If you’re traveling to Lithuania, you may be curious about the cuisine of this Baltic country. Lithuanian food, especially traditional Lithuanian food, is filling, warm, and made of local or locally beloved ingredients that have been gracing Lithuanian tables for generations.
Many of the ingredients and flavors of Lithuanian cuisine are typical to the region and show some influence from other cuisines—even Italian, believe it or not!—or similarities with them.
For example, Polish, Latvian, German, and Jewish cuisine from the region may have similar taste profiles or use the ingredients similarly; shifting borders, shared recipes, and the need to work with what was at hand to make tasty dishes means that the cuisines of the region will have some overlap.
Let’s learn about Lithuanian food, typical ingredients, and the dishes important to Lithuanian culture.
- Major Flavors and Ingredients in Lithuanian Food
- Savory Lithuanian Foods to Try
- Lithuanian Desserts
- Restaurants in Vilnius Serving Lithuanian Cuisine
- How to Learn More About Lithuanian Food Traditions
Major Flavors and Ingredients in Lithuanian Food
The tastes and flavors of Lithuanian food are typical to the region, many of them naturally foraged or cultivated. Lithuanians are proud of how natural their food is and enjoy learning and sharing how the gifts of nature bring us health and contribute to our longevity.
Pork features significantly in Lithuanian cuisine, with everything from bacon, to pork roast, to pork neck, to pork ears on menus. Pickled or smoked pigs’ feet are also delicious. However, traditionally, Lithuanians hunted in their vast forests for game meat—for example, the current Vilnius district of Zverynas was once the hunting ground of the nobility—and some traditional Lithuanian restaurants will feature game meats on their menu to hearken back to the origins of Lithuanian cuisine.
Meat in Lithuania comes smoked and dried, in the form of fresh sausages or cooked ones, inside dumplings and pastries or as thick slices drizzled in gravy. Lithuania is definitely a meat-eating nation.
Though potatoes have become ubiquitous in Lithuania and throughout Eastern Europe, they weren’t always a part of Lithuanian cuisine, and other root vegetables were used as a part of the staple diet instead. However, the 17th century saw the introduction of potatoes on the tables of the nobility, and potatoes were more widely introduced a century later.
Mushrooms are often hunted by families who have learned from their ancestors what to look for when it comes to these tasty forest treasures—and Lithuanians have even elevated this practice to “national sport.”
More than 400 types of edible mushrooms are found in Lithuania, though in the city you’ll most often find chanterelle mushrooms, sold in the fall at outdoor stalls. So it’s no wonder this ingredient is so important to Lithuanian cuisine—mushrooms are tasty, nutritious, and can be preserved or dried to last through the year.
Dairy is so important to Lithuanian cuisine and is such a strong component of its agricultural industry that it even has a Cheese Road that will enable travelers interested in this subject to experience cheese-making, talk with producers, taste test different dairy dishes, and purchase products for yourself. Dairy makes its way into a lot of Lithuanian dishes and comes in many different forms!
Beets have a way of adding color to Lithuanian dishes such as salad and soups. These healthy root vegetables with their deep purple-red color are easy to store and can be used year-round, and they can also be pickled or marinated. In Lithuania, you can buy them fresh or already cooked and chopped or grated, ready to use any way you like them.
Cabbage is another easily storable vegetable that can be fermented or used fresh as well as cooked in a variety of ways.
The cabbages found in Lithuania are a revelation: huge with firm, smooth leaves perfect for cabbage rolls, soups, or sauerkraut. They’re large and heavy, too, meaning you’ll want to plan accordingly if you’re carrying one back from the supermarket along with other ingredients.
Poppyseeds, caraway, dill
The spices of Lithuanian food are particular and subtle. In summer, fresh dill perks up soups and salads, while caraway can be found in everything from sauerkraut to cheese. Poppyseeds fill dessert pastries and are crushed and squeezed to form a special holiday “milk” dish.
Onions and garlic
Onions and garlic are another way that Lithuanians spice up their food. Fresh or cooked, alliums feature heavily in the cuisine of this country.
Lithuanians are proud of their local honey. You can buy it from sellers at outdoor stalls and markets or in supermarkets.
Various types of Locally sourced honey are available, such as buckwheat honey, clover honey, or raspberry honey, each with a distinct flavor, color, and preferred usage.
Though honey is sold at outdoor markets or by roadside vendors, you can also find honey at natural food shops – sometimes they’re sold in a section that also offers beeswax candles and other bee products.
At restaurants serving traditional Lithuanian food, you’ll usually get pike or perch, but a variety of different types of fish are smoked. The freshest and tastiest versions of smoked fish can be found on the coast, on the Curonian Spit. But don’t forget herring, the salty fish often served with boiled potatoes as an appetizer or main meal.
Vegetables—fresh, cooked, or pickled
Cucumbers, radishes, carrots, and tomatoes are some of the most popular vegetables on the Lithuanian table. Lithuanians favor the short garden cucumbers with knobby flesh, which are particularly good in the summer. Tomatoes, while available in supermarkets throughout the year, make their best impression in the warm months.
Lithuanians love their beer in all its forms. They also use it in cooking, from everything from soup to meat dishes to an ingredient in the batter of pancakes.
Fresh berries are prized during the warm months—strawberries, cherries, blackberries, and blueberries. Sea buckthorn berries are a special type of sour orange berry that grows on the coast and is supposed to have many health benefits.
Grains and seeds
As an agricultural nation, Lithuania has long cultivated grains and seeds.
Rye, an important component to the local dark bread, is one example. Flaxseed, which is both edible and the base material for Lithuanian linen, is another.
Buckwheat is also a favorite food, whether eaten whole or used in baked goods as a flour.
Savory Lithuanian Foods to Try
If you ever ask a Lithuanian person what foods from Lithuanian cuisine you should try, they may suggest some of the following dishes. You may encounter them at festivals or at Lithuanian holiday family gatherings.
Saltibarsciai, Lithuanian pink soup is a favorite of both locals and visitors. This soup gets its striking color from the mixture of kefir and beets—the soup is flavored with dill and green onions and served with boiled potatoes. It’s a beautiful, refreshing summer dish!
If you ask any Lithuanian, they will tell you that when you visit their country, you must try cepelinai, the national Lithuanian food. Named for their shape like a zeppelin, these generous meat-and-potato dumplings.
They are also sometimes called by their original name, didzkukuliai, or dumb-bells and have been an important Lithuanian national food for more than a century. Though they are typically filled with pork, they can also be filled with cheese. Definitely try cepelinai when you are in Lithuania!
Kugelis is many people’s favorite Lithuanian dish. This dense, moist, richly flavored grated potato dish is seasoned with bacon. Served with a side salad and a generous dollop of sour cream, it tastes exactly like Grandma’s cooking.
Most Lithuanians use a tool to grind the potatoes to get them to the right consistency for this dish. Grating the potatoes, though, is an option, though more labor intensive.
Many families have their own kugelis recipes or prefer it a certain consistency or with a specific ration of ingredients – that means you’ll hardly ever taste the same kugelis dish twice. But each time, it will be a delicious experience.
Lithuanian sakotis is a spikey, column of cake that is made by dripping batter while a spit turns. These cakes can be either small or large and are easily found at traditional fairs, where you can sometimes watch them being made as the chef turns the spit and pours the batter over it.
Sakotis can also be purchased at supermarkets, packaged and ready to take as a Lithuanian souvenir.
5. Fried Bread
Fried bread, made from dark bread, is a typical Lithuanian snack that can be ordered as an appetizer or at Lithuanian bars. Fried bread is crunchy and usually accompanied by garlic dip. It’s the perfect choice if you want a little snack with your beer.
6. Potato Pancakes
What would a trip to Lithuania be without sampling a plate of delicious potato pancakes? Of course, you can enjoy plain potato pancakes with sour cream or the fancier potato pancakes stuffed with meat or cheese.
7. Split Peas and Bacon
Split peas and bacon are often served as an accompaniment for beer and can sometimes be ordered in restaurants serving traditional food. This dish is also easy to make and filling, which is probably why it enjoys such a strong tradition.
Varske is the smooth, white, mild farmer’s cheese that is so popular throughout Lithuania. It’s made fresh and sometimes seasoned with herbs such as thyme or caraway. It can be eaten fresh perhaps with jam, used as a stuffing for pancakes or dumplings, or baked whole so the exterior becomes golden and the interior piping hot.
Surelis means “little cheese.” It’s typically a kid’s snack of sweetened cheese covered in chocolate—the most traditional kind has poppy seeds in it, but modern versions are flavored with vanilla, chocolate, or fruit. Find it in the refrigerated dairy section of the supermarket in colorful wrappers.
10. Cucumbers with Honey
Oh no they don’t! Yes, they do. Lithuanians will eat cucumbers with anything, even honey. That’s all there is to this traditional Lithuanian dish. Slice that fresh garden cucumber and drizzle it with honey collected by Grandpa. Enjoy on the back porch as the birds sing and the trees sway in the breeze.
Kibinai are not actually a Lithuanian food, but they are an important element to the Lithuanian food scene. These pastries—traditionally filled with lamb, but today given a modern twist with chicken, spinach, or cheese—were made popular by the ethnic Karaim minority who settled in the Trakai area of Lithuania centuries ago, bringing with them their cuisine and culture.
They are an essential aspect of your visit to Trakai, but they can also be purchased from shops in Vilnius that have made this dish more accessible to everyone.
12. Sea Buckthorn Products
Sea buckthorn juice or jam—or even the fresh berries—can be purchased and are usually touted for their health benefits. High in vitamins, these sour orange berries are collected from the coast and are a prized local food that makes its way onto the table, into supplements, and even into cosmetics.
Lithuanian desserts enjoy generations of tradition, with recipes passed down through families. Sweet Lithuanian dishes are bound to show up at holiday gatherings and for celebrations such as Lithuanian Easter.
Spurgos are Lithuanian donuts made with traditional curd cheese (see varske above). Light and fluffy, they are typically sprinkled with powdered sugar. You’ll see people eating them on the go during outdoor markets, where they’re sold in cups for easy transportation.
14. Apple Cheese
Apple cheese is an interesting addition to the Lithuanian charcuterie plate. This dessert-type food is not cheese at all, but a cheese-shaped, soft, somewhat chewy food made of stewed apples and sugar. It nevertheless can find its way onto cheese boards, and it also acts as a nice accompaniment to tea.
15. Poppyseed Milk
Poppyseed milk is a traditional dish served during Lithuanian Christmas celebrations. Traditionally, poppyseeds were crushed and ground to form a milk and sweetened with a bit of sugar.
This liquid was then poured over kuciukai, little round, crunchy cookies that get soft in the poppyseed milk. Lithuanians serve this dish as one way to get around using animal products on Christmas Eve.
The Lithuanian “hundred-layer cake” is actually a Tatar tradition. Many layers of thin, buttery dough encase a raisin-and-poppyseed filling. The simtalapis is not easy to make and takes patience and knowledge, but the effort is visible as well as tasty!
Tinginys is a favorite Lithuanian dessert. The name means “lazybones” because this dish, made from condensed milk, ready-made cookies, butter, and cocoa powder, is so easy to make. It’s often served at potlucks or as an easy nod to Lithuanian food when a Lithuanian wants to represent their cuisine without too much effort.
Tinginys is a bit similar – and as easy to make – as Estonian desserts such as Cat Arthur and the Spotted Dog. These no-bake desserts are also beloved by children who can assemble the ingredients without too much help from adults.
Restaurants in Vilnius Serving Lithuanian Cuisine
If you’re visiting Lithuania, no doubt you’re arriving or staying in Vilnius. Vilnus has several restaurants serving traditional dishes. These restaurants are centrally located, making them easy to get to for the average traveler, and each offers a slightly different experience, whether you’re looking for a cozy pub atmosphere or a more elevated dining environment.
Aline Leiciai, found just off of Stikliu g., is a cozy pub with a rustic interior decorated with dark wood and farm implements – or sit on the terrace if the weather permits. Its cepeliniai are made fresh, so you’ll often be told you’ll have a wait if you decide to order this most famous dish.
However, with the expansive menu, you can either enjoy an appetizer while your cepeliniai are being prepared or find another dish to order altogether. Local meat and cheese plates, hearty pork dishes, and potato pancakes are only some of the options you’ll find here.
Amatininku Uzeiga (Craftsman’s Pub) is located right on Town Hall Square in Old Town Vilnius. Many visitors, who stumble upon it not knowing that it’s one of the best-known Lithuanian restaurants in the city, love to sit on its well-placed terrace and order anything from potato pancakes to cold pink soup to herring and potatoes.
Lokys, also centrally located on Stikliu g., envisions Lithuanian food from days of old, using historical recipes and local ingredients. Descend into the Gothic cellars of the medieval Merchant’s House or choose one of its other rooms appointed in historic style.
Though certainly, heavy foods are on the menu at this restaurant, it also offers lighter fair. It’s accessible no matter how hungry you are or what types of food you enjoy.
Queensberry is a relatively new addition to the Lithuanian cuisine scene. It’s got an open, bright interior, and its dishes, though based upon local ingredients, are of a more modern take and are thoughtfully and artfully presented to showcase the best features of the food.
Etno Dvaras has several locations, the main one being on Pilies g. One of the most interesting features of this restaurant’s menu is its variety of cepeliniai, with about a dozen styles to choose from. Cepeliniai styles from different regions as well as will various types of stuffing come in at a budget-friendly price.
Berneliu Uzeiga, the name of which refers to the brothers who founded it, is proud of its wide variety of Lithuanian national dishes, including buckwheat pancakes, cabbage rolls, and locally sourced meat platters. Try fried bread, split peas and bacon, and different types of Lithuanian cheese.
But the menu doesn’t stop there, which makes it great for large groups with varying appetites and food requirements. Salads and soups, small snacks, or dishes to share make this friendly pub a versatile option. A bustling interior caters to diners in the cooler months, while a generously sized patio allows for enjoying a long summer evening. The prices are good, too!
Ertlio Namas is located in a house with a documented history, and its menu lives up to its location. Historic dishes from the medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque eras have been carefully researched and reimagined for the enjoyment of contemporary diners.
How to Learn More about Lithuanian Food Traditions
- Visit the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania Museum in Vilnius, which shows the development of Lithuanian history and therefore its cultivation of certain crops and influence from other cultures.
- Enjoy the full Lithuanian gastronomic experience: https://www.lithuania.travel/en/news/taste-the-authentic-lithuania-flavours
- Take a cooking course on Lithuanian cuisine.
- Watch a cheese-making demonstration when you travel to Lithuania.
- Go on a beer or wine tour.
- Buy Lithuanian cookbooks in English and practice making these dishes. These are often available in the section of bookstores that is dedicated to books about Lithuania.