Traditional Latvian cuisine is often described as "peasant food", meaning simple, hearty meals. Many typical dishes are influenced by German, Russian, and also Swedish cuisines. The majority of meals are served with a side of potatoes and the most popular meat is pork. But have no fear, thanks to the closeness to the sea, fish is a staple of the Latvian diet and there is plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit available.
Some of the specialities of Latvia include:
Traditional Latvian cuisine can be found in restaurants of the LIDO chain that offer a bistro-like selection of various foods for friendly prices. Some other wonderful restaurants with Latvian cuisine are Taverna that combines traditional food with traditional music, Maja that cooks mainly with local produce, Rozengrals that offers a medieval dining experience.
The last decade has brought about the emergence of a contemporary Latvian cuisine that seeks innovative and modern approaches to working with traditional, local and seasonal ingredients. Some of the most successful restaurants are Kalku varti, 3 Pavaru restorans, Biblioteka No1, Valtera restorans, Muusu, and Elements.
Vegetarian cuisine is becoming increasingly popular both as vegetarian dishes in standard restaurant menus and as specialized vegetarian restaurants. Some good places to start:
More vegetarian listings in Riga
The usual tipping amount is approximately 10% of the bill. For small items in a café, just round up to the nearest euro.
Tap water is safe for drinking, however many Latvians prefer the taste of bottled water instead.
Latvia produces a wide selection of local herbal teas, for example, peppermint, chamomile, raspberry, blueberry, and many others. Riga is also slowly developing a coffee culture as exemplified by cafes such as Innocent Coffee Masters and Rocket Bean Roastery.
A particular local specialty, common to many Eastern European countries, is kvass - a fermented beverage traditionally made on the basis of rye bread that today is commonly replaced with malt extract.
Riga's love affair with cafes is at least a century long and the city has numerous unique little cafes that offer good quality tea and coffee and mouthwatering baked goods.
Latvia is a beer-drinking country and there are many good quality local beer breweries. Also craft beers have been becoming increasingly popular. Some beer brands favored by the locals are: Cesu, Bauskas, Tervetes, Aldaris, Uzavas, and Valmiermuiza.
The production of wine is largely a niche endeavor as the cold winters are unfavorable for growing grapes. As a result the local winemakers have looked elsewhere and there are great local wines and sparkling wines made from apples, blackcurrants, chokeberries, rhubarbs, and even birch sap.
A particular Latvian specialty is the Riga Black Balsam - traditional herbal liquor made from over 20 different herbs, roots, and berries, the recipe of which has been secret since the 18th century. Most restaurants and bars in Riga offer cocktails based on the Black Balsam.
The minimum age for buying and consuming alcoholic beverages is 18 years. Stores are not allowed to sell alcohol between 10 pm and 8 am. Restaurants and bars are exempted from this law.
In Riga, as well as some other municipalities, it is prohibited to hold (and drink) open bottles of alcohol in public places.