RIGA - When I first moved to Latvia six months ago a bemused friend declared me the "only vegetarian in Latvia."
This also came with the dire warning that I would not survive in Latvia, promptlyfollowed by the generous offering of a heaped plate filled to overflowing with an indistinguishable meat dish.
Instead of immediately abandoning my dietary principles, this encounter only reinforced the notions of healthy living underpinned by vegetarianism.
Since then I have met many vegetarians, locals and expats alike, proving this unstatement indeed false.
Traditional Latvian dishes are heavy on meat and are renowned more for their heartiness than taste.
But for those wanting to forgo typical Latvian fare such as pig's snout and bull testicles in favor of something a little more leafy, fear not.
While vegetarians aren't exactly spoilt for choice, most restaurants offer at least a few veggie options on the menu.
HOLD THE MEAT
Vegetarians might have a hard time in the countryside, where options will be fewer. Latvian's penchant for mayonnaise, sour cream and cheese may make life especially tough for vegans, but it's by no means impossible.
And in case of emergency, hungry herbivores can usually fall back on Latvian staples: potato pancakes and sautejums (hold the sour cream for vegans).
But at least in Riga there are several eateries offering exclusively vegetarian fare.
The most central is Kamala, located in the heart of Old Town on Jauniela Street near the Dome Cathedral.
This unpretentious, but somewhat pricey restaurant, which also caters for vegans on request, offers an extensive range of health food and ayurvedic cuisine including tasty curries and stews in a cozy, India inspired setting.
Another vegetarian favorite is the cheap and cheerful Rama restaurant on Barona Street.
The cafeteria style restaurant forms part of the Hare Krishna Center and features a delicious menu including generous curry dishes, fried soy cheese and the lassi yoghurt drink. The center is heavily involved in charitable endeavors, making it a great choice for the vegetarian with a social conscience.
However, my best recommendation to hunker down for a delicious vegetarian feast is Ekovirtuve, located on Rupniecibus Street.
The organic cafe and food store is the first of its kind in Latvia and its name translates as "ecological kitchen." Here you can pile your plate with wholesome vegetarian selections made from organically and locally grown ingredients.
Ekovirtuve comes as a welcome respite from Latvia's typically greasy and tasteless fare usually on offer. Meals are freshly prepared and the menu offers a changing selection of vegetarian options.
There is also a small range of organic products to buy.
For hungry vegetarians on the go, Riga also offers a few quick eats including Pelmeni XL which serves cheap bowls of steaming vegetarian dumplings at several convenient locations across the city. Falafels are another option, the best of which can be found at Dzirnavu Street's humble Food Box.
Riga's vibrant and cosmopolitan environment, along with the fact more and more locals are starting to jump on the healthy living bandwagon, ensures meat free options will continue to be on the menu.