Vilnius’s chefs are experimenting with modern Lithuanian cuisine, which focuses on improvisation and a contemporary interpretation of the nation’s traditional, everyday ingredients and dishes. Things like carp, schnitzel, beetroots, potatoes, mushrooms, cottage cheese, smoked pork fat, kvass and spit cake are all appearing on the plate, but in new and creative ways.
Most of Vilnius’s most celebrated restaurants, such as Nineteen 18, Sweet Root and Džiaugsmas, showcase traditional Lithuanian elements in their menus, with unexpected combinations like Džiaugsmas’ cod donuts with tarragon and egg sauce or smoked carp with cumin mayonnaise.
At Ertlio Namas restaurant, diners can get a taste of upper class Lithuanian gastronomy between the 13th and 19th centuries. Located in the historic 17th-century house of the German mason Jurgis Ertlis, the restaurant serves up ancient recipes such as pigeon, duck or borsch with tortellini, along with the story of each dish’s origin. Known as ‘manor cuisine’ or ‘noblemen cuisine’, it is said to hail from Lithuanian rulers and noblemen, who brought back recipes from their travels around the world during Renaissance and Baroque times. Manor cuisine is usually a lengthy degustation, not for the faint hearted.
“Authenticity is important for the new generation of chefs we see coming at the moment,” said Italian Michelin-starred Chef Anthony Genovese from restaurant Il Pagliaccio while in Vilnius for the Lithuanian Gastronomy Forum. “It is quite easy to get caught up in what the rest of the world is doing without figuring out who exactly you are as a chef and learning about your own heritage. Once you have this base understanding of yourself and your roots, your food will continue to evolve and thrive,” he said.
Fellow lauded chef Andrea Aprea from Italian restaurant VUN Andrea Aprea also pointed out the reliance on roots and authenticity as the main strength of Lithuanian cuisine, with both chefs agreeing that a combination of authentic elements with modern imagination sets Vilnius’s food tradition as a trend that other countries are likely to follow.