Nowadays, Latvian cuisine is a melting pot of various influences. Historically, the harsh climate and the nutritional needs of Latvian farmers dictated the essential staple foods. Outside contributions range from culinary customs brought by German crusaders to the creative cooking due to food shortages under the Soviet rule.
Grains are used everywhere – from making porridges to baking patties. Most popular bread in Latvia is made of rye. Potato is “the second bread” for Latvians, which is used in main courses, soups and even salads.
Locals are fond of dairy products like cottage cheese and curdled milk. Most of it is cow milk, as indicated by the many herds grazing in the farmsteads. Before settling down as farmers, Latvians used to be hunters and gatherers. It is still reflected in the popularity of game (and meat in general), as well as in picking berries and mushrooms.
Distinct changing seasons, and harsh winters have always required conserving food. Therefore, Latvians have mastered in making fruit jams, pickled vegetables, salted meat and smoked fish. The latter is a widely exported delicacy.
Latvian cuisine suited the traditional farmer doing heavy manual labour. For the purpose, the cuisine is rich in calories and fats. Many foreigners will find Latvian food bland, as spices have never been common. Indigenous condiments are limited to salt, caraway seeds, onions, garlic and white mustard. The only natural sweetener was honey, provided by farmstead beehives.
Domestic drinks from spring water to strong spirits can quench the thirst after a Latvian meal. Spring mineral waters from Ķemeri, Baldone or Zaķumuiža refresh and cure. Latvians often make juices out of apples, cranberries and other fruits and berries.