So you are planning a trip to Europe and have even booked a ticket to this small Baltic country whose name you find it somewhat difficult to pronounce – Lithuania… LI-THU-A-NIA…
So is Lithuanian cuisine as exotic as the name of the country sounds?
While visiting Lithuania, you will be, most likely, told that the various potato dishes found on most menus are part of the authentic national cuisine.
That’s what most of us, Lithuanians, believe and tell everyone.
I’ve found countless blog posts and books written by travelers telling their discovery of various potato dishes in Lithuania. Here’s a book by an Irish lady living in Lithuania where she talks about the famous potato dishes, calling them traditional Lithuanian dishes.
But historians tell us we are all wrong!
And they are doing everything to debunk these myths about traditional Lithuanian food.
But first, here are a few examples of dishes you will be served as traditional Lithuanian food:
Large potato dumplings usually stuffed with meat or cottage cheese, also popularly called ‘cepelinai’.
Cepelinai is a dish absolutely loved by most locals and is usually served on special occasions because it takes quite a lot of time to prepare.
So if you visit some Lithuanian friends and they serve you this heavy, hearty dish, do make an effort to taste it, even if it looks somewhat strange…
…close your eyes, if you have to 😉
Potato pancakes can be plain or stuffed with meat and served with a cream sauce.
It’s a sort of grated potato pie, baked in the oven, made from exactly the same ingredients as potato pancakes above.
Šaltibarščiai (cold beetroot soup).
Lots of visitors to the country are really surprised to see pink color of this soup!
I’ve heard people call it ‘pink soup’, and they aren’t wrong about the color!
Most Lithuanians absolutely love this soup in the summertime, but many will eat it all year round.
Šakotis (in German Baumkuchen).
Šakotis is often given as a gift on special occasions, especially weddings, and is always presented as a traditional Lithuanian cake to foreign visitors.
However, even a basic and quick research shows that such spit cake is made in many countries across Europe and has a very long history stretching as far back as ancient Rome.
These and other similar dishes can, of course, be called traditional Lithuanian cuisine to indicate the fact that they have been loved and eaten by the locals for decades now.
However, many of the above dishes are well known across Eastern and Northern Europe, where each country has their versions.
But what do historians tell us about this potato-heavy cuisine in Lithuania? Can it be called traditional?
Historians remind us, that potato in Lithuania became popular only at the start of 20th century.
It became really widespread with the arrival of the Soviet occupation and the kolhoz when in the middle of the 20th century the privately owned land was nationalized by the Soviet Union and people were left only with their backyards to grow a few vegetable varieties to supplement their diet.
So it’s only in the middle of the 20th century that heavy and tasty dishes from grated potato became extremely popular and are still eaten and presented as traditional Lithuanian food today.
So what are you supposed to eat, if you want to taste authentic Lithuanian food?
Actually, authentic Lithuanian cuisine with local roots reaching hundreds and even thousands of years is not that difficult to find, as it is still eaten by most Lithuanians every day, even unbeknownst to many locals themselves.
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