Diary of a Baltic exile

  • 2004-03-25
I enjoyed reading The Baltic Times' article "Bugging Out in the Baltics" several weeks ago.

The bit about dill was especially spot on. I know that Latvians are incredibly sensitive about any criticism of their cuisine but, it has to be said, my stomach has suffered terribly ever since I moved to Riga several years ago.
The wonderful art form of the salad, for example, is generally composed out of a five-veggie palette, with thinly sliced cucumber, tomato, beetroot, red pepper and pickled cabbage, all conceptually lumped together in a vat of lardy mayonnaise. If that's a salad then we may as well call a mouse a moose.
And bread. Oh Lordy, many a person has told me that Latvian bread is the best in Europe. But have they actually tried a real French baguette, made with deliciously light wheat? Or a warm crisp ciabatta or focaccia? For me, at least, the highly popular local black bread goes down into the gut like a cannonball of carbohydrates.
And what about olives? Yes, they're small, round and come in a can marked "olives," but they bear about as much relation to the real thing as a kidney stone. The sad fact is that the local supermarkets are importing the cheapest, nastiest versions of foreign foodstuffs, and many people are none the wiser.
Take the "Spanish" food store Dona Jimena, which has recently sprouted up all over downtown Riga. I'm sorry to say it, but a Spaniard would collapse laughing if he saw the waste products being flogged there in the colorful name of Spain. You could probably find better quality chorizo at a Kaliningrad butcher's.
But before I get too carried away with my diatribe, I should say that things are improving. More and more good restaurants are coming to town, and the big supermarkets are importing a much better choice of goods. Before long, Riga will have the same exciting, eclectic cuisine that one expects of a major European city.
The only thing that baffles me is, considering the old maxim that you are what you eat, how on earth do Latvians manage to look so good? I never knew that an abundance of dill, potatoes and mayonnaise could metabolize so beautifully.