Traditional Lithuanian Dishes
About Lithuanian Cuisine
Lithuanians like to eat a lot and enjoy good food. Our traditional cuisine is rather simple, but has a variety of interesting dishes, many of them hearty and suitable for those cold Eastern European winters. Rye, potatoes, various meats, beetroots and turnips, mushrooms, berries, and diary products are often used as staple ingredients. You will find some of the most popular traditional Lithuanian foods, dishes and drinks on the page below.
Didžkukuliai (Also Called Cepelinai) - Potato Dumplings
Didžkukuliai (colloquially known as cepelinai due to their distinctive shape) is often called the national dish of Lithuania. While it's considered an old, traditional recipe these days, potatoes were only brought to Lithuania in the 17th century, and became widely used for food in the beginning of the 19th one. In other words, while cepelinai is certainly a traditional dish, it's not as old as some.
Cepelinai are large, Zeppelin-shaped dumplings made from grated potatoes stuffed with meat. They are usually served with sour cream, spirgai (cracklings), or mushrooms. Some restaurants will serve a vegetarian version of the cepelinai made with a curd filling instead of meat. As you can imagine, it's a rather filling meal with enough calories to make any light eater or dieter run for the hills.
Šaltibarščiai - Cold Borscht (Beetroot Soup)
Šaltibarščiai is a popular summer soup easily recognizable by its vivid pink color. It's made from hard-boiled eggs, cooked and shredded beets, fresh cucumbers, dill, and green onions. All the aforementioned ingredients are chopped and put into a pot, and then soured milk or kefir is added. The soup can be seasoned with salt and some pepper to taste.
Šaltibarščiai is served cold, usually with hot boiled potatoes sprinkled with dill on the side. Sometimes a sliced hard-boiled egg is added into the plate as well. It's a great, refreshing meal on a hot summer day!
Juoda Duona - Dark Rye Bread
While duona means "bread" in general, the Lithuanian tradition is juoda duona - literally "black bread" - which is made of dark rye flour and naturally fermented sourdough without added yeast.
Duona is the oldest traditional Lithuanian food, and has been a staple fare for everyone from peasant to noble for centuries. It played a role in pagan agricultural rituals and still is occasionally used in wedding ceremonies and when welcoming honored guests. As the cornerstone of Lithuanian cuisine, rye bread was shown great respect and even viewed as holy.
Lithuanian dark rye bread is delicious, heavy, fragrant and has a long shelf-life. It can be eaten during breakfast, lunch or dinner. Of course, it isn't as popular these days as it was in the old times, when it was consumed with almost every meal. Nowadays you'll see it eaten with soup, used for sandwiches, or fried in oil and rubbed with garlic as a beer snack.
Balandėliai - Stuffed Cabbage
Balandėliai ("little doves") are made from cabbage leaves stuffed with a minced meat, rice and onion filling. They can be served with sour cream or tomato sauce. Since rice is not grown in Lithuania, pearl barley had been used instead in the truly authentic recipes.
This Lithuanian dish is far from unique, of course - many traditional cuisines in Europe and elsewhere in the world have some sort of stuffed cabbage rolls.
Bulviniai Blynai - Potato Pancakes
Bulviniai blynai, or potato pancakes are one of the many Lithuanian dishes made from potatoes. Shredded potatoes are mixed with eggs, some flour, seasonings, and occasionally an onion or two. They are usually served with sour cream, and sometimes with mushrooms. These are so-very tasty, never mind the extra calories!
Similar potato pancakes are also eaten in many other European and Middle Eastern countries.
Gira - Kvass (Fermented Rye Bread Drink)
Gira is a fermented drink traditionally made from black rye bread (a few raisins tossed in is a more modern addition). It has a unique bready flavor, and a sweet, yet tangy taste. Gira contains a lot of vitamin B and is a great drink for a hot day. It is known as "kvass" in Russia and is popular in other countries in Eastern Europe as well.
Gira is considered a soft drink but contains some alcohol (0.05-1.5%) due to the natural fermentation process, which also adds some natural carbonation. This doesn't apply to kvass-flavored sodas you'll find in a supermarket; these are carbonated artificially and have little to do with the traditional drink.
Skilandis - Cold-Smoked Sausage
Skilandis (also known as Kindziukas from its Polish name) is a pig stomach stuffed with minced meat and seasonings, smoked and then matured (dried) for some time. It is one of the many smoked meat products that are popular in Lithuania, which include smoked and cured ham (rūkytas kumpis) and smoked sausage (dešra). This traditional method of preserving meat to last a long time has been used in the region for many centuries.
Lašiniai - Smoked Fatback
Lašiniai are slabs of pork underskin fat with skin, often eaten as an appetizer with bread and / or onions or when drinking. Lithuanian lašiniai are a smoked product, while the Ukrainian equivalent salo is usually only salted.
Believe it or not, despite being animal fat, lašiniai are considered healthy by some experts. They're a good source of vitamins A, D, F, and E, and are rich in unsaturated fatty acids.
Bulvių Plokštainis - Kugel (Potato Casserole)
Bulvių plokštainis is another fattening yet delicious and hearty potato-based dish. Grated potatoes (with the juice removed) are mixed with eggs, milk, onions, and seasoned with pepper, salt, and occasionally marjoram or other herbs. The whole mixture is then baked in the oven, resulting in a flat potato casserole, which is what the name bulvių plokštainis literally means. It is usually served with sour cream and occasionally spirgai.
While having nothing to do with the authentic recipe, mushrooms and meat (chicken or pork, browned prior to adding it into the mix) are frequently added to this basic dish when cooking day-to-day.
Since it's commonly known as kugelis in Lithuanian, a discerning reader will no doubt notice the connection to the traditional Jewish dish.
Vėdarai - Potato Sausage
Vėdarai refers to baked sausages made from pig intestines and stuffed with either potatoes (bulviniai vėdarai) or a filling made of pork blood, barley, and other ingredients (kraujiniai vėdarai), which is similar to blood sausages eaten in Germany or Great Britain.
Both versions involve stuffing the mix into pork casings and baking them in the oven. This meal is usually eaten as a second course, with sour cream or some fancier sauce on the side.
Aguonų Pienas ir Kūčiukai - Poppy Milk and Pastries
Kūčiukai are small, hard pastries made from leavened dough. They are traditionally consumed on the Christmas Eve (Kūčios) together with aguonų pienas. Aguonpienis, or "poppy milk" is made by soaking poppy seeds in water for a day to soften them up, and then crushing them using a food processor until a white liquid comes out. It is then diluted with some cold water and sweetened to taste with honey or sugar.
This is an important part of the time-honored twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper in Lithuania, where each dish represents a month of the upcoming year.
Krienai - Horseradish
Horseradish (krienas) has been used as a condiment in Lithuania for hundreds of years. The roots are washed, cleaned, finely grated, and marinated in a mixture of water, salt, and vinegar. Some beetroot juice is usually added to give krienai a light pink color. Their powerful taste adds some spiciness reminiscent of the Japanese wasabi to the normally mild Lithuanian cuisine.
Horseradish sauce is also popular in Poland and other Eastern European countries.
Traditional Lithuanian Cookbook
If you want to try your hand at cooking some of the aforementioned ethnic Lithuanian dishes, this volume by B. Imbrasiene will definitely come in handy. Unlike several other similarly-titled books, this one contains actual, authentic recipes, such as they were (and still are) used in the Lithuanian countryside. In addition to the 300 great recipes, it also provides some information on the country's culinary traditions and food culture.
Links and Resources
- Lithuanian Traditional Foods page has a lot of information on our national cuisine. The available recipes were compiled by Birute Imbrasiene, the author of the book displayed above. (The link leads to an archived version as the original page is no longer available).
- Wikipedia has a nice long article about Lithuanian cuisine with both a historical perspective and a list of more modern dishes.
A Small Country on the Eastern Shore of the Baltic Sea
Questions & Answers
Is Klatski a traditional Lithuanian dish? How is it made?
If we're talking about "kleckai" they're dumplings which are usually made from dough but can also be made from potatoes, and filled with savory filling like meat, onions, etc. I'd Google "kleckai receptas" as there's quite a few and I'm no expert!Helpful 5
What do you call pork meatballs used in Lithuanian dishes?
"Kiaulienos kotletai", or more commonly and simply just "kotletai".Helpful 2