If you’re looking for something light and healthy to eat, then you’ve come to the wrong place.
In truth, Riga’s dining scene offers plenty of options for people who prefer to avoid fatty foods and even several vegetarian and even vegan restaurants, but if like most visitors you’d like to chow down on some local cuisine then pop your heart medication, pull out your pocket defibrillator and get ready to get greasy.
Where to begin? That’s easy. A Latvian meal is seldom complete without pork. Even if you order a dish without the national meat, there’s a good chance that the chef has snuck it into your food somehow, usually by cooking other food, including vegetables, in bacon fat. Karbonāde ar kaulu (grilled pork chops), karbonāde (pork schnitzel) and cūkas stilbs (pork knuckle) are all favourites, but for more exotic pig dishes keep an eye out for cūkas ausis (pig’s ears), grūdenis (pig’s head stew) and cūkas kājas (pig’s feet).
Sometimes, traditional restaurants will also offer griķi (boiled buckwheat) instead of potatoes. If in doubt, stick with the potatoes.
Kāposti (cabbage) also plays a major role in most Latvian meals. Sometimes it’s served cold as a salad or hot as a side dish like skābie kāposti (sauerkraut). We, however, prefer šķovētie or štovētie kāposti, which is like sauerkraut but sweeter and darker in colour as it's stewed longer with sugar.
Pelēkie zirņi (grey peas) is another side dish worth trying. Big, grey round peas are boiled and then fried with bacon and usually served with kefīrs (kefir) or skābais krējums (sour cream).
All kinds of pickled items are also on offer at most Latvian establishments including beets, mushrooms and, of course, cucumbers. If you see the word marinēts on a menu it means that something has been marinated in vinegar.