What better reason to visit another country than to try their traditional food as a tasty way to become immersed as fully as possible in their culture? Lithuania boasts a rich heritage and it shows in the Lithuanian food.
A Mixing Pot of Influences
Lithuanian cuisine is very closely associated with its Baltic neighbors and Northern European countries per se, probably because of a similar climate and agricultural practices. Agriculture obviously influences the foods to a great extent but so does the national tradition of foraging and all the influences over the country’s interesting and varied past.
The tradition of foraging shows in the abundant partaking of fresh fruits and berries, the favorites among locals being apples, strawberries, and blueberries. These are grown in home gardens, foraged in the forests, or bought from roadside stalls and local markets. Fruit is enjoyed whole or juiced.
Germany introduced pork and potato dishes, kugelis or kugel and vėdarai are an example of Lithuania’s prime favorites, as well as Šakotis.
French cuisine influences came in with the French chefs who fed the Lithuanian noblemen. Lithuanian regional and minority cuisine
Russia should be credited with the enjoyment of the dumplings of unleavened dough known as virtiniai or Koldūnai. Kiev chicken cutlet known here as Kijevo kotletas more than likely originated in Ukraine.
Lithuania enjoys a close association with Turkic minorities who incorporate centuries of tradition in their foods. The fast-food pastries filled with meat, known as Karaim kibinas or kibin and Tatar čeburekas, are credited to the Turks.
Regionally, mushroom-based dishes born in Lithuania’s forested region of Dzūkija pay homage to the substantial influence of foraging in Lithuanian dishes. Dough-based dishes have their beginnings in Aukštaitija, potato-based dishes in Samogitia, while the area around Sudovia introduced many of the meat-based dishes, Kastinis being a prime example.
Culture and Food
Food in Lithuania is for the most part mild. The staple foods of the country are potatoes and rye bread. Pork leads the way as the nation’s favored meat, with beef and chicken following close on its heels. Seafood is really only found freshly served in the seaside areas, where traditional fish recipes can be sampled. Root vegetables are a main role player on the table because they grow happily in the country’s cold conditions. The same can be said for dairy and meat products.
Favored and popular Lithuanian dishes include soups served before the main dish, accompanied by black rye bread or potatoes. During the summer months, cold soups take preference over hot, with rose-colored šaltibarščiai coming in as highly recommended. Silkė is among the national appetizers. This salted herring dish is most often served with vegetables, potatoes, and bread.
Moving onto the main course, when considering Lithuanian meat-based dishes it is a must to include the pork steak karbonadas, grilled fat šašlykai, stuffed pig’s stomach known as Skilandis, and Vėdarai, stuffed pig’s intestines.
The main meal is taken at midday, with breakfast being just a light meal. Whether supper is served as a light or extravagant meal is very much a personal preference.
Much of the celebrated food in Lithuania is associated with Christian holy days. Take Christmas as an example. The hard bread known as Kūčiukai is eaten during the Advent period before Christmas. During Easter, the traditional art of dying eggs known as margučiai plays out. During Užgavėnės which is the Lithuanian festival celebrated during the seventh week before Easter, pancakes are on the menu. Užgavėnės translates to “the time before Lent”.
Lithuania enjoyed the mildly alcoholic Gira as their traditional soft drink in the past but have now taken to Western soft drinks. The locals also enjoy freshly squeezed fruit juices.
Did you know that local brands of beer make up more than ninety percent of all the beer sold in Lithuania? Beer is therefore regarded as the most common alcoholic drink and local brands are popularly regarded as among the best in the world.
Lithuania kind of adopted Vodka as its own during the centuries when the country fell under Russian and Soviet rule. Lithuanians regard it as a drink for the impoverished, now. With the western influence of the wealthy came the drinking of wine since grapes are not grown here and the imbibing of wine was never a norm.
Cepelinai or Zeppelins
What better dish to kick off with than Lithuania’s national dish of large dumplings prepared with potato dough, pork, and a sauce made of bacon and sour cream? This Lithuanian food was first known as didzkukuliai until it borrowed the name cepelinai or zeppelin from the zeppelin airships in the XX century, which it closely resembles. The Cepelinai of the western counties of Lithuania is typically bigger than those in the east. They average out at between four and eight inches or ten and twenty cm in length.
This is a actually a fried in sunflower oil bread from dark rye, flavored with salt, sometimes dried herbs and garlic, and eaten with a sauce based on cheese. Kepta Duona is a comfort food and favorite snack that is a delicious accompaniment to beer.
Grybukai or Mushroom Cookies
Contrary to their name, grybukai is not a mushroom dish. Mushroom cookies are rather cookies in the shape of mushrooms, flavored with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. The glaze gives it the black cap and white stalk look of a mushroom.
Potatoes make up the backbone of food in Lithuania. Of the many regional and national potato dishes, potato pancakes must be the easiest to make. Simply mix eggs, onion, and grated potatoes and fry the resultant pancake in oil. Serve with sour cream dill, and scallions. Among the favorites are Žemaičių blynai or Samogitian pancakes with a minced meat filling and Bulviniai blynai or Potato pancakes which are clearly made with potatoes. Kugelis is the bloated version of a potato pancake. Samogitian kastinis is a soured milk and smetana-based sauce in which to dip potatoes.
This traditional Lithuanian cake makes its appearance at special occasions, notably Christmas Eve, weddings, and Easter. Raguolis is a hollow, large ring edged with spines or horns from the batter that drips onto it while the cake turns on a horizontal, spit cooker.
It is absolutely imperative to snack on and taste the traditional foods of the country when traveling within Lithuania. The flavors of the regions bring something new to the uninitiated taste buds of visitors. Don’t forget to wash it all down and toast to your own good health while you are at it with a home brew or freshly squeezed juice. į Sveikatą!
It is easy to get caught up in the traditions of this very historic country that is Lithuania. It is even easier to learn about ETIAS and the requirements associated with this form of travel authority. To apply for the ETIAS to travel to Lithuania, click here.