Lithuanian Cuisine Part 2: Dill and Chocolate

Well, my last blog on Lithuanian cuisine got more hits than I expected. Really though, why should I be surprised? I can’t be the only person on the internet who loves food? I mean, I use the internet to get my daily dose of food! So, without further ado, join me for my continued adventures in the land of Lithuanian cuisine:

Today we begin slightly further forward than my adventure to Akropolis with Annie. Week two of our classes, all of our old teachers from the year before showed up, and when your incoming cohort of six is considered a reasonable size, you get to know your teachers pretty darn well. So our class made arrangements to meet with a couple of our teachers to go to Frederichos, what has become one of our favorite little getaways.

Frederichos is a plaza in old town Klaipeda. While the majority of dining is outdoors, there is some indoor seating, depending on when you eat. See, Frederichos isn’t a single restaurant. It’s four or five, all mashed together. If you sit at these tables in the plaza, you are at a coffee shop, but two tables down, you are at a pizza parlor, or a couple of tables over in the other direction, you get traditional Lithuanian food.

Traditional Lithuanian food usually consists of meat and potatoes. The national dish, cepeliniai, are boiled potato dumplings, usually with a meat filling, but sometimes a cheese or vegetable filling instead. (Cepeliniai means “zepplins,” as they are shaped like zepplins.) They are usually served with sour cream sauce. They also have fried potato pancakes, also frequently with a meat, cheese, or vegetable filling, and some kind of baked potato crackling dish, which I haven’t actually eaten yet, but surely tastes delicious. I’ve even had potato pizza. I, being fond of meat and potatoes, have little trouble enjoying myself at a traditional Lithuanian restaurant. Many of my classmates and teachers find cepeliniai too filling, but I think them merely scrumptious. In fact, they are on my top five favorite dishes, and I tried to make them once, resulting in a pile of soggy, oxidized potatoes.

All of these people who are less inclined to eat cepeliniai, however, are big fans of the chilled beet soup, which is, to the best of my knowledge, about the most traditional dish one can order in Lithuania. Most Americans, when first eying the substance, are wary. Pink soup? Who eats pink soup? Well, Lithuanians (and, for that matter, people from several other countries in the vicinity, though they usually serve a hot version.) I would tell you it is delicious, but I have only ever had a spoonful or two. I have nothing against beets (in fact, I am one of those red-velvet-beet purists), but I do have something against another ingredient in the soup: dill. Dill is one of about five foods I really, truly, cannot stand, which in Lithuania is kind of a form of blasphemy, as it’s used in everything. Seriously, I’ve had dill pizza there, and dill water, which was how I learned I didn’t like it. This means I have to be very careful when ordering in restaurants, and I generally stick to a favorite once I’ve found it. This aversion to dill could be genetic because my mother doesn’t like it either (the irony there is that she is also where I get my Lithuanian genes from.) So when I told her that that Lithuanian word for dill is krapas, we shared a good laugh and said it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Another Lithuanian food I am not particularly fond of is rye bread. It’s up there with dill. I just can’t stand it… except when it’s fried in garlic butter and baked with a mayonnaise cheese sauce, served hot and gooey. This (probably because the cheese covers most of the rye flavor) is delicious. It is called kepta duona which translates, reasonably, as fried bread. Now, coming from New Mexico, the land of Navajo tacos and frybread, hearing these two words usually signals something different in my mind. But it just goes to show that it’s hard to go wrong when frying a bread or bread-like dough.

The next weekend, Annie and I headed back to Akropolis, this time to stock up on Lithuanian candy. Like ice cream, Lithuanian candy, in not necessarily different or better than American candy. Granted, I would not be surprised if their chocolate bars have less wax emulsifiers than American chocolate bars, thus explaining why we always buy lots of chocolate, but in general, Lithuanian candy is first and foremost, a novelty, if for no other reason than being unable to read most of the wrappers, each new candy is a surprise.

So Annie and I made a beeline for the Hyper Maxima. If Iki is the local grocery store (think Smiths, or Albertsons) Maxima is the local Walmart (except for the fact that Iki is more prevalent than Maxima), and Hyper Maxima is the local Walmart Supercenter. (Incidentally, Iki also means “see ya” as in “see ya later.”) Hyper Maxima has the biggest selection of wrapped candies. Annie and I each got four and split the loot two ways. In the end, we each took home about 30 litas worth of candy… probably a couple of kilograms. Here’s the run down this year:

  • Pineapple wafer candies. These come in a a bright yellow package with a pineapple on the front. They are kind of like those wafer cookies that come in vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate, only they are covered in chocolate. There are many different versions of these, but these particular ones are pineapple flavored. I can’t get enough of them.
  • Coffee candies: these were the only ones in English. One said “coffee and cream” the other said “cappuccino.” We were looking for the espresso chocolates we found last year which had liquid espresso in the center, but in lieu of those, got these instead. Both very good. the “coffee and cream” ones are both softer and taste more like coffee.
  • Latvian candies: we know these are Latvian because they say Riga on the package (the capital of Latvia). These were chocolates with some kind of soft alcoholic center. I didn’t eat a whole lot of them because my mom attacked them as soon as I got home.
  • Hard chocolate candies: we ended up with one kind which were not soft. I think they have peanut brittle in the center. They actually taste kind of like some American chocolate bar I’ve had, but I can’t put my finger on what that is.
  • Vanilla filled: these have a soft vanilla center. After eating several, I realized they taste just like Three Musketeers bars… if they were vanilla.
  • Toffees: chocolate covered toffees. Need I say more? (Oh yeah, I guess these were in English too…) Like the pineapple wafers, I am definitely going back for these.
  • Fruit chews: because I had to get something not chocolate. These looked kind of like those orange slices we have here, that some people think are nasty, but I have always loved. I guess they kind of are… only they are a lot less sweet. The lemon ones are best, I’d say.

Now, Wren said she wanted to eat pizza before we left, so she and Annie and I made a plan to visit Charlies that night. Charlies is another thing I associate with Lithuania. Not pizza, but Charlies in particular, again because it is connected to the memories from my first trip. Within walking distance from our campus is a… mall, for lack of a better word, though nothing like Akropolis. It is a shopping center with a post office, an Iki, several smaller shops, a bank and a restaurant or two, namely Charlies Pizza.

Charlies Pizza is a popular chain in Lithuania, and the Charlie in question is Charlie Chaplin. I ate there two or three times before figuring this out… even though they have pictures from Charlie Chaplin films in the menu, and their logo has his hat. It’s everything a college student could want: a cheap, nearby, filling meal, and tasty too. Their selection is varied–everything from your standard cheese, pepperoni, veggie pizzas to things like taco pizza and peach/chicken/barbecue sauce pizza. I tried it once. I would have liked it more without the dill. These days I stick to my favorite (in the states and beyond: Hawaiian. (And this gets extra points for being a Lithuanian-English cognate.)

Well, I hope I haven’t bored you beyond all recognition with my food talk… because there is sure to be more. But for now, I must stop talking about food and go eat some… and then make some so I can sell it and make money 😉

Iki!

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