Interesting to note that in Latvia one thing is quite apparent - practically all foods gracing the table came from just outside the window. Birch sap juice in early spring were/are the perfect tonic to oil up rusty bones, while the flora in the field work well as seasonings for any dis, or for a pot of tea. From the nearby woods comes the meat on the table, plus, a wide variety of nuts and berries. And the yonder stream, lake and ocean provide an abundance of fish.
These traditions from yesteryear are still alive today. Food stuffs straight from the wild not only are the norm at home, but are increasingly found on the menus of the finest restaurants. Dinner ware - plates and bowls made from wood, clay, stone and glass - all natural, are also a unique addition to the world of Latvian gastronomy.
We decided to ask foodie and Latvia resident Emilver Gobbett to tell us a little bit more about the gastronomy scene in Riga and what makes it so special. Keep scrolling to read part one of four as Emilver describes in detail his “must visit” restaurants in the capital city.
Gastronomy Scene in Latvia
Since coming to Latvia to live as lover of food, one big difference that’s become obvious is that majority of Latvians I’ve met tend to have a healthy attitude to eating a great variety of food. Only in Latvia, have I seen people carrying large watermelons on their way to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I’ve been offered a handful of rhubarbs one early summer upon meeting a friend on the street by chance. Such experiences tells me of just how close their relationship is to food, natural food, mainly. Season also plays an important role to eating habits of the locals. Around this time of the year, you’d find many who takes advantage of extracting maple and birch juices from trees, while at the end of Summer and beginning of Autumn, many take the time to collect mushrooms in the forest, for instance. They just seem enjoy crops at it’s best, at their most ripe and height of abundance and flavour. Even food I’ve been accustomed to for many years, tasted a lot fuller. These qualities are equally reflected on family dinner tables and local restaurants alike.
In the past, many restaurants in the country served more foreign dishes but recently, thanks mainly to the rich variety of local produce, many have been going back to roots of Latvian kitchen where you’d find numerous subtle flavor, wholesome and layered with every spoonful.
Riga as a city is relatively small, yet still, I found myself struggling making my top 3 choice of eateries I’d recommend and actually ended up with 4. I’d like to point out that although the places I’ve visited for this blog treated me with great hospitality and fascinating amount of information (it only seems natural as they are all very excited about what they do), none of them had been chosen for this reason.
Instead, they made it onto this list because they already had reputable name and/or that I’ve personally been to visit them and enjoyed my experience. One thing they have in common which became obvious as I spoke with the chefs and owners is that Latvia isn’t just a great place for fine food. They support each other, local farmers, producers, brewers and roasters to bring you the very best possible. I guess that’s why everything they create tastes so good! Their passion and love is made tangible and presented to you on a plate.
Exclusivity and Appreciative Dining: Trīs Pavāri (Three Chefs)
Witnessing the food available here, it immediately became clear to me that the success of this kitchen is the result of the ‘family culture’ between the workers. I was shown around by possibly the youngest and equally enthusiastic chef Artūrs Trinkuns. His story started from humble beginnings in the kitchen, making his way up to one of the three head chefs. Now responsible for selecting the products, Artūrs was more than happy to take his time and show me the magical kitchen and just how he meticulously go through the trouble of selecting only the finest of ingredients while ensuring harmonious long-term cooperation with the producers.
Three Chefs is an evolving kitchen, always progressing and ready to surprise its customers with such exciting mix and complex flavor from start to finish. They achieve this through regular training of their staff, including the waiters as well as regular workshops for diners interested in the art. So, for a relaxed and pleasurable sit and appreciation of food, this is definitely one I’d recommend.
Incredibly tasty powerfood: Raw Garden
Good tasting food must be one of the basic requirement for eating out. But when it comes to extracting raw goodness from food, this restaurant’s mission is to go the extra mile. Not needing to be categorized as vegetarian nor vegan, Raw Garden, instead, focuses on what many others miss; the art of allowing food to feed us its real nutrition as nature intended. This is definitely challenging considering that there are no preservatives, processed ingredients (such as sugar) nor gluten (you’ll find no dairy in the ingredients) added to what you eat while the flavor is amplified. This is the science of nutrition presented in satisfying, hunger-busting and energizing selection of delights.
Due to various techniques used, preparation takes many painstaking hours to make sure they are harnessed and absorbed well into the body. This is their passion and, to my mind, sets them apart from the usual restaurants. There’s a selection of food from guilt-free confectioneries (as they are all made of organic ingredients) to plant based as well as hot food and drinks such as fresh and unusual smoothies alongside the famous matcha green tea (try the earthy and creamy latte version). What’s also worth noting here is that the creativity doesn’t stop in cooking as it is always presented so beautifully. Each subtle aroma and flavor are left unspoilt while remaining packed with exceptionally good nutrients.
Contemporary and playful: Rocket Bean Roastery
Details, details, details. Serving great coffee may not be unusual in this city anymore, but Rocket Bean’s foundation and concept is to help promote and educate those interested in both good quality coffee and food. In fact the owners were directly responsible for setting the scene for great coffee in the city back when it was still a foreign idea to many. This passion of sharing extends in everything they do. The interior alone is worth a visit. There is a sense of transparency and honesty to this place. It feels very Latvian without being overwhelming. Instead it’s light, inviting, open and contemporary.
At the back, you’d find their very own pride and joy, a coffee roasting machine which product is also sold over the counter along with many other selection. I’ve once been told that if this is a whiskey bar, the coffees they have are the single malts of the coffee world. Their selection promotes special, small sized coffee plantations which are proudly and ethically supported. This is a community willing to share their knowledge to anyone who’s interested that walks through their door. They share by holding regular informative workshops open for all, practically anyone can have a tour, the staff are regularly updated and trained to keep up their knowledge sharp on both the coffee types and food they serve and you can see the chefs create their magic in the kitchen as you walk through the restaurant.
This is where you’d find the renowned Arturs Taskans, the Head Chef who’s gained his Michelin star training and experience from the prestigious and competitive culinary city of London. As expected, his charisma and creativity is embedded on each extraordinary dish. This is no ordinary restaurant, playfulness of flavor is treated with the highest care and you can taste it from every mouthful.
On a budget and on the fly: MIIT
Last but not least, one I couldn’t leave out is a hidden gem. For the health-conscious and coffee-loving traveler, I’d highly recommend Miit. Although this is strictly speaking more of a cafeteria style service, the place has warm, inviting and work-ready interior thanks to ports available for charging your devices. This is a great place where local businesses and creatives come to escape for informal catch ups while enjoying seasonal and freshly prepared food.
The menu changes on daily basis. The baristas are equally passionate about coffee-making here and pride themselves on entering competitions. They’re also picky about the coffee suppliers they use and represent a local roasters as well as the 5 Elephant brand (one of the best in Europe, so I’m told) available for filtered coffees. What I like most about this place is the great price for such quality of food and drink complemented with efficient, friendly and informative staff. Their cappuccino is my personal favorite in town, while the filtered Kenyan is also highly recommended. This is an ideal stop for quick and wholesome food and great coffee along with super yummy treats.
There are various tourism attractions and restaurants close at hand to Radisson Blu Hotels in Riga. We will be more than happy to host you during your foodie adventure!