Crème fraîche

Latvia: Of Roosters, Rye & Riga Black Balsam

3 beautiful days in Riga. And I absolutely mean it when I say beautiful. It helped that we had perfect weather, great company and a cosy accommodation to make the visit all the more memorable.

If geography is not your forte, Riga is the capital of Latvia which is one of the three Baltic countries in Northern Europe (the other two being Lithuania and Estonia). One advantage of living in Europe is the ease of hopping into another country over a weekend. And so Riga it was, courtesy the husband who had a training to deliver (one less flight ticket to pay for #happydance!). And before he knew it, wife and son had decided to tag along and booked the tickets.

Yes, Riga is another European’ish city with the old town, cobbled streets and a grand church in the centre so if you have been to other cities in the continent, you may think ’what’s the big deal’. Two things to note here – one, the city is not overrun by tourists and yet has its own unique charm and vibrancy along with enough things to do. Two, perspective is important – Latvia was part of erstwhile Soviet Union and is currently part of the Eurozone. Unlike Georgia and Armenia, Riga appears to have taken pains to shed its communist past and embrace inclusion into mainstream Europe — this is evident with the development in the city, and most noticeably in the architecture. I fell in love with the buildings but I shall reserve that to another post.

Rooster

We woke up in a beautiful 7th-floor apartment of a building that had a splendid balcony in the direction of the town centre. One of the most noticeable views is how there are roosters atop church steeples in the old town. According to Christian tradition, roosters ward off evil through their ‘cock-a-doodle-doo‘ and symbolise watchfulness and vigilance and hence were fixed atop. A more factual explanation is that they were used as a wind indicator in earlier times as Riga was an important port city for sailing ships. Either way, roosters were an interesting change from the  typical crosses you see otherwise.

Rye

I wasn’t expecting much from Latvian cuisine being a vegetarian but I did my research beforehand and knew I had to try two of things: ‘Rupjmaizeor Black Rye Bread and Cold Beet Soup. With kids in tow, eating what you want wherever you want is not the easiest of affairs but we finally discovered a popular chain that served local fare and made everyone happy. My child being a rice-fanatic enjoyed his ‘plov‘ (a version of the indian ‘pulao‘ and arabic ‘pilaf‘). And I loved the cold beet soup that mainly had beetroots blended with kefir/buttermilk and peppered with dill.

The dark rye bread is obviously not for everyone and especially so if you have not been much of a bread/wheat eater all your life – which is the case for a lot of us from South India. That said, I totally relished the loaf bought from a supermarket – it is made of whole grain rye and the addition of malt and caraway seeds give it a distinct flavour. Probably a tad dry eaten on its own but I bought a little bottle of spicy tomato ‘chutney’ (called Adjika) at a weekend market — the combination was delicious! I must add here that Adjika is made and sold in Latvia but borrowed from Georgian cuisine; they were all part of the Soviet, remember? And that explains hot-spice in a cuisine that is otherwise void of it.

I should have realised that food gets the better of me and this warrants a separate blogpost but suppose it is too late now. So may I also mention ‘Maizes Zupa‘? Literally translated as ‘bread-soup’ but is actually a dessert essentially with rye bread, dried fruits/preserves and whipped cream. I wouldn’t have ordered it had it not been for the latvian lady at the cashier line in restaurant where we were buying our food. I asked her what it was and she explained in broken English and then cringed when I showed her the chocolate eclair that I was about to buy. Never a bread-pudding lover but I ended up buying and eating it. And yet again, totally dug into it!

P.S: We also had dinner at a South Indian restaurant at Riga. Yes, you read that right – a south indian restaurant with idli, dosa and the works. Now who’d have thought there was one there??! Something I wouldn’t have done even in my wildest dreams in the pre-kid era! But it was an interesting experience and we also learnt that the Tech sector is developing in the Baltics and unsurprisingly, attracting a lot of Indians.

Riga Black Balsam

As with many european and post-soviet countries, beer is the stand-out alcoholic beverage. However, you cannot miss noticing the abundance of Riga Black Balsam branding all over the city. Black Balsam is a traditional Latvian tar-black liqueur with high alcohol content, known to be flavoured with herbs and having medicinal properties. The drink by itself is supposedly bittersweet but there are a few flavoured variants that make it delectable. One such being the Black Currant version that we tried and were sold!

So as you can see, I mostly ate, drank and saw a lot of pretty buildings. And spent considerable time in a couple of the city’s beautiful parks. That kind of sums up some of the things you can do in Riga over 3 days with kids. And I emphasise ‘with kids’ because travel takes a whole new meaning when they are around!

Related Posts:

And I’m back!

Celebrating Georgian cuisine

Categories: Crème fraîche, Latvia, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rainy days & Mondays with Parmesan

Rain Dubai

Rainy days like this are rare in a desert. And when it rains, everyone and everything gets alive and kicking, traffic included.

My ideal rainy day is to wake up as per routine, decide to skip work, snuggle back into bed and much later in the afternoon, go on a long drive, hunting for ‘pakoras‘ n ‘chai’.

Sigh! Back to reality. I did go to work and returned home to a fridge screaming at me to use its week old vegetables.

Result: Parmesan & Roasted Veggie Salad.

parmesan dubai

It turned out much better than I thought it would. Warm roasted pumpkins, brinjal (or eggplant or aubergine as you wish to call it), juicy red capsicum (okay, so they are called red peppers) and a local variant of zucchini in a balsamic vinegar dressing along with whole wheat pasta for company. Served on a bed of lettuce for some more colour effect. The star of the dish, however, were the Parmesan shavings – a generous, delicious and calorific contribution to an otherwise healthy dish.

No, those spicy Indian fritters cannot replace Parmesan or Pasta nevertheless, a bowl of this goodness provided a comforting end to a drab cold day.

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Sago Saga

An almost non-existent and under-rated breakfast option, the ‘Sabudhana Khichdi’ (also known as ‘Sago’) may not mean much in terms of nutrition but a very delectable indian snack, easy to prepare. My earliest memories of it is having it on occasional Saturdays of the month when mom used to do a ‘religious fast’ and I got to enjoy this delicious snack! Unlike other Indian breakfast options, it is not too easy to find across indian eateries but  a very popular dish in the western state of Maharashtra.

Many many years later, I decided that it was time to make it myselt. And it turned out better than I thought it would!

sagoLink to a recipe.

Eat it hot. Best made and had on a lazy Saturday morning with yoghurt and a cup of masala chai,

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Hot cross buns…

…or so I’d like to think. But apart from a very feeble cross I made on top of them, they are just plain simple country buns. It’s just that I’m so chuffed about how nicely they turned out, this being my very first attempt with breads. Crunchy on the outside and super soft inside. It aint as ’round’ as it should be but I think that just makes it look rustic! With all the health alerts and brown/wholemeal breads in the market, it has been ages since I have had good ol’ white bread. So this couldn’t have been a better comeback. Yum! (Well, a little self-gloat never hurt anyone, did it?) 😉

I randomly picked up this recipe off the internet since it appeared to be the quickest one and followed it to a tee. Et voilà!

Buns

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Goin’ nuts over Granola

I finally got to making my own granola after concluding that the Nestlés and Kelloggs of the world weren’t even half as healthy as they proclaimed to be, and the ones that seemed genuine were priced exorbitantly. And so, I investigated and stumbled upon a couple of websites and had a go at it.

Result: Making your own granola is RIDICULOUSLY easy!

So basically, I zeroed in on the Barefoot Contessa recipe and then did my own thing. That is, I reduced the amount of sugar (even replaced with honey a couple of times), didn’t have a stock of berries so added some lemon zest. I am citrus-crazy, in case you didn’t know. Give me a lime and I will eat the whole fruit without batting an eyelid!

Oats granola barefoot contessa

My recommendation:

  • Layer a flat-base bowl with low fat/skimmed yoghurt (as much as you want!)
  • Add chopped strawberries and apples on top of it
  • Keep in the chill tray for an hour or so (I go to work and keep it straight inside the frigo)
  • Remove it and add a generous layer of granola 
  • Slice into the whole thing and have a spoonful. Yumminess redefined.
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Chocolate Fudge

As someone rightly said, “Anything is good if it is made of chocolate”

A few bars of dark chocolate made-to-melt, condensed (sweetened) milk, sugar and some nuts thrown in. Along with copious amounts of love and craving!

That, my dears, sums up this calorific Choco-nut fudge.

chocolate fudge

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Summer salad

Greedy me! I sliced open the first mango of the season waiting to eat into the juicy flesh only to discover that it was still not ripe enough. I hate wasting food, and hence the mango salad- quite a nice way to bring in the summer!

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A bit of lettuce and cucumber along with some olive oil and honey mustard dressing garnished with chilli flakes & coriander did the trick for a simple & quick salad, however for all you meat eaters dying for that missing taste, just add in some prawns!

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Verry Berry Cookies

Oatmeal cookies with berries!

Very berry tasty, and may I say a tad healthy too 😉

berry

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‘Spiced’ Carrot tea cake

…with (more than) a hint of orange zest.

 

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