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
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.
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.
To be continued...
<message edited by EliseT on Sat, 06/16/12 8:10 AM>