Do you ever read those travel articles or sections in guide books about the local food items? I always find they seem to be what people ate 30 years ago and are probably only found on the menu in the most touristy restaurants. I love learning about what is unique and interesting to a country when it comes to food but I want it to be what people eat today.
And I also want to visit the kinds of restaurants I would go to if I lived there. So this is a food – and drink of course! – focussed post that has a mix of the touristy and the local to hopefully give you a fantastic Latvian food experience! Here are 9 Great Things to do in Latvia for Food Lovers.
Things to do in Latvia – Getting There and Getting Around
Riga International Airport is nice and close to the Riga Old City – a maximum of 15 minutes in a cab. It is also only 20 minutes from the Jurmala region so it is very easy to start your trip in the Old Town area and then head from Jurmala to the airport.
The Old Town is very much walkable. Several key streets are pedestrianised which makes the walking compulsory! It is easy to walk to the Art Noveau and Beer District areas but trams are also available.
Heading across the bridges to Pardaugava and Kipsala isn’t so walkable. Jump on a bus or taxis are quite inexpensive and easy to hail.
Travelling to Jurmala and the surrounding towns in this post really require a car. Jurmala has train and bus stations and frequent connections from Riga. However, to get to some of the places I mention in this post you really need a car or to be on a tour.
I picked up my hire car at the Radisson hotel near the Freedom Monument. This was a great spot for a pick up as I literally only had to make one turn and I was on the road to Jurmala so very difficult to get lost! I am very much a left-hand drive kind of person and Latvia is right-hand drive. However, I found it very easy to drive there. Lots of signs and clearly marked lanes. Driving around Jurmala was very easy as well so I would highly recommend hiring a car.Click here to book your Riga Car Hire
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1. Visit the Restaurants you would go to if you lived in Riga on Dzirnavu Street
If you want to eat like a local then it is time to leave the lovely Riga Old Town. Not far away in the Central Area/Art Nouveau district is Dzirnavu Street. Not only does this street feature some Art Nouveau architecture it is also filled with some great restaurants!
I started my visit to Latvia with a late lunch at Zivju Lete or the Fish Counter. The first Zivju Lete opened in 2015. It was so successful that it relocated to its new premises on Dzirnavu Street. The focus is on a mix of classic seafood options, what’s fresh and Baltic classics like herring, lamprey and sprats.
The restaurant has a Mediterranean style with a focus on grilling and allowing the seafood’s natural flavours to shine through. The restaurant has a very attractive Fish Counter at the front where you can check out what is fresh and on offer. There is also an open kitchen to watch meal preparation and cooking.
The menu ranges from fish and chips to lobster pasta with caviar and oysters and is very affordable considering the amount and quality of the seafood. The atmosphere is relaxed and cheerful.
My meal started with fresh white bread served in a brown paper bag accompanied by a very tasty tuna spread. I had then chosen the octopus. It was perfectly crisp on the outside and very soft and pliant inside. All served with grilled Mediterranean vegetables. Delicious!
Next up on Dzirnavu Street was The Catch. The Catch was opened by Alexander Slobine. He opened the first Japanese restaurant in Riga nearly twenty years ago. The restaurant is known for the high quality of its sashimi. The sashimi is served in the classic style on ice or with a sauce accompanying each dish. There are also sushi rolls and meat/fish/vegetables grilled robatayaki style.
The Catch is also well known for its bluefin tuna and tuna belly – it is said to be the only restaurant in the Baltics which offers these dishes.
Riits Garsvieta is the place to go for modern Latvian cuisine. Riits means “morning” in Latvian and this is the spirit of the restaurant. It sources organic local produce that is in season. It is a short seasonal menu as a result. Most meals are prepared on their live charcoal grill. The menu changes regularly due to the sourcing policy and it also offers several vegetarian dishes.
Chef’s Corner is a restaurant and bar that offers European cuisine with a twist. Whilst there are vegetarian and fish options, its expertise is top quality steaks and meat dishes. Their signature meat dish is the steak from the Swiss breed of Simmental beef. Chef’s Corner also offers a range of tartare options.
If you’re visiting the area during the day pop in and grab a coffee at Rocket Bean – they know their coffee!
On nearby Elizabetes Street is Entresol. This 3-year-old restaurant was the first “knapas” restaurant in Latvia. Knapas is a combination of Latvian knapi – which means hardly or barely – and Spanish Tapas. The result is a menu of small starters prepared using seasonal ingredients.
I’m not normally a fan of a steakhouse chain. However, one of the locals I spoke with during my stay who knew his food raved about Steiku Hoass. The chain has three locations in Riga. They source the best quality meat from around the world and all steaks are aged. My contact said the key was having your steak served Flambe style eg with rum. Do email me if you go and let me know what you think!
For more restaurant options check out the White Guide Nordic – the leading restaurant guide for the Nordic and Baltic countries.
2. Eat Rye Garlic Bread with drinks
When I write garlic bread do you think of a small loaf of white bread in foil that has been pre-sliced with garlic and butter? A childhood classic? A frozen food mainstay?
Latvians have made a vast improvement on this 1970s classic! They take their amazing rye bread, cut it up into different types of shapes, add fresh raw garlic and then do a quick deep fry. These are then served as snacks rather than chips. And they are amazing!!!! Crispy yet chewy yet slightly soft – and oh the garlic!
I really would hate to imagine a dorm room of young men in Latvia the day after a big night out and the smell but gosh these little delights are so delicious and extremely addictive!
Don’t leave Latvia without trying these. They are most easily available in bars and pubs.Book your Riga Old Town Guided Tour
3. Make Rye Bread at Laci bakery
The Laci Bakery opened nearly 30 years ago and is most famous for its rye bread. Once you know about Laci you will start seeing its products with the distinctive red logo everywhere! The bakery itself is about a 30-minute drive from Riga and is located just off the main road. They have a cafeteria/restaurant and the most fantastic shop!
The shop contains not only all of Laci’s wonderful products but the best of local ingredients from the area. This is the place to do your food shopping whilst in Latvia. They also have barrels full of things like all their forms of the amazing dark rye garlic bread. These can be purchased in tubs. And don’t leave without getting the chocolates made with rye breadcrumbs – trust me they are amazing.
I am getting distracted. OK, so it is possible to do a cooking class at Laci – which I highly recommend! The tour starts with a video about the bakery. The man who started Laci is still the owner today and very hands on. The famous rye bread is based on his grandmother’s recipe. After watching the video it was time to get kitted up and head down to the factory floor.
On the way, we were able to taste some biscuits fresh off the line – delicious! Then to the bread ovens. The rye bread is mostly baked by tall men due to the height needed as well as big hands with which to shape the dense dough. I watched them forming the loaves and then placing them in the oven with a giant spatula. Then it was my turn!
Of course, they had done the hard part which was creating the actual dough. All I had to do was pat it into shape and one of the tall gentlemen helped me with the rather heavy spatula. The bread is cooked at an extremely high temperature for just 30 minutes. This delivers its distinctive dark and tasty exterior and soft interior.
The bread keeps at room temperature for 7 days and can be frozen. The loaf I “made” was the sourdough variety. If I do say so it was absolutely delicious! I have been having this for breakfast daily since my return and I may have to return to Latvia once I run out as I have fallen in love with it!
I had mentioned my new obsession with rye garlic bread. The lovely lady at Laci then took me to several giant bins all filled with different cuts of bread that had been smothered with fresh garlic. My gosh, they were delicious! And available in the store!.
I was also able to take home some more delicious biscuits and some of their chewy yet soft meringues.
I highly recommend a visit to Laci! There can be no better souvenir of Latvia for a foodie than a loaf of its amazing sourdough rye bread!
4. Visit the Central Market during the day
Riga Central Market is Europe’s largest market and bazaar. It was made a UNESCO site along with the Riga Old Town in 1998. It is visited by over 80,000 people every day and is one of the most popular things to do in Latvia.
Operating since 1930, it has always been the place to go for top quality ingredients. It has three large Zeppelin style hangars. The first is all about fish. The merchandising makes the Harrods Food Hall look like Kmart! I have never seen such gleaming fish – indeed some of them were still alive! I wanted to order the salmon and eat it raw immediately!
Next up was beautifully merchandised fruit and vegetables. I was most impressed by the pickled options available. Packets of herbs were displayed that when drunk as tea treats different ailments. I bought some of the maple sap water. This is frozen at source and contains – well maple sap – and is meant to be very nutritious.
There is an impressive area devoted to all things meat and of course a large area for cheese and dairy. Heading to the outdoors I loved the colourful flower market. As you will read more about below, there were also offerings from Uzbekistan – freshly baked bread and giant pots of plov and more.
I loved this market – so much going on, so many foodie options and so beautifully displayed. I went with a guide which I wouldn’t normally do. I am very glad that I did as I found out about things like the maple sap water and local herbs used medicinally that greatly added to my experience. I highly recommend doing this.
5. Visit the Gastro Market in the evening
As a well-travelled foodie you’ll be aware that many markets these days have a ready to eat area – often with an alcohol license that runs into the evening. The Riga Central Market version of this opened in February 2019 with over 20 suppliers and 2 bars. Food types cover everything from gastro hot dogs to traditional Latvian to a whole new japanese-mex!
Keen to maximise my experience I decided to try three different stalls. I started with Raw Burger. I had read good things about their traditional burgers and their more innovative offers like vegetarian burgers based around jackfruit. I went with their lobster option which came in two brioche buns and was quite delicious.
Del Man is home to dumplings plus some other tasty pastry-esque options. The core of the menu is a range of dumplings from rabbits to sturgeon to duck confit and chestnuts. I went with black seafood dumplings which were fantastic. They looked more like large tortellini but they tasted great! I also had the hot mushroom sauce.
Finally, the highlight for me was my nori tuna taco at Tarpaccio. The seaweed component is lightly fried in a taco style shape. It is then loaded up with avocado, tuna pieces, sesame seeds and more. This was my favourite finding at the market – a great mix of flavours and textural contrast.
The Gastro Market area is open 12-10pm every day and until 2 am on Friday and Saturday evenings (where there is also a DJ).
6. Explore the Riga beer district and its snacks
Latvia has always had a reputation for good beer. Apparently, this is partly due to the high quality of its water. Craft brewing began in Latvia in the middle ages when farmers brewed their own beer. The industrial revolution brought breweries but Soviet Rule limited outputs. Craft beers are now as popular as more mainstream options in Latvia.
The Riga Beer District is a Riga tourism concept that brings to life this passion for brewing – and great bar snacks! The area is about 1.5km from the old town and includes 10 bars – most of whom are also brewers. It is possible to use the district map and organise your own beer crawl. Alternatively, take a beer tour as I did and have a local show you how it is done!
My tour covered 4 of the 10 bar options. Each of them was interesting, quirky, unique bars with interesting stories. This innovative brewing scene celebrates local ingredients and is constantly changing and trying new ideas. I tried lagers, ales, stout, shandies, beer with no hops and all types of different options. Ingredients ranged from virtually every piece of the beehive to blueberries to elderflower to pumpkin!
Don’t miss Valmiermuizas Beer Embassy. Not only is it known for having the best beer in Latvia it also has amazing food. This easy-going bar/restaurant has been voted the best restaurant in Latvia for the last 14 years! And its bar snacks are awesome!!!
7. Eat Sushi
As I mentioned earlier, the first Japanese restaurant opened in Riga almost twenty years ago and the cuisine has been embraced by Latvians. At the top end of the market is The Catch which I mentioned earlier and Cod Robata Grill Bar. Cod has a completely separate lounge area which is known for its award-winning bartenders and their Japanese influenced cocktails.
Their Grill Bar is ranked among the best 30 Baltic Restaurants by White Guide Nordic. The focus is on sushi and robata-grilled dishes.
For a good mid-range Japanese offer check out Yakuza Sushi which has a great reputation.
Tokyo City is a small chain of sushi restaurants which are perfect for a quick lunch or snack.
And as I mentioned earlier the Gastro area of the Central Market has Tarpaccio, Yaki and Nama.
8. Eat Uzbek Cuisine
There is a rather thriving Uzbekistan Cuisine movement happening in Latvia! Who would have guessed?
I went to a fantastic restaurant called Maja which is in the Pardaugava area (combine lunch with checking out its wooden houses). This lovely restaurant is in what was a nineteenth-century private home. The little square it is in also has a market on Saturday’s.
Anyway, it is not an entirely Uzbek restaurant but the owners are from Uzbekistan. When I go to restaurants like this I do like to ask the waiter what dishes they are best known for and then order those. I started my meal at Maja with a delicious Uzbek style soup. It was a tomato-based broth filled with vegetables, noodles and some beef and was rather spectacular. But it was not as good as the quite frankly amazing bread that came with it! Oh the bread!!! I could have had three of these and made them my complete meal. There was no need for oil nor butter nor anything. Slightly chewy but still soft to the palate, a slightly crispy outside for additional flavour and contrast – this bread was drop dead amazing!!!
For main was the beautifully presented spring lamb. The lamb was delicious but what I enjoyed the most was the variety of berry forms with which it was served. There was a berry jus, blackberries, cranberries – and all complimented the lamb wonderfully. I would now like to see more berries in my savoury meals! Maja is also well known for its pilaf – they even serve a variety called Wedding Pilaf which is supposed to be amazing. Do email me if you try it.
I came across two interesting places for Uzbek cuisine at the Central Market. The first was a bakery! I think Maja had its own oven for bread rather than sourcing from this bakery but I was very impressed with its clay oven – and with the fact that the bread stuck to the walls of the oven! It was then extracted from the walls after cooking!
Apparently, Plov is the ultimate Uzbek dish. The ingredients are generally roasted at the beginning. The carrots and onions are first up and then meat, rice etc are all added in. The photo you can see here is a gentleman at the market with a rather large pan in the early stages of cooking Plov.
See more of lovely Latvia in my video
9. Have a spa treatment that takes in the natural ingredients – Whisking!
Ok, it is a bit of a stretch that this is a foodie thing to do but it does involve leaves and steaming so I thought I could get away with it – and I couldn’t not mention this rather unique element of Latvian spa culture! I experienced my whisking at Kurshi Hotel & Spa – more on that in the next section.
So firstly this has nothing to do with eggs but it has much to do with boiling – but you will be the element that boils! I was lucky (?) enough to be whisked by a Russian from arctic Siberia Stanislavsky (no idea if that is the correct spelling but sounds right).
Stas (as he wanted to be called) looked like the man for the job. He had a slightly Rasputin-esque feel with his long dark hair (pulled back for hygiene reasons of course). Firstly I squeezed a 30 min massage in which was great but very painful – he did keep asking me if I wanted it softer but I insisted I could take it (am Australian).
Then I was put in the sauna to lie down. The floor had several “Bowls” filled with different types of branches – oak, birch etc. They were all in water. After I had warmed up Stas took different types of branches eg oak first, then birch second time and kind of shook them around me so water droplets came on me. Kind of weird but kind of nice.
Then he sort of fanned them near my body which got very hot! Then he started kind of smacking them on me and then leaning on the branches whilst they were on me. It was intensely hot at first but then absolutely fine.
The first whisking I was face down so this was all along the back of my body.
I was then allowed a 10-minute break outside the sauna to drink water and tea and eat berries in different forms.
Back to the sauna. Things then got more intense in terms of the heat and I was in for longer. I was given branches that had been soaked in cold water to use as a pillow of sorts which was actually quite pleasant!
And then the whisking began. My gosh the heat!! I actually begged Stas to throw cold water on me at a couple of points. I have never been this hot in my life – I literally felt like I was burning! I imagine/it better have been terribly good for me!
I begged him to finish and then had the best cold shower of my life. It did feel amazing!
Another rest and then the final go. I negotiated Stas down to 5 minutes rather than 10. This one I was on my back – luckily my breasts and nether regions were given Turkish towels so weren’t thrashed my hot branches from the Latvian forest but the rest of me wasn’t so lucky!
The heat was super intense and again I begged for mercy and cold water.
The shower after was amazing!
So would I recommend this? Absolutely! It is a unique experience that I doubt I will ever forget and I did feel amazing afterwards and unbelievably clean. The same the next day.
But would I do it again? Well yes but only after negotiation with Stas to lessen some of the times in the sauna!
Boutique Hotel Recommendation in Jurmala
Lovely Jurmala is a region of Latvia only 20 minutes drive from Riga with 33kms of white sandy beaches. It is a fantastic place to stay when in Latvia. And I highly recommend the lovely boutique Kurshi Hotel & Spa!
Kurshi Hotel is located in Dubulti. It is just outside the busiest area of Jurmala so the beach is more peaceful. However, it is still close enough to walk to the main area of Majori.
Kurshi is a relatively new modern design hotel. It has a distinctive glass front and its 34 rooms are over 3 floors. My room was huge! It was over 2 floors. The bottom floor had a living area with a large L shaped couch and TV, minibar, wardrobe and large bathroom with a walk in shower and completely separate tub. And importantly a bathrobe and slippers!
Upstairs was another large area with a big bed and TV. The design is simple and modern.
The restaurant at Kurshi has already made a name for itself with its modern Latvian cuisine. I enjoyed an outstanding tuna steak. Breakfast in the morning was a classic buffet and importantly there was good coffee!
The spa has a sauna, steam room and Hammam. It offers a range of face and body treatments – and of course whisking!Check Prices on Kurshi Hotel here
Whilst in the area pop into Restaurant Jura in the centre of town for a great seafood lunch. I started with butterflied prawns. They were great but the highlight was my main which was sea perch. Again, this was recommended by the chef and I am so glad I chose it. The fish was virtually flopping on my plate it was so fresh! It was quite a large serving of oh so soft white fish grilled.
The menu at Jura is huge with virtually every type of seafood you can imagine. Best of all it is possible to have all types either grilled or fried.
Who paid for what in this post
My visit to Latvia was hosted by the lovely Latvian tourism board. They covered my flights, accommodation, meals, car hire and most of my activities. I paid for a few meals, the canal trip and some chocolates from Laci to take home!
There are quite a few links in this post. If you click on them and make a booking I will receive a small commission. Just wanted to make sure that you knew. These links are related to The Boutique Adventurer and have no association with Magnetic Latvia
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