Lithuanian food is centred upon locally grown produce and age-old cooking traditions. Drawing upon the country’s farming heritage, ingredients hail from the land, most typically beets, potatoes, pork, cabbage, mushrooms, berries, dairy and grain. After spending a few days in the capital city, below we have compiled our favourite Vilnius restaurants for discovering authentic local food.
But first, let’s take a quick tour of the Lithuanian dishes to look out for on the menu.
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Lithuanian food: a brief guide
Lithuanian winters are cold, with average temperatures dipping below freezing between December and February. Culinary traditions developed over the centuries have centred around preserving ingredients for winter, and providing warmth and comfort.
Soup, the most warming of all dishes, is an integral component of Lithuanian cuisine. With many varieties to choose from, soup in Lithuania is considered vital to good health.
One of the country’s most recognisable dishes is in fact a chilled soup. Saltibarsciai (chilled borscht, or more simply, cold beetroot soup) is bright pink in colour with a sharp and strong flavour. Carlo Petrini, founder of the international Slow Food movement, described it as “the most aesthetic cold soup in the world”.
Sticking with the root veg theme, there’s also burokėlių sriuba (hot beetroot soup) for colder times.
As with many countries in northern, central and eastern Europe, sauerkraut – fermented cabbage – is a staple of Lithuanian cuisine. Before the days of refrigeration, it provided a source of nutrition during winter.
Thus, raugintų kopūstų sriuba (sauerkraut soup) is a another popular warmer. It’s sometimes served with smoked sausage, and almost always with a dollop of sour cream.
Šalta ridikėlių sriuba (cold radish soup) is a popular seasonal dish in Lithuania. We tried to order it, but missed out as summer had passed. (It’s worth taking note here that the world ‘šalta’ means ‘cold’ – when I thought I was ordering a salted latté in the bus terminal, I received an iced coffee instead. Not what I was looking for in the rain!)
Lithuania has a fantastic craft beer scene – check out my article on Vilnius pubs for more about that. Unsurprisingly, the celebrated beer tradition is accompanied by a penchant for bar snacks.
The most famous bar snack in Lithuania is kepta duona, fried bread cut into chips, and often served with cheese sauce for dipping.
The dark rye bread used for kepta duona is itself a pillar of Lithuanian cuisine, and served alongside many dishes. It can often be ordered on its own as a snack, or with sharing plates of meats, cheeses and olives.
A bar snack that we tried in Vilnius and loved was Lietuviški žirniai su spirgučiais (Lithuanian peas with crackling). It’s simple and incredibly moreish – a plate of yellow peas with crispy crackling pieces sprinkled on the top.
Lithuania also has its own take on the filled pastry snack. Spain has the empanada, Bolivia the salteña and England the Cornish pasty; Lithuania has the kibinai. This is a flaky pastry that comes with various fillings, such as pork, cheese, turkey or vegetables. Its origins are actually Turkish; it was brought by the Karaites people who settled in the town of Trakai around the 14th century.
Potato is the core ingredient of many Lithuanian recipes. It is the basis of the national dish, cepelinai, which translates as ‘zeppelins’. These are large dumplings made of potato dough and stuffed with a filling, usually pork, curd cheese or mushrooms. The name derives from their oval shape, which resembles a zeppelin airship.
Bulviniai blynai are delicious potato pancakes served with sour cream and sometimes meat or cheese. Made by shallow-frying a mix of grated potato, diced onion and beaten egg, the taste and consistency is similar to hash browns.
One of our favourite potato-based dishes to eat in Lithuania is bulviniai vėdarai – potato sausage. This is made by stuffing pigs’ intestines with mashed potato, or as one restaurant’s menu bluntly put it, “shit comes out, potato goes in”!
Other classic dishes
Given that we loved the Lithuanian potato sausage, it is unsurprising that we also enjoyed kraujiniai vėdarai (black pudding sausage). This is a concoction of pig’s blood and barley grain stuffed in pig’s intestines and cooked.
Pigs have been farmed in Lithuania for centuries, and so it’s no surprise that pork is the most popular meat of the national cuisine. In times of old, few parts of the pig were spared in providing sustenance to families, and like many culinary traditions this has passed through to the modern day.
On our first day in Vilnius, as you will read below, we tried kiaulės ausis (pig’s ear). While it can be served as a main dish cooked in a pan with sauce and potatoes, it’s also common to see it as a fried snack.
Kiaulienos troškinys (Lithuanian pork stew) is a dish that might feel more familiar to western European tongues, and it’s up there with the soup as a satisfying hearty warmer.
Poultry is also commonly used in several Lithuanian dishes. Kotletai is one example, which is patties of minced meat (often chicken) and onion, served with potatoes, sliced cucumber, beets, dill and a creamy sauce.
Our brief guide to Lithuanian cuisine wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the many cakes, cookies and other sweet dishes.
Big family gatherings and festive celebrations in Lithuania often feature Šakotis, a traditional hollow cake cooked on a spit.
In restaurants, there are many other desserts you may encounter on the menu. Plombir is a creamy, milky ice cream of Russian origin. The classic is vanilla, but it comes in other flavours too.
Our favourite was Lietuviskas obuoliu suris, which translates as ‘Lithuanian apple cheese’. It is indeed made with apples, and the texture is not dissimilar to cheese. It’s usually served with slices of cucumber and honey for dipping.
In addition to the many beers and liquors that are unique to Lithuania, the country also has various traditional non-alcoholic beverages to try.
Naminė gira is Lithuanian kvass, a drink made from rye bread. It does sometimes have a low alcohol content, not usually higher than 1% ABV.
Its bready flavour is quite dry, but it is sometimes sweetened with fruity flavourings.
Obuolių sulčių ir kmynų gėrimas is an old traditional juice made with apple and caraway seeds. Like kvass it has quite an earthy flavour, but this is a little sweeter. Definitely worth trying if you can find it on a menu.
Vilnius restaurants: our recommendations
We visited seven restaurants during a four-day stay in Vilnius. Our aim was to seek out the best places to eat traditional Lithuanian food on a low-to-medium budget.
For ideas of how to spend your time in the city, check out our article on things to do in Vilnius. Read on to see what we found! For each of the restaurants, I’ve included the cost of our meal in euros.
The restaurant scene in Vilnius has been one of the quickest to adapt to the challenges of Covid-19. Very early after the initial lockdown, the city innovated by turning its central area into an open-air café, allowing restaurants to bounce back and start serving food again in a safer setting.
As the situation has developed, we’ve been in touch with the restaurants featured in this article to find out the latest situation. They have all been able to open, but we will keep the information updated as it evolves.
1. Būsi Trečias
The first stop of our self-guided culinary tour of Vilnius was Būsi Trečias, a two-storey bar and restaurant that brews great beer in its basement microbrewery.
We asked the waitress for recommendations on the best local dishes to try. I plumped for the kaimiška keptuvė – a ‘village pan’ of fried potatoes, wild mushrooms, smoked bacon, gherkin, leek, onions and sauce. Essentially a heaped plate of deliciousness!
Lisa opted to try the pig’s ear, which was served with potato pancakes, mushrooms and sauce. The trimmings were full of flavour. Be aware though, you’re trying pig’s ear for the first time, the texture may seem a little unusual to begin with.
The bill: two main meals plus a large house craft beer each – €21
Šnekutis is a small chain of down-to-earth restaurants with three establishments in Vilnius. Each serves the same menu of authentic local food at reasonable prices. Šnekutis restaurants are usually packed with locals, which is always a good sign.
After trying some of the famous kepta duona at the Šv. Mikalojaus branch in the afternoon, we had a full evening meal at the Šv. Stepono branch. It’s a compact place with rustic, wooden benches draped with simple tablecloths for an all-round homely ambiance.
We shared a mixture of the classic dishes: cold beetroot soup, hot sauerkraut soup, potato pancakes with meat, and Lithuanian peas with crackling. It was all very tasty, but the potato pancakes were particularly special.
The bill: two soups, potato pancakes and Lithuanian peas with a large beer each – €19
3. Berneliu Uzeiga
This place was a fantastic find, located just off the main road of Gedimino Prospektas. While it pretty big inside, it’s actually quite easy to miss.
The setting is a blend of traditional and modern, with wooden beams stretching across the centre of the room and neat rows of tables lining the perimeter, covered with red-and-white chequered tablecloths. The waiter lit a candle for us as we took our seat.
Berneliu Uzeiga has been around since 1999 and has even opened a restaurant in London. It serves over 40 different meals certified as products of national heritage, and prides itself on using old methods of food preparation with ingredients sourced from Lithuanian farmers.
We tried the hot beetroot soup, which was delicious, as well as a herring fillet with mushrooms and leeks for starters. For mains we had assorted dumplings filled with pork, duck and wild mushroom, and a portion of the hot pork stew with potato wedges and pickled cucumbers. Altogether, it was incredibly satisfying!
The bill: beetroot soup, herring, pork stew, assorted dumplings and a drink each – €25.80
4. Pilies Katpėdėlė
In the heart of Vilnius Old Town on the popular Pilies Street, we treated ourselves to a meal in Pilies Katpėdėlė. While the furnishings are very polished and contemporary, the restaurant’s menu places an emphasis on traditional Lithuanian food and its origins.
The menu is separated into sections such as ‘the ancient kingdom’, ‘interwar picnic’ and ‘slumber land’, telling the history of the national cuisine through different dishes of the ages.
We ordered a black pudding sausage to share followed by a main each. I tried the hake with roasted vegetables, while Lisa went for veal liver salad, served with fried bacon, fried onions, poached eggs and all the traditional salad trimmings.
We enjoyed the food so much we indulged in dessert too, ordering plombir ice cream and Lithuanian apple cheese. Overall the food was rich and satisfying, and the experience made all the more enjoyable by the creative and informative menu.
The bill: black pudding sausage to share, a main and dessert each, plus two drinks each (ginger tea and bread kvass) – €31.30
5. Kavine Ceburekine
Most of the restaurants we visited in Vilnius were typical order-from-a-menu, sit-down dining experiences. Kavine Ceburekine was a notable exception, with a very different setup.
Located on the outskirts close to the main bus terminal, this place is more of a canteen than a restaurant. You pick up a tray and choose from the dishes of the day or ask for specials listed above on a board, then served by staff behind the counter.
This can be quite a tricky transaction if, like me, you don’t speak Lithuanian! Using an awkward combination of gestures and facial expressions, I eventually managed to order a trayful of lunch for me and Lisa. We had soup starters, big plates of kotletas with potatoes, dill pickle, beets and creamy sauce, and a cordial drink each.
At lunchtime this place is absolutely bustling with noise and activity, which dies down very quickly afterwards. By the time we finished our meals we were the only people left! The food was tasty without being spectacular – as you may expect from a lunch canteen – and fantastic value at a fraction of the cost of other eateries we visited.
The bill: soups, mains and a soft drink each – €6.60
6. Alaus Namai
Situated a good half-hour walk from the Old Town by the Neris River, Alaus Namai is a beer hall and restaurant very popular among locals. It looks dead from outside, even closed – but once you find your way down to the vast underground bar it springs to life.
While Alaus Namai serves a tasty-looking choice of local dishes with generous portions, we decided to try out some of the bar snack platters. After all, our primary reason for visiting was the beer. We enjoyed a tantalising selection of meats, cheese, breads, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and the like.
The staff were extremely helpful and friendly in offering recommendations, both for the snacks and the beer. This all added to the lively and jovial atmosphere. We’ll be back here again, for sure.
The bill: two large platters of meats and cheeses plus two craft beers each – €22.20
7. Etno Dvaras
For our final meal in Vilnius we returned to Pilies Street. From both outside and inside Etno Dvaras has the look and feel of a tourist trap, but once we got past that we were more than pleased with the food experience.
We found a few traditional offerings on the menu that we hadn’t seen elsewhere – roasted bacon with horseradish, grandma’s rissoles and other peculiarities.
The rissoles were actually very similar to the kotletai we enjoyed in Kavine Ceburekine the day before. We also took the chance to try the potato sausage, served the traditional way with crackling sauce and sour cream. A very satisfying way to end our culinary tour of Vilnius, all washed down with a half-litre of Švyturys, and capped off with a taster board of Lithuanian liqueurs.
The bill: a potato sausage to share, a main each and a large Švyturys beer each – €23.20 (plus another €5 for a taster selection of five Lithuanian liqueurs)
Map of Vilnius restaurants
See the map below to find the Vilnius restaurants we have highlighted in this article:
Have you eaten Lithuanian food before? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below. If you’re from Lithuania and would like to give some feedback on this article, we’d love to hear from you too.
To bring some of the tastes of the world into your home, check out these ideas on international dishes to cook at home.
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