This post is the final post in The Culinary Diplomat’s Baltic series. For more posts, please search using The Baltic States category.
Surprisingly to an outsider, I found in the Baltic States an abundance of vegetarian and vegan products, as well as dishes, and restaurants dedicated to or catering to alternative dining preferences (vegetarian, vegan, raw, paleo, low-carbohydrate, etc.). All three capital cities had dedicated vegetarian restaurants, and most nicer restaurants, as is customary in the U.S., offered substantial vegetarian entrees – and I’m not talking pasta con marinara in an Italian restaurant.
In Tallinn, Kohvik Komeet (Cafe Comet in English) with its casual tea-room ambiance and pastry and dessert cases that would put to shame any American Cheesecake Factory counterpart, is the perfect spot for gourmet, yet casual, vegetarian food. Its menu features a variety of creative and flavorful meat-based and meatless dishes – soups, salads, pastas, and more traditional entrees. Quinoa, edamame, beets, and lentils are as much at home on its menu as are veal, duck, meat-based croquettes, and chicken soup. My post about beets highlighted one of these amazing vegetarian entrees from Komeet.
Riga, Latvia-based LIDO, a charming, cafeteria-style restaurant chain with several locations in Riga and one in Tallinn, Estonia, caters to the average Baltic family with a wide range of hearty, traditional eastern European staples at its many locations throughout the Baltic States. While the eye is drawn to numerous carved meats, sausages, and kabob/shashlik skewers, a vegetarian can graze happily with soups, hearty potato dishes (though I can’t rule out that they may use bacon/animal fat…) including delicious potato pancakes served with berry coulis and sour cream, and organic vegetable dishes, including the obligatory eastern European sour cream-based carrot and beet salads (definitely not vegan), pastas, juices, and more.
If you read my profile of Riga’s Stockpot, you would have noticed that the global eatery takes seriously its commitment to serving a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan soups and entrees. More than half of their typical menu is vegetarian or vegan, and with their total staple of over 200 rotating dishes, a vegan certainly will never get tired of his or her options, which evoke much warmer, spicier destinations around the world.
I doubt that anyone would guess that hilly, inland Vilnius, Lithuania is a destination for raw and vegan food, but Raw42 was outstanding, even for a mixitarian like myself. I was impressed at the variety of its offerings and more surprised at their consistent execution of flavor and texture, using fresh, high quality ingredients. Named for the temperature limit for their dishes (42 degrees Celsius, or about 108 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to preserve ingredients’ nutrient and enzyme viability, they reinvent classic European and Asian dishes like spaghetti, lasagna, pizza, sushi, and Thai rolls with plant-based substitutes. Sunflower, almond, and cashew “cheese” compliment menu staples, such as ribbons of zucchini pasta warmed just enough to a perfect al dente, sushi made with nut “rice” and vegetables, salads or beet borscht, and others. The resulting flavors are subtle and yet complex. Their hot Italian tomato soup was surprisingly warm and comforting. The sushi was a creative (and yes, nutty) substitute for a typical starchy maki roll. I tried their Italian salad as a starter, as well, and I really enjoyed a rare sighting of avocado in northeastern Europe and the sunflower seed ‘cheese’ (more like a brittle, but tasty and crunchy). The nutritious and oddly refined meal was a welcome detox after perhaps too much wine at the best and friendliest Italian wine bar (yes! Italian wines only), Burbulio Vyninine after a heavy steak dinner.
Though many of you may never venture to the Baltic States, I certainly hope you add it to your Bucket List – if nothing else, make it a post-cruise tour or take an organized tour. The costs and time involved for the journey – whether you’re from western Europe or the Western Hemisphere – are far less than you might expect. And the cultural and culinary rewards are many.