National cuisine

National cuisine

Before looking deeper into the traditional Lithuanian cuisine, it should be said that it is not static – it has been changing under the influence of many historic factors, as the choice of food varied among social strata, to acquire its present shape. Moreover, both in the past and today, individual Lithuanian regions have many of their own special dishes and use different food preparation technologies.

Even though Lithuania is a small country, eating habits and food preferences differ from region to region. In Žemaitija (the north-western ethnographic region), for instance, people love porridges. Everyone here likes cannabis dishes and kastinys– a type of spicy spread made from butter and sour-cream. People in Aukštaitija (the central and north-eastern region of Lithuania) like different types of pancakes, dumplings, and meals from curds and cottage cheese.

In Dzūkija (the south-eastern part of the country), people have since long ago been growing buckwheat and know how to make most delicious cakes, locally called babkos, and many other dishes from buckwheat. Living in the land of forests, local people are unrivalled berry-gatherers and mushroom-pickers, and their women are experts in preparing mushrooms. In Suvalkija (the south-western region), the most popular food is smoked meat and dishes from grated potatoes and fatty pork. For people living at the sea or lagoon, the traditional daily meal is, naturally, fish.

The Lithuanian cuisine features products that suit its cool and moist northern climate: barley, potatoes, rye, beets, greens, berries, and mushrooms are locally grown, and dairy products are one of its specialties. Since it shares its climate and agricultural practices with Eastern Europe, the Lithuanian cuisine has much in common with other Eastern European (Polish, Ukrainian and Russian) cuisines, and shares some similarities to Hungarian, Romanian, and Georgian cuisines, as well as Ashkenazi cuisine. Nevertheless, it has its own distinguishing features, which were formed by a variety of influences during the country's long and difficult history.

A distinctive trait of the Lithuanian cuisine is the preponderance of potato dishes. A lot of dishes are prepared using potatoes. Among them there is ‘Kugelis’ (potato pudding), ‘Švilpikai’ or ‘Bulbonai’ (shredded potatoes) and also ‘Vėdarai’ or ‘Kishka’ (potato sausages). But the main and most famous Lithuanian dish is ‘Cepelinai’ or ‘Didžkukuliai’ (a type of dumpling).

Cepelinai (so named because the shape resembles a Zeppelin airship) is perhaps the most well-known Lithuanian dish. It is a kind of dumpling made from grated potatoes and stuffed with minced meat and a smoked suet. This dish may be prepared differently depending on the regions of Lithuania: in Klaipėda (Lithuania’s only seaport) it is stuffed with fish, in Žemaitija (Samogitia) it is served with a special sour cream gravy and mushrooms and in Aukštaitija (the Highlands) the dish is usually stuffed with meat.

Several hundreds of types of cheese are prepared in Lithuania: beginning with traditional hard cheese and ending with fruit or smoked cheeses. The smoked cheese, which Lithuanians themselves consider the best in the world, goes with beer very well. It seems that Germans and Scandinavians, who come to Lithuania on drink tours, agree with the residents of the country on this very point. Soups are very popular in Lithuania. There is vegetable soup, meat soup, and soup with chicken or other poultry or game, even beer soup. One of the most interesting Lithuanian soups is Šaltibarščiai (cold beetroot soup), which is prepared from beets/beetroots, Kefir (fermented milk product), greens and boiled eggs. This dish is the most popular when served on a hot summer day.

Lithuanians have always liked to eat copiously and deliciously. This still applies, but the changing way and speed of life inevitably bring changes to eating habits and the attitude to different food products, too. Recent years saw a growth of interest in traditional foods and original recipes. The traditional cuisine becomes increasingly popular not only among consumers anxious about healthy food and traditions, but also among food producers and catering businesses. In Lithuania, many of them use old recipes and apply cooking technologies taken over from the old tradition.

Lithuanian dairy products are famous in half of Europe. Their quality, taste and an incredible variety is appreciated. For example, there is cream cheese prepared by several techniques. A variety of sweet ingredients or spices are added into the cheese.

In the modern diet of Lithuanians the number of Lithuanians meat, fish and dairy products significantly increased. In the life new products, including tea and coffee, exotic fruit and pastries appeared. But Lithuanians still adore their national cuisine. They also love to invite guests to a restaurant or cafe to sit with friends in a cozy atmosphere.

In response to the growing interest in traditional cuisine, food producers offer a possibility to their customers, especially tourists, to experience different culinary sensations and enjoy one of the greatest delights – watch the cooking process in an authentic setting, learn how modern cookers make traditional foods and what tools and materials they use, take a direct part in the process themselves, and, most importantly, taste the result.

Mead and beer are ceremonial and traditional drinks. Mead, midus is the oldest and noblest drink, served during banquets and special occasions. Travelers and chroniclers wrote about the manufacture and use of mead by Lithuanians and Prussians as early as the eleventh century. Good conditions existed to make mead because Lithuanians since early times took honey from wild bees in tree hollows. Today people have several hives on their farmsteads, to satisfy their family needs. Mead ten or more years old was the landlord's pride, for mead's quality increases with age.

Everyone will be amazed at the variety of delicious meals that can be made with simple ingredients and this is only a small part of our culinary heritage!


Source:    www.lietuva.lt