Šaltibarščiai | True Lithuania
True Lithuania

Lithuanian Cuisine

Lithuanian cuisine is generally mild. Potatoes and rye bread are the staple foods and pork are the favorite meat, followed by beef and chicken. Seaside areas have traditional fish recipes but most other seafood is considered inedible.

Most famous Lithuanian meals

The meal most strongly associated with the Lithuanian nation is the Cepelinai, named after Graff von Zeppelin because these potato dumplings are similar in form to airship he invented. A more Lithuanian name for the meal is "didžkukuliai". Foreigners sometimes find the meal hard for their stomachs but it is very popular among Lithuanians. It is also one of the cheapest meals of its size you may get in Lithuanian restaurants. Making cepelinai yourself would take hours, however.

Cepelinai with traditional spirgučiai sauce. These cepelinai are filled with meat, but various other versions exist, including vegetarian. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

There are other popular local foods. Lithuanians like to eat soups (usually served with traditional black rye bread or potatoes) before the main dish. Rose-colored šaltibarščiai cold soup dominates over hot soups in summer. Salted herring (Silkė) is another loved appetizer, most commonly served with potatoes, vegetables, and bread.

Šaltibarščiai cold soup served with potatoes. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

There are many forms of popular pancakes, among them the Samogitian pancakes (Žemaičių blynai) filled with minced meat and the Potato pancakes (Bulviniai blynai) made of (you guessed it right) potatoes (vegetarian). Kugelis is similar to potato pancakes but has a more bloated form. Samogitian kastinis (a smetana and soured milk-based sauce to dip potatoes in) is yet another Lithuanian potato meal.

Potato pancakes (left) and Samogitian pancakes (right) served with sour cream (one of the traditional sauce options). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Meat-based main courses include karbonadas (a pork steak that should be loved by everybody, save for vegetarians) and šašlykai (grilled fat meat). More exotic are the Vėdarai (stuffed pig's intestines) and Skilandis (stuffed pig's stomach). Few parts of a pig would be considered inedible in Lithuania.

Karbonadas pork dish. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Traditional Lithuanian desserts are the šakotis (large circular branching structure similar in taste to German Baumkuchen) and žagarėliai (sweet nicely formed cookies). They are common during festivities, e.g. weddings, and may be bought at shops, but are rarely available at restaurants.

Šakotis (left) and žagarėliai (right), the Lithuanian desserts as presented on a birthday table. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanians eat their major meals at midday (11:30-13:30). This meal may be translated as "dinner" even though it is earlier than Western dinner. Breakfast is light (e.g. self-made sandwich). Supper may be both light or elaborate.

Lithuanian regional and minority cuisine

Some of the Lithuanian meals are shared with Polish and other neighboring cuisines. Koldūnai (a.k.a. virtiniai) dumplings of unleavened dough originated in Russia whereas the Kiev chicken cutlet (Kijevo kotletas) is likely Ukrainian but both are now widely served in Lithuania.

There are some regional variations of Lithuanian cuisine, with mushroom-based dishes hailing from forested Dzūkija, dough-based dishes from Aukštaitija, potato-based dishes from Samogitia and meat-based dishes from Sudovia. However today this is mostly historical as many of the dishes are available everywhere.

Kastinis is the most famous Samogitian meal consisting of potato with a sour milk and smetana sauce. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The cuisine of the centuries-old Turkic minorities has also been adopted by the mainstream society, especially the Karaim kibinas (kibin) and Tatar čeburekas, both fast food pastries filled with meat.

Karaim kibins are pastries filled with meat. Specialized restaurants may have some 20 filling options (from pork to game). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Gourmet nobility cuisine with its preference for the game and expensive desserts lost popularity under the Soviet occupation. In some restaurants, these old recipes are revived, however.

Lithuanian seasonal meals and beverages

Some of the most famous Lithuanian meals are related to specific Christian holidays. Kūčiukai, a kind of hard bread, are widely eaten in Advent period before Christmas. Easter has a tradition of dying eggs (called margučiai) which is seen as an art. During Užgavėnės one just has to eat pancakes.

Beer is the most common alcoholic beverage with many Lithuanians considering their beer to be among world's best. Over 90% of all beer sold in Lithuania are local brands. In addition to the main trademarks (Utenos, Kalnapilis, Švyturys, Volfas-Engelman) traditional local beers are regaining popularity (even major players have been launching their own "craft beer" line-ups).

Centuries of Russian and Soviet rule brought vodka to Lithuania, but it is now more commonly associated with the poor. There is no tradition to drink wine in Lithuania and grapes are not cultivated. However in recent decades wine became more popular due to western influence (especially among the rich).

The traditional soft drink is the mildly alcoholic gira, but Western soft drinks now prevail.

Fruits, berries, and mushrooms are widely available in summer-autumn as people bring them from their gardens, forage in the forests or buy at markets and makeshift roadside stalls. Apples, strawberries, and blueberries are among the most popular. They are mostly eaten plain or squeezed into unmixed juice. These days all fruits may be acquired year-round but with Lithuania being so far north seasonal and out-of-season prices differ greatly.

See also: Restaurants in Lithuania

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  1. super Yummy food at it’s BEST.

  2. I am studying lithuania i need a small recipe for school in 85 peices i hope You can give me a small recipe thnkyou

  3. Hi! I’m writing a research paper on Lithuania and was wondering if anybody could tell me some of the popular spices used in Lithuanian cooking?
    Thank you!

  4. I love lithuania cause im lithuanian

  5. Looks really nice. All of it. Making me hungry…

  6. Hey! This is a great article! I’m using it on my project for Lithuania for the cuisine. Thanks! I need to cite in MLA format… not quite sure what the publisher/sponsor is. Is it just your name? Augustinas Žemaitis?

    I may not have the correct information on my citations, so please help!

  7. This is a really great article and I am doing a research paper on Lithuania during WW2 and one of my topics is food, and I was wondering, what were some the most common foods people ate during World War 2?

    • While I wasn’t born back then and therefore couldn’t answer for sure, based on the historical knowledge, it should have been the same “Lithuanian people’s cuisine” as exists today. However, it was presumably devoid at the time of later Soviet influences mentioned in this article (e.g. karbonadas). As importing anything was hard-to-impossible, the locally-grown dishes prevailed, e.g. potato dishes and black bread. Depending on time, location and who you were, there could have been not enough food altogether.

      If somebody who lived back then could add something / correct me, they are welcome to do so.

      • Never heard of Cepelinesai until I when to Lithuania. It is sad that a German named food is what Lithuania is associated with especially when you look for a cookbook the rename kugelis and use pirogi also.

  8. Thank you!

  9. My grandma grew up in Lithuania and left for the U.S. in 1938. We would ask about the old country frequently. She was very proud of a story she told many times – forwarded from her relatives. Essentially, she said that the Germans would take whatever they wanted. She said that the remains of butchered animals would be left on the road side and would be picked up by the people. She said they would make sausages from what was left. I was told that a holiday party was crashed by the Germans. Reportedly they came in and ate the food. To the German’s surprise, it was made from what they had left behind.
    I can tell you that she always had soup at her house, ham and potato salad. The best soup was always sauerkraut soup….if you have not had it, it is phenomenal! Traditionally, for Christmas, we would have Lithuanian sausage, kugelis and creamed mushrooms. She would also make a 12 layer wedding cake with lingonberries.
    Apparently mushrooms were important to the people living in the rural / farm areas. Grandma actually canned and sold wild mushrooms in Chicago for 20+ years. Lithuania in 1938 would have been similar to living in the U.S. in the late 1800s (where my grandma grew up). They had no electric, had ice houses and deep wells to keep meat cool during the warmer months. Travel involved a horse and wagon. I had a relative visit family there this year and had to use an outhouse.
    My grandma also lived near a small river and would tell stories of catching fish by chasing them into a cheesecloth type of material. My entire family has always loved to eat fish (even grandma at 97).
    The same material was used to make cheese wheels from something similar to cottage cheese. It was a very bland cheese, but tasted good.
    I have taught myself to make everything but the wedding cake. It is fun to have the traditional meals. Should you make it to Chicago, try Grand Dukes and go to the Racine Bakery in Summit, IL.. Both are very good.

  10. Learning about some of my heritage. Great blog.

  11. On Christmas Eve my Lithuanian grandmother always served a sauerkraut soup with shrimp in it. Have you ever heard of this? Do you have a recipe?

    • I don’t know and I think it may be an improvisation of the Lithuanian cuisine. While Lithuanians eat all kinds of fish on the Christmas eve, the Lithuanian cuisine generally does not include seafood that is not fish. Shrimps were little known in Lithuania before recently.

  12. I remember my mother and great-aunt making “surugusi piena” (the Lithuanian version of yogurt) when I was a child. I seem to recall that they just mixed milk and buttermilk and left it somewhere warm. I’ve made it myself recently, but I used raw milk because I’m not sure how safe pasteurized milk is if it sours, and because I believe the milk they used in the sixties was raw (?). Does anyone else remember this? Has anyone else tried to make it?

  13. I love Lithuanian,definitely the best part of their culture and the thing that sets them apart from the other Baltic states!

  14. I grew up in Connecticut with my grandmother after my mother divorced my dad while living in California during the war years. My grandmother never learned English, and I never learned Lithuanian, yet we communicated. Later, I would discover that 85-90% of interpersonal communication is non-verbal. That was obvious!!
    I was a free-ranging kid who was fascinated by the neighborhood and its many people.
    I think most Lithuanians have an unconditional positive regard for others.
    [Nice of them to have fed the Germans when they knocked (apparently no mushrooms).]

    People I’ve met from the former Soviet Union all had a high regard for Lithuanians.
    So did some of our most highly placed Capitalists — check out “Bobo” Rockefellar.

    Potato Pancakes (with cottage cheese) in a big bowl of sitting on top of the oilstove kept our small home warm in winter, unless the hot water kettle that maintained the humidity through the night ran out of water.
    [We set the humidity by where we placed the kettle.]
    Jack Frost patterns graced the windows, beautifully illuminated by an afternoon sun.

    Thanks for the memories.

  15. I am going to Kaunas in March 2020 for a project meeting and this was a very interesting article to prepare my appetite! Thanks!

  16. Hi! My dad’s people were Polish/Russian. He aught my mom how to make something his mother called “babka”. It’s not a desert. It’s savory. Grated potatoes, eggs, bacon and flour? No one ever wrote the recipe down and both my parents are in Heaven. Do you know of anything similar? Also, dad used to make sauerkraut soup and I remember it was delicious. Again, no recipe. I’d sure appreciate any help you might be able to give me!

    • My parents also called the potato dish babka, it is actually kugelis which you can find recipes all over the internet. I am originally from Shenandoah , Pa. and 100 per cent Lithuanian . We also made boilo which is a Lithuanian drink known as Krupnickis.

  17. Very colorful review. Thanks for sharing. I definitely want to try something from Lithuanian food.

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