Lithuania is a small (ish) country in the Baltic region of Europe and is where my family originally hails from. I have always been surprised at how little people know of Lithuania (and the amount of people who have no idea where it is) and most people tend to just think of it as ‘one of those countries above Poland’ or ‘one of the ones that used to be in the USSR’. I mean, this is accurate (it is north-east of Poland and it WAS part of the USSR from 1940 to 1991) but Lithuania has so much more to its history, culture and identity.
One of these amazing things is their food. I love trying local foods wherever I travel and Lithuania did not let me down!
1) Žemaičių blynai
Blynai in Lithuanian is ‘pancakes’ and Žemaičių translates literally as ‘Samogitian’. Samogitia is an ethnographic region in the north-west of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Žemaitija) and is also a dialect in Lithuania.
Samogitian pancakes (also referred to simply as ‘potato pancakes’, but different from the other potato pancakes, or ‘bulviniai blynai‘) are flat pancakes made from coarse potato puree and filled with meat or carrot (so perfect if you’re a meat-and-potatoes or vegetables-and-potatoes person). These are then fried (okay, I didn’t say they were especially healthy) and then served with sour cream and sometimes with bacon bits on the side.
There are lots of different potato pancakes in Lithuania and these just happen to be my favourite style – you can also get fried potato pancakes or boiled potato pancakes that are stuffed with a filling as well as ‘crispy potato pancakes’ that are a little like a giant hash brown. Potatoes are great, man.
If you’re looking to try lots of different variations of potato pancakes, head to Gusto Blyninė in Vilnius. It’s like IHOP but Lithuanian pancakes (plus American pancakes and crêpes – can I call it an LHOP? Lithuanian House of Pancakes… *hehe*) and a great spot to try a whole variety of different pancakes!
Recipe at 10th Kitchen.
Šaltibarščiai (pronounced approximately ‘shall-tee-bar-shyay’… ish) is a traditional Lithuanian soup that in a way is similar to borscht (i.e. it’s made with beetroot) but it is served cold. Made with beetroot, onion and buttermilk (and also served with a hard-boiled egg as well as boiled potatoes on the side) it’s a delicious dish for a warm summer’s day.
It’s LESS good if you’re vegan or lactose intolerant (I have lactase tablets for this exact reason – trying different foods around the world!)
Pro tip: my favourite brand is Lactrase and you can buy it in Germany and Austria. The higher the FCC, the stronger it is. If you’re only mildly lactose intolerant, get 1500 – 6000 FCC, if severely intolerant I recommend the 12,000 FCC capsules. Prices range from €5,95 for 100 tablets at 1,500 FCC (0.6¢ per tablet) to €12,90 for 40 tablets at 18,000 FCC (3¢ per tablet).
Recipe at 7 Ravioli.
Looking for vegan or dairy free options of Lithuanian classics? Head to my round up of the top vegan restaurants and cafes in Vilnius!
Potato is a staple in the Lithuanian diet (traditional and modern). My Lithuanian flatmate, who dislikes vegetables (a great start), somehow manages to live on chicken and potatoes and not a lot else. I’m both amazed and appalled. It’s impressive.
Cepelinai is a particularly popular Lithuanian dish, which maintains the whole ‘meat and potatoes’ stereotype. Because yes, it is literally potato stuffed with meat. Topped with meat. EXCELLENT.
The name was changed from the original ‘didžkukuliai‘ (which meant ‘big meatballs’) when the Zeppelin became a thing, since the food resembled the huge airships. Cepelinai (one cepelinas, two or more cepelinai) are considered the national dish of Lithuania, although they are generally a ‘special occasion’ type food since they take quite a while to make and are usually only made in large batches.
Recipe at Lithuanian Home Cooking.
Koldūnai are also Lithuanian dumplings, but more like Polish pierogi than the above cepelinai. The dough is made from flour instead of potato, but the dumplings are usually filled with meat and often served with sour cream and spirgučiai (pronounced speer-goo-chyay), made with fried onion and bacon belly.
The one I had (below) was served in a creamy mushroom sauce with bits of bacon. Delicious!
Recipe at My Food Odyssey.
Tinginys or ‘lazy cake’ is a popular sweet made from biscuits, cocoa, butter, sugar and condensed milk. It’s called ‘lazy’ because it’s incredibly quick and easy to make! Apparently, it was made when a woman was trying to make chocolate (when cocoa was brought to Lithuania) but added too much sugar, which resulted in more of a syrup. She then added biscuits to make the flavour less strong and tinginys was born!
The below cake is actually vegan tinginys from a little café in Vilnius called Planeta.
Update (June 2019): I visited Planeta this month and they no longer do ANY baked goods! So bye bye to my only spot for vegan tinginys… hopefully they bring it back! If you aren’t vegan or lactose intolerant, head to Pinavija Cafe & Bakery on Vilniaus gatvė for delicious tinginys.
Recipe at Enjoy by Paula.
Vegan recipe only in Lithuanian.
1 can coconut milk
4 packs of (vegan) biscuits (about 180g)
4 tablespoons cocoa
4 tablespoons sugar
1. In a pot, pour in coconut milk and an equal amount of water.
2. On medium heat, add sugar and cocoa and stir well.
3. In another pot break the biscuits into small chunks and pour the hot milk/water mixture over the biscuits. Stir well.
4. Using a baking tray or other dish, form linings with doubled-over cling film (preventing the mixture from sticking) and form into a sausage shape.
5. Refrigerate until fully solid. Once solid, then chop into slices and serve at room temperature.
BONUS: Lithuanian Beer
Sadly, Lithuanian beer is highly underrepresented outside of, well, Lithuania. For a true taste of Lithuania’s micro-breweries, head to Bambalynė, a small bar that has over 50 kinds of bottled beer from around Lithuania. I would have loved to spend more time there and drink more! I only had time for one – the delicious Kauno Vyšninis Tamsusis, a cherry dark wheat beer from Kaunas brewery Kauno Alus.
You can also get bar snacks (meat platter, cheese platter, meat and cheese platter, fried bread sticks) to enjoy with your beer. All the bottles are available to purchase to take away, which costs slightly less than sitting down to drink them in the bar.
Tip: the bar closes at 10pm on Sundays and Mondays! I didn’t realise this, hence why I only had time for one beer. *sad Penelope*
Other great places to enjoy Lithuanian beer in Vilnius are:
- Alaus Biblioteka, Trakų gatvė 4 (the name literally translates as ‘beer library’)
- Šnekutis (three locations in the city – they serve only Lithuanian beer, including traditional farmhouse ales)
- Alaus Namai, A. Goštauto gatvė 8 (another well-named spot, ‘beer house’)
- Prohibicija, Arklių gatvė 6 (craft beer heaven! They also offer beer tastings)
The beer served pretty much everywhere is Švyturys, Lithuania’s second oldest brewery located in Klaipėda, Lithuania’s port city. If you are a lager person,
get out then you will probably be content with Švyturys Baltas, the light beer (Hefeweizen) served with a slice of lemon that you can see above accompanying my šaltibarščiai and koldūnai. If you are more like me, you will love the dark Švyturys Baltijos, seen above with my delicious blynai. Švyturys also brews other beers, but these are the two you will most likely see everywhere, as well as the Švyturys Ekstra (also Ekstra Draught, which is – you guessed it – on draught in most bars).
Which dishes sound the best to you? Have you had any of them before? Tell us in the comments! Don’t forget to share this article if you enjoyed it!