My desire to visit Vilnius had been sparked by a tourism brochure darinf tourist to visit Lithuania and try local cuisine to know of they liked it. I had decided to take the Lithuanian Tourism Board on their word and try Lithuanian food before deciding for myself what I thought of the cuisine.
But what was Lithuanian cuisine?
Lithuanian cuisine is a root heavy cuisine with staples including beet, potatoes. Being located in the North, rye and berries are also common ingredients. Because of the location of Lithuania, the cuisine has received influences from beyond the Nordics.
It received influences from its Baltic sisters (Latvia and Estonia) as well as its Catholic cousin, Poland. Despite the distance, Lithuanian food was also heavily influenced by German traditions from which the eating of pork and potatoes arose. There is an eastern Turkic influence to Lithuanian food that comes from the Crimean Karaite peoples. Noble Lithuanians hired French chefs to show they had arrived and therefore introduced a French element to Lithuanian cuisine.
Our first meal in Vilnius was of Karaite origin but has since become a mainstream breakfast/snack dish throughout Lithuania – Kibinai. Kibinai is a pastry dish with a selection of filling inside, most commonly mutton and onion.
The place that the reviews said did it best was Cafe Pinavija. A cutesy cafe (which would not normally draw me, apart from food), Pinavija drew a steady stream of customers throughout the morning. One by one the customers walked in, most with ordering a Kibinai and coffee to start the day. I did as the locals did.
This was no dainty cafe and Kibinais were eaten as they were throughout the country, with hands. Biting into kibinai reminded me of home. It tasted like a curry puff with a different filling, or perhaps a Cornish Pasty. The flavours of the fillings enveloped by the sweet, savoury and soft pastry.
A Lithuanian breakfast however does also go with cake – a heavenly tradition to many people, I imagine.
Sweet is not my go to in the morning but when in Vilnius… We ordered the Napoleon Torte a layered cake of pastry and sweet filling. Each layer was cleanly separated and the flavours were chocolatey sweet.
Breakfast would not have been able to powee us through the day, and so very rapidly we got hungry again. This time we decided to go for pub grub. Snêkutis is a chain of gastropubs in Vilnius that serves everything local – from beer to food. It came highly recommended for a good, budget dining experience.
The prices were so affordable, we thought they were selling food in bite sized portions and so we ordered many small dishes, tapas style.
Or so we thought.
We were wrong. Despite the cheap fares, the food portions were huge. As each plate was put on our table the excitment in our eyes gave way to shock at the sheer quantity of food on the table. This was men (because there were two of us) versus food and food clearly was winning…
The items we selected were very Lithuanian and very porky. We began our meal with Pork crackling served with Lithuanian peas and another plated of smoked pig ears with mustard and spices (Rukytos). I felt at home once again, pig ears is a delicacy that is eaten in some Chinese restaurants in Singapore. The ears are usually boiled and served chilled, here they were smoked. The enjoyment of pig ears is in the texture, the crunchiness that results from biting the soft cartilage in the ear and those ears had a lot of crunch.
Then came fried bread with cheese (Kepinta), another warm up dish. The dish was fun to eat, especially if I was a kid. It had all the goodies for a happy tummy, but soon got difficult to carry on – oil on carbohydrates dipped in fats, that is a recipe for clogging arteries.
Our main course was the national dish, Cepelinai. Named as Zeppelins in English after the flying object these are essentially stuffed potatoes dumplings. The dumplings are made from a combination of grated and riced potatoes giving it a chewy, tapioca-like texture. Cepelinai is boiled and served with a sauce of sour cream and bacon bits. It was an intriguing flavour. The heavy and rich potatoes, bacon and meat needed the sourness from the sauce to cut the dish. One Cepelinai is perhaps enough to keep you full for a while.
That was not all to the meal that we ordered, but just writing about this is making me full again. That’s how filling it was.
Suffice to say, in this episode of men versus food, food clearly won.
It says a lot that despite spending a full weekend in Vilnius there was not much eating going on. One meal kept us full for a while. Maybe that accounts for the fact that people (well women, I didn’t pay attention to the men) seemed so fit and attractive in Vilnius. You’d think that food this heavy would lead to an obese and you couldn’t be more wrong. Lithuanain people are in fact one of the fittest with the lowest obesity rates among teenagers from developed countries.
There’s still way too much food in Vilnius I haven’t tried yet though. A few trip back to Lithuania clearly is required 😉
ON THE MAP (Cafe Pinavija)
ON THE MAP (Snekutis)