Lithuanian cuisine is generally mild. Potatoes and rye bread are the staple foods and pork are the favorite meat, followed by beef and chicken. Seaside areas have traditional fish recipes but most other seafood is considered inedible.
Most famous Lithuanian meals
The meal most strongly associated with the Lithuanian nation is the Cepelinai, named after Graff von Zeppelin because these potato dumplings are similar in form to airship he invented. A more Lithuanian name for the meal is “didžkukuliai“. Foreigners sometimes find the meal hard for their stomachs but it is very popular among Lithuanians. It is also one of the cheapest meals of its size you may get in Lithuanian restaurants. Making cepelinai yourself would take hours, however.
There are other popular local foods. Lithuanians like to eat soups (usually served with traditional black rye bread or potatoes) before the main dish. Rose-colored šaltibarščiai cold soup dominates over hot soups in summer. Salted herring (Silkė) is another loved appetizer, most commonly served with potatoes, vegetables, and bread.
There are many forms of popular pancakes, among them the Samogitian pancakes (Žemaičių blynai) filled with minced meat and the Potato pancakes (Bulviniai blynai) made of (you guessed it right) potatoes (vegetarian). Kugelis is similar to potato pancakes but has a more bloated form. Samogitian kastinis (a smetana and soured milk-based sauce to dip potatoes in) is yet another Lithuanian potato meal.
Meat-based main courses include karbonadas (a pork steak that should be loved by everybody, save for vegetarians) and šašlykai (grilled fat meat). More exotic are the Vėdarai (stuffed pig’s intestines) and Skilandis (stuffed pig’s stomach). Few parts of a pig would be considered inedible in Lithuania.
Traditional Lithuanian desserts are the šakotis (large circular branching structure similar in taste to German Baumkuchen) and žagarėliai (sweet nicely formed cookies). They are common during festivities, e.g. weddings, and may be bought at shops, but are rarely available at restaurants.
Lithuanians eat their major meals at midday (11:30-13:30). This meal may be translated as “dinner” even though it is earlier than Western dinner. Breakfast is light (e.g. self-made sandwich). Supper may be both light or elaborate.
Lithuanian regional and minority cuisine
Some of the Lithuanian meals are shared with Polish and other neighboring cuisines. Koldūnai (a.k.a. virtiniai) dumplings of unleavened dough originated in Russia whereas the Kiev chicken cutlet (Kijevo kotletas) is likely Ukrainian but both are now widely served in Lithuania.
There are some regional variations of Lithuanian cuisine, with mushroom-based dishes hailing from forested Dūkija, dough-based dishes from Aukštaitija, potato-based dishes from Samogitia and meat-based dishes from Sudovia. However today this is mostly historical as many of the dishes are available everywhere.
The cuisine of the centuries-old Turkic minorities has also been adopted by the mainstream society, especially the Karaim kibinas (kibin) and Tatar čeburekas, both fast food pastries filled with meat.
Gourmet nobility cuisine with its preference for the game and expensive desserts lost popularity under the Soviet occupation. In some restaurants, these old recipes are revived, however.
Lithuanian seasonal meals and beverages
Some of the most famous Lithuanian meals are related to specific Christian holidays. Kūčiukai, a kind of hard bread, are widely eaten in Advent period before Christmas. Easter has a tradition of dying eggs (called margučiai) which is seen as an art. During Užgavėnės one just has to eat pancakes.
Beer is the most common alcoholic beverage with many Lithuanians considering their beer to be among world’s best. Over 90% of all beer sold in Lithuania are local brands. In addition to the main trademarks (Utenos, Kalnapilis, Švyturys, Volfas-Engelman) traditional local beers are regaining popularity (even major players have been launching their own “craft beer” line-ups).
Centuries of Russian and Soviet rule brought vodka to Lithuania, but it is now more commonly associated with the poor. There is no tradition to drink wine in Lithuania and grapes are not cultivated. However in recent decades wine became more popular due to western influence (especially among the rich).
The traditional soft drink is the mildly alcoholic gira, but Western soft drinks now prevail.
Fruits, berries, and mushrooms are widely available in summer-autumn as people bring them from their gardens, forage in the forests or buy at markets and makeshift roadside stalls. Apples, strawberries, and blueberries are among the most popular. They are mostly eaten plain or squeezed into unmixed juice. These days all fruits may be acquired year-round but with Lithuania being so far north seasonal and out-of-season prices differ greatly.
See also: Restaurants in Lithuania