In Lithuania, so much of our food comes from the land – we catch it in our clear lakes and lagoons, hunt it in our forests, harvest it in our fields, and ripen it in our gardens. Then the talented hands of our cooks prepare it all and put it on the table. Lithuanian cuisine is known for its naturalness, for ancient cooking traditions served up in new ways, and for aesthetics, without which no breakfast, lunch or dinner is imaginable. Don’t be surprised if instead of an avocado, you’re served a kohlrabi, or if instead of tuna, you get a piece of local zander. And if for dessert you’re offered a piece of curd cheese pie with nettle filling or red beet jelly! All you have to do is sit down and taste everything in front of you.
Have you already heard about Lithuanian cepelinai? The grated potato dumplings shaped like Zeppelins that are stuffed with meat, curd cheese or mushrooms? But that’s not all traditional Lithuanian cuisine is. And it’s best to experience it travelling around the country’s different regions, where the dishes originally came from. In Dzūkija, you’ll get potato banda and buckwheat boba. In Samogitia, they’ll make you kastinys or cibulinė soup. In Sudovia they’ll slice you a piece of smoked skilandis, or pull a head of cabbage stuffed with meat out of the oven. And in Aukštaitija, they’ll definitely pour you a glass of home-brewed beer or gira (kvass). Put on an apron and get behind the oven, stove or fire yourself – this is a great opportunity to learn something that you would never find in your own country.
Treating a guest is an old Lithuanian tradition. And we adhere to it with sincerity. The custom of heaping people’s plates with food without asking if they want any is slowly fading, but our traditional holidays still involve gatherings around the table, heartfelt conversations with family, and lots and lots of food.
There are five regions in Lithuania, within which the people cook traditional dishes that differ in character and content Each of the regions has its own special ingredients.
The manor houses of the Lithuanian nobility used to be famous for their hospitality. The owners even competed with each other to see who could get the better chef from France or Italy. Delicacies from Lithuania’s forests and fields spiced up by seasoning from overseas were highly valued by guests. Legend has it that for a true nobleman, dying at the table was an honourable way to go. The tradition of stuffing a guest full has survived to this day in the manors of Lithuania that have now been restored. Manor kitchens hold special dinners. You have to prepare yourself for these feasts – it’s best to come on an empty stomach.
Many roads have crossed Lithuania over the centuries. History led to ethnic minorities and ethnic groups settling in our small country, and they have become an integral part of our lives and our traditions. Their cuisine has as well. Jews, Russians, Poles, Ruthenians, or Belarusians, and the Tartars and Karaims who remained from the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania have all put dishes on our table without which we can’t even imagine our holidays. In the historical Lithuanian capital of Trakai, you can find kybyn – pastries with meat that are made by the Karaims who live here. At the old Tatar village in Raižiai, in the district of Alytus, the locals will treat you to šimtalapis – their traditional “hundred-leaf” cake with poppy seeds. In Vilnius, enjoy some Russian dumplings and be sure to try Jewish bagels as well as Jewish herring with raisins and cinnamon.
“I drank beer and mead; it ran down my beard...” that’s how all Lithuanian fairy tales end. Mead produced according to the Lithuanian custom was written about as far back as the 16th century, and historians claim that Lithuanians might have already been drinking mead made from honey during the Mesolithic Period. Beer began to spread here along with agriculture, and later Lithuanians began to produce wine as well. Beverages have always been an integral part of Lithuanian holidays and religious rituals, and brewers took much care to preserve the ancient recipes and pass them down from generation to generation. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out what authentic Lithuanian berry wine, beer and mead actually taste like?
The different regions of Lithuania are chock-full of unexpected flavours. Let’s discover Lithuania with our taste buds!