Cheap and nasty, try the real Lithuanian cuisine

  • 2008-10-16
  • By Adam Mullett

SERVICE WITH A SMILE: The ladies of the valgyka are always ready to dish it up.

VILNIUS - You haven't lived the real Vilnius lifestyle until you have been to one of the many valgyklas in the basements of the city. This is Lithuanian-style fast food. If you took the time to think about it, you will only see two McDonald's restaurants in Lithuania. Apart from those, there is no fast food here.

Valgykla translates literally as "eatery," coming from the base word valgyti, to eat.
A valgykla is the down and dirty place you go when you don't have time to eat. You will have to look hard to find your first valgykla 's they are in places that you wouldn't expect. Often they are in basements or in alleyways, but other times you have to look up to the third floor for the sign. In short, they put them wherever there is space. They are often near big government buildings and universities.

Grab some julienne carrots with oil and pepper, grated cabbage, a wafer-thin piece of meat fried in some indescribable substance and a glass of compote, and life is sweet.
Locals get excited when beetroot is available for a side dish, because the same salad every day can get a little boring.

The valgykla comes from Soviet times when people needed to fill their bellies during the day. Stand in line, take your pre-poured drink off the table, pay, sit down and eat.
It wasn't nice, the food was boring, but that was life. At that time, going to a real restaurant with waiters was only for special occasions.

The valgykla today is a relic of the past, but still serves busy proles who need simple food on the go.
A trip to the valgykla can take as little as ten minutes 's including eating 's if you are fast enough, and it will only set you back about 10 litas (2.90 euros) for soup and a main meal.

When you get there you will see the blackboard with illegible handwriting telling you what is on offer.
Meat dishes are the most popular among valgyklas in Vilnius, but the chefs use a secret money-saving technique. Mincemeat is mixed with bread crumbs until the meat no longer sticks together, and then the mix is fried.

Some valgyklas don't have chairs, and you have to stand up around high tables. As you survey your surroundings, you will see drab yellowish walls, dated decorations, sickly plants and the other patrons.
While this doesn't sound like an inspiring choice for a venue to take someone on a first date, it is a sample of genuine Lithuanian culture that hasn't been westernized. Do not expect a smile from the cashier or a large range of dishes, but do expect to eat cheaply, fast and relatively healthily.

While there are better places to eat on a regular basis, the valgykla is a great place to go for cheap traditional food. Everyone has their favorite and least-favorite valgykla. Go a few times and find your favorite one, then discuss this with your Lithuanian friends 's they will tell you why their valgykla is better, even though it's the more or less the same. This is Lithuanian culture.