Culinary experience in the Baltic States

In the Epoque of food abundance, tourists have found one more pleasant way to discover the destination they are traveling to – via local gastronomy.

In other words, show me your daily bread, and I’ll understand who you are. Unfortunately, this affirmation will never be employed by the Lithuanian tourism department as it doesn’t help to describe the Baltics States Tours as The Experience of your life. Indeed, our moderate climate with long snowy winters set here the tradition of starchy, fat, and rather dull food represented brown palette in all its shades. You should be a very skillful photographer to create from this meal Adventure Promising Picture.

A reckless phrase said by the grand of the Lithuanian fashion world: “Lithuanians are as grey as their zeppelins” was vigorously criticized by the whole country but made us sink into thought. Well, the designer had in mind only Lithuanian reluctance immediately to adopt all incredible novelties the fashion industry offers. However, the majority sadly recognized that the grain of truth in this statement exists mainly if we apply it to the traditional baltic diet.

THE EXCEPTION PROVES THE RULE

Purple, orange, and scarlet leave for Napoli Pizza Festival. We do not have time to celebrate here in this severe corner of Europe. But we know how to work hard and how to survive, and our brownish food is precisely about this.  And yet, even in our modest Lithuanian cuisine should be something that is “the exception proves the rule”, and is bright and eye-catching as Mardi Grass cakes. Something that should provoke you to taste it immediately as soon as you see it. Something that would prove that the Baltic cookbook also has a place in the gastronomic heritage of the world. And we do have it.

Ladies and Gentlemen allow me to introduce you to the king of the Lithuanian Summer season – Šaltibarsčiai or Cold Beet Soup.

THE BIRTH OF A MIRACLE

Amazingly but this colorful, full of joy soup was also born as the result of poverty and harsh conditions of life. Poor Lithuanian soil never allowed to get harvest more than once per year.  That is why the people were happy to discover the first beets sprouts. They were eatable as soon as they appeared in the garden in early spring. And the spring was always the difficult time of the year in the village: the last year stocks have been almost finished, for a new harvest you still needed to wait.  

This trimming of a beet did not disturb the vegetable’s root to continue ripping deep in the earth. So, in Autumn, sources sprouts were changed by ripped roots, which gave even more intense pink color for the same soup. Add to this fact, the secure storage of the beets during the winter season, and you will have the answer to why exactly this vegetable became the most famous Lithuanian root before the potatoes occupied our fields.

ON THE WAY TO NATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS

It was just a matter of time when this soup entered palaces of the Lithuanian nobles. Of course, in the aristocratic bowl, the ingredients were a bit more sophisticated like adding some pieces of crayfish or a tablespoon of sour cream. 

But these details didn’t change the central fact: in the national consciousness, it is Lithuanian National Dish. Because if you find the same course both in the menu of a duke and in the miserable wooden hut of his peasant, how else can you name it? Interesting that hot beet soup is trendy in neighboring Poland. Cold soups from meat and vegetables on the base of kvass, (a beverage made from fermented rye bread) were popular in Slavic areas. However, the union of ice and beets was exceptionally Lithuanian food.

Unfortunately, Lithuanian archives haven’t saved for us the first recipes that had to be dated by the 16th c., the time when beetroots arrived at our land. But what we do find in the written sources is the fact dated by the 18th c. Lithuanian noblemen were participating in numerous international picnics. Each time when they needed to bring to the picnic food representing their national cuisine, exactly cold beet soup was served. Usually, with a joke “we were so much in a hurry that didn’t have time to boil it.”

Another group of historical anecdotes #ColdBeetSoup is many memories of foreigners about Lithuanian tradition to welcome honorable guests with Šaltibarsčiai even if visitors arrived in February, thrilling from cold and snow.

BALTIC FOOD RECIPES

Finally, let’s take a glance at the shopping carriage of a Lithuanian housewife when Šaltibarsciai is in her plans for today’s lunch:

Beetroots, fresh cucumbers, a bunch of dills, and a packet of kefir (a fermented milk drink similar to a thin yogurt) is a must. Then optionally and depending on who is cooking, you will find scallion, radish, sour cream. Potatoes and eggs are also in the basket, but their part is minor – to be boiled and served as a side dish.  And then the secret ingredient comes to play its’ significant role in this magnificent feast of vegetables. No Lithuanian housewife will reveal the secret of her cold beet soup immediately after you swallow a spoon of her soup. But when you deserve it, be ready to hear something deeply astonishing: milk, lemon juice, vinegar, profoundly even carbonated mineral water.

The only ingredient you will never find in this soup is meat. This is almost the only purely vegetarian option when you can be 100% sure about the vegetable origin of ingredients in the dish. You know, Lithuanians manage to add animal fat even to the recipes of potato pancakes or pasta dumplings with curd cheese. This makes travelers-vegetarians to be always a bit on the alert. And only the existence of cold beet soup in our cuisine brings them also some moments of relaxation and delight in this meat lovers paradise.

INSTEAD OF IN CONCLUSION

Thanks to the internet and globalization the cold beet soup migrated to the restaurant of our neighbors. There are chances to taste variations of this soup in the restaurants beyond the ethnic Lithuanian territory: in Poland, Latvia, or Belarus. No surprise why. They also have plenty of beetroots. Besides, beets today are among the leading fashionable product. They boast an impressive nutritional profile. They are low in calories, yet high in valuable vitamins and minerals. They contain a bit of almost all the vitamins and minerals that you need. So who knows, maybe a few years more and you will see the Cold Beet Soup in your favorite restaurant in New York or London. And still, there is one thing that is hardly going to appear anywhere else unless Lithuania – cold beetroot soup map.

You can read more about the Baltic food here