Ready to meet the next European culinary star? Lithuanian food is an un-beet-able mix of seasonal specialties, root vegetables, fresh fish, berries, cheese, mushrooms and creativity. Every region – from the South of Lithuania and its sea of green to Lithuania Minor on the Baltic coast – has its own dishes and edible treasures.
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Getting hungry? Let’s dig into a 11 course tasting menu through Lithuanian cuisine.
Šaltibarščiai – Instagram-worthy cold beetroot soup
It looks like summer. It tastes like summer. And it shares the crown with cepelinai (more on that in a minute) as the most popular of Lithuanian dishes. Its highly Instagrammable, party pink colour comes from dropping beets among their cool friends kefir, cucumbers, sour cream and dill. With boiled eggs added to the mix, it becomes a cracking summer hit.
Take a spoonful, close your eyes and you can imagine yourself on a breezy Baltic beach in Palanga. Unless, of course, you’re already there.
Mushroom soup in a bread bowl
Frankly, it’s genius. You take creamy, dreamy soup made with juicy, forest-fresh mushrooms. Then you take a sturdy rye loaf. Cut out the middle. And you pour the soup in it. As you slurp away, you uncover bread chunks that have soaked up all the flavours, turning into soft, mouth-watering morsels.
It’s so good, you finish the whole bowl in minutes. Then, you eat the bowl.
Cepelinai – a.k.a. “Zeppelins”, a.k.a. the Queen of Lithuanian dishes 🇱🇹
Soft potato dumplings stuffed with meat and served with bacon and mushrooms, accompanied by sour cream. Need we say more? As if that wasn’t mouth-watering enough, this giant morsel tends to be topped with bacon sauce and yet more bacon. It may get its name from its shape, but it’s also fitting in another way – it’s a dish so tasty it will make your spirits soar. And there’s good news for non-meat eaters too – you can find vegetarian versions of cepelinai.
Kepta Duona – Lithuania’s must-try fried bread dish
Step one. Take a loaf of rich rye bread. Step two. Cut it up into little slices and fry them with loads of garlic. Step 3. Get yourself an amazing beer from a local Lithuanian brewery. Step 4. Clink glasses with your friends, say “Į sveikatą!”. Or skip steps 1 to 3 by visiting one of Lithuania’s many great bars and pubs.
FYI – Lithuania is crazy about black bread. In fact, every person eats 110 kg a year – that’s around 200 loafs a year!
Kugelis – the best of Lithuanian food in a slice
Sizzling bacon, caramelised onions, grated potato, all bound together by beaten eggs and milk, then baked until crisp and golden. That pretty much sums up Kugelis. This dish is tasty enough to make you want to pack your bags and move to Lithuania. At the very least, fly over to try out all of the Lithuanian dishes.
Kibinai – the Cornish pasty of Lithuanian dishes
Kibinai is a gift to Lithuanian cuisine from the East. And oh, what a gift. Under its flaky, puffy pastry wrapping lies a delightful filling. It could be ground pork and cabbage. It could be cheese and spinach. Or, it could be something sweet, like berry jam or apple and plum.
And on that note, it’s time for Lithuanian desserts.
Grybukai – mushroom cookies
We can tell you just raised an eyebrow, so let’s make one thing clear. These cookies are not actually made using mushrooms. They just look like them. Bite into one of these cute little cookies and you’ll get a burst of cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Mushroom cookies? More like much-nom.
Varškėčiai – nice and cheesy fried cakes
Many savoury Lithuanian dishes are generous with cheese (yay!), but so are many of the sweet ones (double yay!). A stand-out among them is Varškėčiai, fried cakes made with creamy Lithuanian cheese curds and crisped to perfection. Served, of course, with forest berries, honey and cream. Mmmm. Needless to say, they’re a local favourite and tend to sell like, well, hotcakes.
Also worth trying: Varškės spurgos, little round donuts made all the better with the addition of cheese curds. That, or varškės apkepas, a Lithuanian cheesecake.
Šakotis – the cake that goes round and round
Some might say this festive cake looks like a porcupine. Others might say it looks like a Christmas tree. Regardless, no two of them look the same. That’s because Šakotis gets its fun shape from dripping batter, and from spinning fast on a spit cooker. It’s sweet-looking treat, but it’s even more exciting to watch it be made.
Gira – Lithuania’s famous bread drink
You heard right. It’s like bread, but you can drink it. Also called kvass, this sweet fermented wonder is made with dark rye bread, honey and raisins. That, plus water. Unlike beer, it’s pretty much alcohol-free. Like beer, it’s great for washing down those amazing Lithuanian dishes you’ve been enjoying.
Lithuanian curd cheese and honey – the ultimate power couple
Its name is varškės sūris, but you can call it curd cheese. It’s a national star with international acclaim. It’s smooth and dissolves on the tongue, leading to a feeling that can only be described as heaven. You can fry it, smoke it, season it with caraway. But drizzle honey over it, and you get something divine.
Unfortunately, you can’t fly it home with you. You can, however, bring apple cheese, a no-dairy delight that will have sweet-tooth fromage fans going for slice after slice.
Lithuanian dishes 2.0
No guide to Lithuanian food would be complete without a shout-out to its rising fine dining scene. Young chefs are busy cooking up a revolution, all while staying true to local ingredients and rooted traditions.
What does that taste like? At Sweet Root, it could be pike-perch with spruce tips and sauerkraut. At Nineteen18, a dazzling plate conjured up with whatever’s come in fresh from their very own farm. And at Džiaugsmas, a cool combo of boletus mushrooms with ice cream.
A bite-sized bit on the Lithuanian language to help you when ordering food
Lithuania has some cool-looking letters. But how do you pronounce them? Worry not. We have you covered.
|J sounds like y.||Example: John sounds like yawn. By which we do not mean, of course, that John is boring.|
|C sounds like ts.||Example: As in “let’s fly to Vilnius.”|
|Č sounds like ch||Example: As in “Cepelinai? Excellent choice!”|
|Š sounds like sh||Example: As in “Sure, I’ll have more šaltibarčiai.”|
|Y sounds like ee||Example: “Three mushroom cookies, please.”|
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