At Riga's epic Central Market you'll find a whole Zeppelin hangar lined with stalls selling fruit and vegetables and a huge selection of pickles. The stallholders let you help yourself to mounds of crunchy sauerkraut and you'll find all sorts of pickles including carrots, tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, green beans, cauliflower and of course cucumbers flavored with a variety of herbs and spices. Sauerkraut is a Latvian staple and features in side dishes, dumplings and soups. It is worth to mention that Riga's central market bears historical value as well. It was built from 1924 to 1930 and the main structures - five pavillions were constructed as hangars for German Zeppelins.
Rasol - rich potato salad is made up of several layers of meat and/or fish (typically herring), hard boiled eggs and vegetables, all held together with mayonnaise and sour cream. It's very similar to a traditional Russian Olivier salad (created in the mid 1800s by the chef at the famous restaurant Hermitage in Moscow) but you'll find different variations served up across town. You might see ingredients like chopped apple, beetroot, spring onion and dill make an appearance too.
Although they might not have originated in Latvia, pelmeni are eaten throughout Riga and are definitely worth trying. A cross between Polish pierogi and Italian tortellini, these small dumplings are made with unleavened dough and filled with minced meat, vegetables or cheese. They can be served in a broth or fried and always come with a dollop of sour cream. Head to Pelmenu Sturitis, a small family-run stall at the Central Market for a bowl of made-to-order dumplings for around 3 euro. The Pelmeni XL restaurant chain serves pelmeni until 4am every Friday and Saturday for late-night snacking.
Speck is a type of smoked bacon made from pork belly. It is extremely fatty food and became popular in Latvia many centuries ago when villagers had to consume a lot of energy to be able to work hard in the fields. One of the most traditional dishes made with speck is pelēkie zirņi ar speķi. It is a simple dish made from many different types of peas, mixed with fried onions and speck.
A burgundy colour soup smells really nice when steaming in a bowl – it’s Beetroot Soup. Especially in the cold time of the year, this soup is like an elixir of renewal. The soup usually is served with sour cream and a few peaces of black or white bread. Traditional Latvian Beetroot Soup is without meat or mushroom. However, today it’s often flavoured with these ingredients.
Pork features heavily on Latvian menus and karbonade is one of the country's most popular dishes. Much like a schnitzel, the pork is pounded flat and then fried in breadcrumbs. It's typically served with a heap of creamy mushrooms on top and with some dill-seasoned potatoes on the side.
Grey peas and speck
Grey peas and speck (pelēkie zirņi ar speķi) is the dish generally touted as the most Latvian of them all. It’s a kind of stew made from a local variety of dried pea, mixed with fried onion and diced speck, a type of fatty smoked bacon made from pork belly. The dish came to be during the long snowy nights of yesteryear when locals dipped into their supplies of dried and preserved food to whip up this delicious belly-filler.
Rye bread pudding
A popular way to finish a meal in Latvia is by tucking into maizes zupa (rye bread pudding), a soupy dessert made from sweetened rye bread, apples, cinnamon, raisins, plums, cranberries and whipped cream. The dark rye bread is dried out in the oven before being boiled which gives the pudding a thick, comforting texture.
Beer, the most popular alcoholic beverage in Latvia, is excellent. The most popular beers according to the demand in Latvia are produced by such "main-stream" brewers like "Cēsu alus", "Aldaris" and "Tērvetes". As we all now, mainstream does not always mean the best, therefore we would encourage you to go out there and try beers from smaller breweries such as "Valmiermuiža", "Užavas" and "Bauskas".
While this isn't a dish, you can't leave Riga without knocking back a shot of Latvia's national spirit. Said to aid digestion, Black Balsam is a vodka-based liqueur made with a range of herbs including pepper, ginger, linden flower, raspberry and bilberry. This legendary spirit was reputedly first brewed to cure Catherine the Great of a stomach illness when she spent time in Riga and Latvians still enjoy its health-giving properties today. It's both bitter and sweet and something of an acquired taste and the exact recipe remains a closely guarded secret.