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Adam Balic

Lithuania + Vilnius MERGED TOPICS

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I have spent the last week in Vilnius the capitol city of Lithuania. I really had no knowledge of the food (or in fact anything else of the country), so it was a very interesting and educational experience.

From looking at guides and walking the streets it seems that there is a developing food scene there, with Beer halls, bistros and restaurants all in evidence. Of the latter, I saw French, Greek, Italian, Georgian, Indian and Asian places. However, I stuck to the places serving Lithuanian food on this trip.

There were also two large traditional markets in town (and one very large market 6 km out of the city centre) and a growing number of supermarkets. Some of these were no better or worse then I have seen else where, but one, "Maxima", was outstanding. Possibly the best supermarket I have come across and as I dislike supermarkets in general, this is faint praise.

There amount and diversity of food in Maxima was really something. It really brings home how degraded the food culture is in the UK, if a country that is finding its feet after Soviet domination can achieve this. I know that it is odd to start a discussion on a countries food in a supermarket, but I was very impressed with this store.

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(Currency: One Lita is five Pounds Sterling FYI)

Meat. While the traditional markets were dominated by King Pork (>90% of all meat), with a little beef and veal, the supermarket had a wider selection, including lamb.

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Fish. There was a hugh range of fish, both fresh and preserved. Of the fresh fish there were both fresh water fish (pike, bream, pike-perch, grass-carp, common carp, perch) and salt water.

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There was a huge selection of smoked and brined fish. Most of these were very cheap, but eel was ~£20 kilo. Not a surprise when you consider that >90% of the european eel population has crashed in the last two decades.

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Tanks of live fish were also in evidence. These included grass carp, common carp, pike, sterlet and crayfish. I would guess that these werre all from aquaculture, but I am not sure on this point.

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And if you couldn't be bothered with the live fish, then you could buy it ready prepared. These are pike and a grass carp that have been completely deboned, then filled with a forcemeat of the fish and veg.

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Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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While the stuff pike is a traditional dish there were some international dishes also, including these Nori rolls. Amazing in a country that didn't have middle class a decade ago (so I was told).

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Still the prepared food was mostly traditionally themed (dumplings, veg. cakes, salads and pickled veg).

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Now I was told that the population doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, but the evidence said otherwise. The bakery section had a huge selection of cakes and buns. Cakes are pretty good for less then a quid...

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At the back you can see some Rye bread loaves, these seemed to make up 80% of all bread. There were several different varieties, all utterly delicious. More on bread later.


Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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I visitied two different traditional markets, both just out of the old town proper. While they were similar they both had a distinct differences. The northern market had an indoor section, but was largely dominated by out door fresh produce stalls. Products differened greatly from stall to stall, some looked very professional, others were clearly a few hand fulls of this and that collected/grown by peasants.

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This is pretty typical of the selction of root veg. I have no idea what the black roots on the right are (black turnip or sugar beet maybe?)

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As I said there were people making a living (?) from what they collected from the surounding land (~70% forest in this region). At this time of the year this included berries and mushrooms, but snails are another big cash item.

The berries in the jar are cowberries/lingon berries/wild cranberries. The umbels of bright red berries are unknown to me, but they taste a little like a cross between a tomato and mulberry and are extremely bitter. The bunches of oak leaves are used in saunas to splash about cold water and to whip yourself a bit....

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Different stall, similar produce with Chanterelle and Ceps, horse raddish, garlic, home made preserves and more berries

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It is definated autumn in Vilnius, although they are having an Indian summer. As a consequence of this it has been a very good year for apples and avery bad year for mushrooms. The surrunding area is largely wooded, with sandy soil and a predominately pine forest makeup. This is perfect for many mushrooms, ~400 types are actually harvested. Much of this is ma and pa outfits, but there are some people getting mighty rich from very organised harvesting.

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If I was going to be critical of the supermarket, it would be that some of these more traditional foods are not represented. There were dozens of different types of apples in the market, most of which I had never seen before (including a pure white variety), yet the supermarket had NZ Braeburn, Granny Smith's, Royal Gala etc. The same for the mushrooms. I guess this is true of all supermarkets and it is difficult to be to critical. As much as I personally regret the erosion of seasonal food and local traditions, much of this comes from necessity under dire circumstances. Better year round Braeburn's in a democratic country then 20 seasonal varieties under constraint?


Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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Adam, a thousand thanks for this illuminating report.

A question: did you see any evidence of Jewish cuisine? I know that Vilnius (or what Yiddish speakers have long called Vilna) was for a time arguably the capital of Jewish intellectual culture in Europe. I imagine there's not much evidence of that left, but I was wondering.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My best friend of thirty years is native Lithuanian. Displaced as a child during the war to the US.

She travels to Lithuania often now. Now being a key word.

Her claim is that the long-standing hunger (may I use this word outside of a context that links one-to-one directly to food here I wonder?) of the people for their freedom has led directly to an explosion of ideas and creativity and burning desire to live as they please, and that, for Lithuanians as for many others, has a huge food component within it.

They eat very well, poor and rich alike.

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Very very cool photo essay, Adam.

I have always believed one could tell a lot about a country by its supermarkets (as differentiated from other types of markets).

Isn't that black root the black radish of Eastern European cuisine?


Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ●  Twitter    Instagram

 

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Adam, a thousand thanks for this illuminating report.

A question: did you see any evidence of Jewish cuisine? I know that Vilnius (or what Yiddish speakers have long called Vilna) was for a time arguably the capital of Jewish intellectual culture in Europe. I imagine there's not much evidence of that left, but I was wondering.

FG - I looked for it, as I am interested in the subject ,but I am not the best person for this as my knowledge on the subject is limited. I certainly saw dishes that could be classed as Jewish, but I am not sure how seperate these dishes are from the non-Jewish Lithuanian cuisine or from Central European cuisine in general. I will discuss this food as I go along.

I think that this is also complicated by the fact that Vilnius hasn't traditionally had a large ethnic Lithuanian population (until WWII up to 60% of the population was Jewish), and during the period of Soviet annexation much of this was culture was suppressed. So much of the 'traditional Lithuanian' cuisine in Vilnius is likely to be imported from outwith the area. I hope this makes sense. Until recently, there seemed to be little acknowledgement of the Jewish history of the area at all, this is changing somewhat and I think that it will continue to change. To me it seemed that this was a population that was still very much feeling their way after a long time in the dark.


Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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Adam, thank you so much for this.. my gf is lithuanian--she's 1st generation here--and she'll love this thread...


Deadheads are kinda like people who like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but people who like licorice, *really* like licorice!

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Beautiful pics, Adam. A fascinating display of the fish.

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As part of this conference the hosts had organised a cultural evening in the Museum. This consisted of lot and lots of Folk dancing by a local troupe (and their academic victims) and a meal which was said to be modeled on a typical country celebration. Light levels were low, so my camera struggled with these images I'm afraid.

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Lithuanian cuisine seems to have a whole range of foods which are classed as 'beer snacks'; boiled beans/peas, cheese, preserved fish, nuts and fried bread. In the foreground of this you can see a very poncy version of the fried bread (rye bread that is). To the left of this you can see Curd Cheese with caraway seeds (varskes suris). We were told that a couple in love should dance close enough to squash one of these flat. Nice.

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Stuffed Pike (Idaryta lydeka) with dill sauce.

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A range of meats. The middle one is pork fillet pressed in cartlidge. Excellent.

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Rare beef, goose liver pate and smoked salmon. To the right are pepper stuffed fried pastry and spurgos (doughnuts) stuffed with wild mushrooms.

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Flippin' heck!

And I spend most summers trotting around central/eastern europe and all I usually find is a "slovakian hamburger"* in some run-down taverna

:angry:

* Piece of buttered stale rye bread with pieces of salted bacon rind** on top, sprinkled with paprika

** Rind that is, not bacon. Think Lardo, but made with safeways economy bacon and sliced extra thick...


Edited by Jon Tseng (log)

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!

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The southern market is entirely enclosed, except for a few stalls were people sell berries, flowers and mushrooms (not really part of the market proper), it is very much a temple of Pork. The is pork the likes of which I have never seen. Forget modern Western breeding for the lean pig, these porkers had at least three inches of back fat.

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These huge pigs were sectioned by even larger men with very, very big axes that looked like props from 'The Lord of The Rings'

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Lard is obviously the cooking fat of choice in the region. A hugh percentage of the market is dedicated to selling preserved lard. The strange thing is that I can recognise different grades of lard, I can't work out why there need to be 20 stalls plus selling mountains of the stuff. How much can a house hold go through in a week?

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Lithuanian Haggis!

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I quite liked this. This is a meat sausage, stuffed in some type of body organ. After smoking the veins/lymph vessels stand out quite distinctly, so obviously when plastic wrappers replaced the natural casing, the design still incorporates the patterns of the veins.

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Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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Great pictures Adam.. Yeh, i was thinking how scary that guy looked before I saw the instrument he uses.. That meat looks great..

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Apart from the hugh amount of meat, there was also a few stalls selling berries, honey and mushrooms. The ladies at these stalls were very nice and I must have tasted half a kilo of honey. One (gukuai?) was extremely delicous, a very complex flavour and the the ladies said it would make me strong like a Lithuanian man and give me lots of children. I bought a small jar. The same stall sold bunchs of herbs, seeds and dried mushrooms called grybai. No idea what these are, some type of bolete by the look of them. I hope they don't kill me.

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Pickled veg. are obviously very popular.

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Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW!!!

My paternal great-grandparents were Lithuanian immigrants. But I grew up around my mother's Southern family and ate more fried chicken than kugelis -- although my grandmother made some mean kugelis. I've been trying to learn more about Lithuanian cuisine lately. I'm completely blown away by your pictures and I am hoping to make my own visit to Lithuania in the near future.

I grew up watching my dad and my grandmother eat pickled pigs' feet and creamed herring. It was pretty nasty. My mother quarantined a place in the fridge for my dad's "treats". But the women who fed you honey are correct. There isn't a man on my father's side of the family shorter than 6'4" and I'm the oldest of five children. Lithuanians are a formidable lot.

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There was a back room for the fish.

This was divided into saltwater fish which were either brined or smoked.

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And sweetwater fish which were fresh.

Zander (Walleye in the USA)

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Perch

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Salmon-Trout

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I think these are Bream

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Of these the Zander was the most common fish in restaurant menus.

Right more tomorrow, where I describe blow for blow eating beaver for the first time.


Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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One non-food thing I will mention is the importance that Flowers seems to have in Vilnius. This ranged from old women selling scrappy bunches of daisys, to quite expensive florists. I liked this bunch of flowers been sold on the street corner, due to its strong similarity to a certain well known painting.

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Two things ...I love going to supermarkets in other countries ...hell even other states...and I agree the black thing is a radish I bought some a few weeks ago they rang them up as figs :blink:

T


The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

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This is pretty typical of the selction of root veg. I have no idea what the black roots on the right are (black turnip or sugar beet maybe?)

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I'm pretty sure they are black radishes. Great photos, Adam!

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One item that was very good in Vilnius was the Rye bread. This was the major bread type in the area and came in several grades (different proportions of rye to wheat flour) and several different recipes. All good. It was solid bread, but also moist and sweet, really excellent with the the preserved fish and curd cheeses that were also very common.

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In fact I like the bread so much that I made making this bread at home a goal of the trip. Now from what I was able to gather it is a sour dough (or tradionally it is) and it is made in a special bread troughs carved from a single piece of wood. As these bread troughs are wooden some of the culture gets trapped in the wood grain, this innoculates the new batch of bread. These bread troughs are actually quite commonly on sale, but these tend to be old and scrubbed clean.

While I was visiting the town of Trakai (famous for its restored lake castle and the Karaim, a group of Turkic speaking Khazars that practice a form of Judaism who moved from rom the Crimea to this area in the 14th century), I noticed that amoungst all the tourist stuff on sale on older lady was selling bits a pieces of household goods. I bought this bread trough off her.

You can see that it is old enough to have somw wood worm damage, but it also has some dark stains which are from the rye bread dough. There looks to be a coating of old rye dough, so I attempt to revive this rye dough culture. I will report on how this workd out.

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The lady was also able to tell me that other dough products are made in these troughs, including dumplings and something she called "Macaroons". I am not sure if this is the local word or she was saying that it was like Italian macaroni as she demonstrated rubbing dry dough in the trough until small pellets are formed, a bit like couscous really.

Trakai Castle

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Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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Another extremely popular dish in Vilnius are Didzkukuliai, potato dumplings, know commonly as "Zeppelins" (translated into English). These are amde by mixing raw grated potato with mashed potato, adding a stuffing and boiling in salted water. Common fillings are pork, curd cheese or wild mushrooms. Often they are topped with sour cream or crispy bacon/lard bits. Very nice but extremely sturdy. The Estonians and Latvians I was with considered them to be a Lithuanian barbarism and a clear sign of too much contact with Polish culture. :rolleyes:

From a local fast food place.

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Another fast food chain was "Chile Coffee". Let me tell you that the combination of coffee, chili and Campari is not a successful one. And I like Campari.

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