There are only so many places you can visit and photos to take before you get hungry… And getting hungry is the best time to explore a very important aspect of a country’s culture: its cuisine. National cuisine can reveal a lot about the country, its people, and the life they lead or used to lead.
Lithuanian dishes sometimes might not be the easiest on the stomach, but they are certainly filling. After all, it is not the warmest country and nothing grows here in winter. Also, many of its people worked in farms and agriculture and had to prepare meals that would fill them for the whole day. This can be seen in Lithuanian cuisine. Many dishes include products such as beets and potatoes, rye and barley, berries and mushrooms.
Lithuanian cuisine offers many interesting dishes that sometimes are nothing alike to Western European food and most foreigners find they like the taste. It is a must to try at least a few of the specialties!
The best-known dish and a must – cepelinai
Cepelinai, named so after the airships zeppelins because of their similar shape, is probably the most famous Lithuanian dish. They are pretty large (two normal-sized cepelinai will leave you full for half a day!) potato dumplings, usually stuffed with pork and boiled in salted water, then served with sour cream and bacon. They can also be stuffed with cottage cheese and mushrooms, but such variations are a bit harder to find. Many restaurants also often offer cepelinai that have been boiled and then cut in half and fried in a pan.
You can find this dish in most traditional style Lithuanian restaurants. Restaurants such as “Forto dvaras” and “Katpėdėlė” offer traditional dishes for affordable prices.
Some more potatoes – kugelis
Kugelis, also known as potato pudding or bulvių plokštainis in Lithuanian, is another famous potato‑based dish, similar to the Jewish dish kugel. Grated potatoes are mixed with milk, eggs and onions, then baked in an oven. Sometimes kugelis includes meat but usually they are suitable for vegetarians. Like cepelinai, they are mostly served with sour cream and bacon.
Like cepelinai, kugelis is usually offered at traditional-style restaurants. It is also pretty easy to make at home!
The infamously pink soup – šaltibarščiai
This cold soup is also one of the better-known Lithuanian dishes, standing out for its unusual pink colour. Šaltibarščiai can be considered to be a variation of borscht, literally meaning cold borscht in Lithuanian. The main ingredient is also beets, which are mixed with kefir, a fermented milk drink, quite similar to thin yoghurt, cucumbers, green onions and eggs. It is a pretty easy dish, usually eaten in summer and hot weather. Šaltibarščiai are usually served with boiled or baked potatoes.
Like cepelinai and kugelis, šaltibarščiai can be found at most traditional-style restaurants, especially during summer, though many still serve it during colder times too. This soup is also amazingly easy and quick to make at home. You can find many recipes online. The only specific ingredient is kefir, others should be easy to find, wherever you live!
Dessert you cannot miss out on – šakotis
Šakotis, called tree cake or branchy in English, if translated directly, is probably the best-known Lithuanian dessert. It is a type of spit cake, baked on a rotating spit, its branches formed by pouring layers of dough. It is related to German Baumkuchen and Czech trdelnik. The dough is made from egg yolks and whites, butter, sugar and flour.
The process of baking šakotis is long and tiresome but very interesting to observe. If you want to learn more about this unique cake, it is definitely worth to visit The Tree Cake Museum in Druskininkai. In 2015, this museum baked a 372 cm tall šakotis weighing 86 kg that is now included in the Guinness World Records. They also offer various programs that allow you to be a part of šakotis baking and, of course, let you taste them. Our Lithuanian Classic tour includes a trip to Druskininkai and cooking lessons of Lithuanian specialties.
Something to drink? Lithuanian beer
Beer can almost be considered a national drink in Lithuania. Beer brewing used to be practised at many homes, fathers passing down the recipes to their sons. Nowadays, there are still many breweries, big and small. While you can get mass-produced Lithuanian beer like Volfas Engelman and Švyturys at most restaurants and shops, it is definitely worth to try some of the rarer ones like Dundulis, Vilkmergės or Sakiškių beer. There are beers for everyone’s taste, porter, pale lager, stout, IPA, traditional ale, flavoured beer. But if you do not like alcohol or beer too much, at least try some gira or kvass. It is a bread tea in a way, like something between a beer and a soda, and definitely a unique taste.
There are also many beer tours organised, some including just tasting, some allowing to visit breweries. Our Amber Lithuania tour includes both beer tasting and cheese tasting, not to mention many Lithuanian dishes during lunch and dinner.