Lithuania is an old land: a country that, although relatively new to the scene in one sense, has a very rich history. Along with Estonia and Latvia, it’s a Baltic state, considered a high-income advanced economy which boasts a relatively high standard of living and general peacefulness. But it’s been a while getting there…
From the Viking raids of the 9th and 10th centuries to the civil wars of the 1300s and the country’s independence from the Soviet Republic in 1990, the road has been far from serene.
Today, a member of the EU and Eurozone, Lithuania is still notable for its history, especially in the capital, Vilnius, whose Old Town is one of the largest surviving medieval towns in northern Europe! Even the fare seems remarkably traditional: the rye breads, potatoes, meat, mushroom and dairy dishes of today’s populace much the same as that of their forebears. Perhaps most famous among these is cepelinai: potato dumplings with a tasty stuffing.
Of course today, despite the country’s ongoing interest in agronomy and the burgeoning bent for organic farming, cepelinai is less about recovering from a day in the fields and more to do with pure enjoyment. Typically served as a main dish, it’s made from grated and riced potatoes and stuffed with ground meat or dry curd cheese or mushrooms, and often served with sour cream sauce and bacon bits or pork rinds.
It’s not all about cepelinai, however. The nation’s cuisine runs to a healthy dose of soups and stews, rye breads, and pickled everything – a good way to preserve pretty much any food for those long, cold Baltic winters. Foraging (once a necessity) is now a proud tradition in some regions. Heading off to the fields and forests for a punnet of berries is pretty common; the resulting bilberries, lingonberries, and cranberries often becoming jam on a pancake breakfast.
Cheese, fruit and fish also feature largely on the local menu. But then, these days, you can get pretty much anything you fancy. But it’s worth (should you find yourself in Lithuania) trying a few of the more traditional dishes. Because this is a country with a rich past, and the fare to match.