The chefs reclaiming Lithuania’s cuisine

These are just a handful of the ancient Romuva traditions that live on. You’d never know where they came from by observing with the naked eye given the way they’re constantly recycling and taking new forms. Nevertheless, they remain.

None of this is to say that all of Lithuania’s culinary heritage stems from ancient or medieval times. There were centuries between the Christianisation of the country and Soviet occupation. And with that period of relative freedom, there’s plenty for contemporary chefs to rediscover. 

According to Keršulytė-Ryčkova’s research, Lithuanian-written recipes did not exist before the 19th Century. And thus, she works with historical references to dishes and ingredients found in archives and old books, recreating them based solely on their description.

“We worked with the Lithuanian History Institute, and we looked into the inventories of different palaces,” she said. “So, you have ingredients listed for each century, for each period, for each duke.”

It was a busy Tuesday night when Keršulytė-Ryčkova led me down the spiralling stone staircase into the 16th-Century Gothic cellar where an entire portion of the menu features wild game with captions referencing the history.

Wild boar, for example, was a privilege reserved for Lithuanian nobles. Only they were permitted to hunt. Commoners, on the other hand, risked a death sentence if caught hunting. Now, for the price of €21, anyone can have a boar roast the likes of which Grand Duke Gediminas (1275-1341) would’ve enjoyed, served with cowberry wine sauce, and sweet pear and potato croquettes with cheese. There’s also a beaver meat stew with mushrooms, tomatoes and a potato puree flavoured with spinach.

But what truly grabbed my attention, left my stomach grumbling and piqued my curiosity was the section of vegetarian and vegan dishes devoted exclusively to dishes with roots in Litvak cuisine: homemade boletus (a kind of mushroom) dumplings served with onion jam, cheese curd balls stewed in a tomato sauce; and zeppelins (a large potato dumpling also referred to as cepelinai) served with sour cream. This Litvak vegetarian section is a relatively new addition to the menu.

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