Latvians are proud of their ancient cultural heritage when it comes to gastronomy, often producing and preparing their own food. Rīga and the Gauja region have been named the European Region of Gastronomy 2017 for that reason. It’s interesting to note that the vegan and vegetarian lifestyle, which is very closely linked to an appreciation of that which is natural and naturally produced, has recently been expanding in Rīga, not least because people appreciate sustainable ideas. Although Latvian cuisine is traditionally based on meat and dairy products, there is a new market for vegan restaurants, as well. “A few years ago there were very few options in Rīga, says Dutchman Camiel Van Goethem, who owns a vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Rīga together with his Latvian wife. “The most vegan city in Europe right now is Berlin, but Rīga is also moving in that direction. I see good prospects here. It’s a global movement that tends to become more and more popular every day.”

“There are still few options for vegans outside of Rīga, where people eat more meat and perhaps haven’t even heard about veganism,’ says the editor of the Vegan.lv portal, Ieva Gedzuna. “Levels of acceptance of this lifestyle tend to differ. Older people are more traditional and conservative, while younger people are usually more willing to taste vegan foods.”

Vegan.lv is run by volunteers to inspire, motivate and inform people about veganism. Ieva says that the number of hits on the website is rising, and people are interested in this. Camiel’s restaurant, the Fat Pumpkin, for instance, began very small three years ago and has now expanded because of demand. The restaurant offers vegan and vegetarian breakfasts, lunches and dinners. It is best known for raw cakes that are freshly made each day, as well as for seven types of vegan burgers. Traditional Latvian beet soup was transformed into a vegan soup at the Fat Pumpkin, which also produces delicious organic jams.

The Fat Pumpkin only uses organic ingredients from local producers. “We make everything ourselves,” says Camiel. “We do not freeze anything or precook anything. Everything is fresh, and our fresh ingredients come from Latvian farmers.” The owner thinks that vegetarian and vegan diets are perfect to stimulate the perception of flavour and to care about the quality of ingredients.

Camiel also says that it is common for non-vegan clients of his restaurant to be surprised at the size of the menu. “They come along with a vegan client and have the old idea that vegans have nothing to eat other than grass. We try to offer options – try this, try that. It’s a challenge for us to satisfy those diners, and they’re often surprised about how delicious vegan food can be. I personally think that this is the best way to spread veganism and vegetarianism, without being imposing. Good food is there for everyone.”

Here’s a tip: If you want to cook your own vegan food, you can find excellent, organic and inexpensive vegetables, mushrooms, fruits and other ingredients from local producers at the Rīga Central Market and the Vidzeme Market. Vegan.lv offers the addresses of vegan and vegetarian restaurants and shops.

Latvian Institute, 11.08.2016, Society, Food