:56 (permalink)
    Wow ... Nice report.
    Thanks Elise.
     
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    leethebard
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/16 09:49:38 (permalink)
    This is so much fun!!!!
    #16
    kland01s
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/16 10:21:51 (permalink)
    Wonderful report! Thanks for sharing!
    #17
    mayor al
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/16 10:22:58 (permalink)
    ET,  Fantastic report, my friend!!  We can count on you to produce journals that take us to some of the more exotic areas of the Roadfood world.  Where to next ?   Maybe you'll be entertaining the troops in Ubeckistan ??  Keep us aware of your travels, You are a fresh breath of Dill and Caraway in our BBQ and Pie scented world !
    #18
    ann peeples
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/16 12:04:05 (permalink)
    Beautiful country!! I never knew............thanks Elise!!!
    #19
    EliseT
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/16 12:21:32 (permalink)
    Mayor I'm afraid my next stop -- Vegas -- isn't very exotic.
    #20
    mayor al
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/16 17:33:18 (permalink)
    Hmmm, Is SouthWest Air offering direct service from Latvia to Vegas??? hehehe
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    Ralph Melton
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/17 13:36:10 (permalink)
    Thank you very much for this report. I've quite enjoyed all I've read.
    #22
    lleechef
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/17 20:40:30 (permalink)
    Lovely report Elise!
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    kaszeta
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/17 21:50:02 (permalink)
    Nice.  I'm overdue for a visit to the Baltic states (that's where my weird last name came from, it's Lithuanian)
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    ScreamingChicken
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/18 10:07:38 (permalink)
    Really neat, Elise!  As soon as I saw "Soviet bloc" in your opening post I too was anticipating a lot of gray, but you presented something very different!
    #25
    agnesrob
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/18 15:52:50 (permalink)
    Wonderful report Elise! Beautiful pictures! Thanks you so much for sharing this trip report with us.
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    FriedClamFanatic
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/18 18:06:47 (permalink)
    Lovely stuff!....ty!
     
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    rumaki
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/18 18:13:10 (permalink)
    What a great report!  I was doing some "press freedom" work and visited Riga back in the 1990s, shortly after the Soviet era ended, and even then, the food was very good and the people very nice.  I remember going up in the tower of St. Peter's Church to get a panoramic view of the city.  The caretaker and I didn't have any common language (we tried French, German, and of course, English), but between all those, he managed to point out the most important sights to me. There used to be a neat old ice cream parlor in Riga called the Penguin; I remember I got excellent pistachio ice cream there. 
    #28
    HollyDolly
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/19 12:05:56 (permalink)
    What a great report.I loved your description and the food looks yummy.Someday i'd like to go there. I have a small coin at home dated 1883,looks to be russian, which my greatgrandparents the Steldts brought from Lativa when they came to the US around that time.I have some old postcards from Libau from an uncle Wilhelm to the family.Some cousins of my grandmother,the von Lilienschilds go back in the records of the city of Riga to the 13th or 14th century.My dad said some members belonged to an order of knights, but he didn't think it was the Teutonic Knights.Most likely it was the Livonian Knights of the Sword, who were later absorbed into the Teutonic knights. I don't know if i still have cousins there.It's possible they fled the advancing soviet army during WW2,and even if they are still in latvia, have no idea who to visit.
    What sort of food is Uzbek? Latvian I imangine would be a combination of latvian,russian and german food, with some polish also thrown in. Surprised to see sushi in Riga.
    #29
    quijote
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    Re:What is Latvia Like? It's Like This... 2012/06/21 22:24:47 (permalink)
    I'm glad I logged on tonight--what a lovely, excellent report. The Baltic Countries have been on my short list for quite some time, and this makes me want to push for the trip sooner rather than later. The liqueurs, the boar, the pirags/pierogies, rye bread dessert, "black butter," and everything else have me swooning. The international food looks great, too. When I'm abroad I try to sample Indian food wherever I can, and I'd love to have Uzbeki food.  
    #30
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