Latvia: Europe’s hidden culinary gem

The last couple weeks I’ve been running through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the standard of cooking here really has blown me away. Latvia is easily the best country I’ve run through so far in terms of food.

In fact if you’re a bit of a foodie and are looking for somewhere different to go for a weekend break I couldn’t recommend Latvia more – to be precise, Malpils Museum. It’s about a half hour drive from Riga into the countryside, very cheap and easy to fly into from the UK. I found the restaurant here by accident. There’s no advertising whatsoever, and Malpils is a very small town. It’s actually the only restaurant in town, and just so happens to have the winner of the best traditional-Latvian chef of 2012 as head chef!

The restaurant is on the ground floor of a museum set in a giant manor house with stunning grounds. Earlier in the day I’d run past chapels and caves carved into cliff sides in hill top villages.

Prices in certain parts of Europe are great compared to back home. In most places you can get a main course for well under a fiver, and it’s generally good. When I stumbled upon the restaurant I was just looking for something quick to eat. When I realised how smart the place was my heart sank at first, being a sweaty mess in my running kit. I definitely looked out of place and was worried I’d be turned away but my main concern was it looked like a very expensive place (ie. well out of budget for a guy running around the world).

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I ordered the rabbit dish. When it arrived I was stunned to find the presentation was fine dining standard and it tasted as good as it looked. My waiter spoke very good English and was incredibly welcoming. It was chatting to him later when I learnt about their head chef having won the national award for best chef in the category traditional food. So, did this amazing meal cost my budget dearly? No it was equivalent to £7 for the main course!

Often I tend to camp but through this part of Europe I’ve found guest houses/hotels from £7-£15 on average, which is far more comfortable than camping illegally in someone’s field. As it was close to getting dark I asked if there was a guest house nearby. This is when I found out that the museum, as well as housing a restaurant, is also a guesthouse. There was no inkling of this from outside or inside, and later I brought it up with the waiter – “why are there no signs to say restaurant/hotel on the building or on the main road (which bypasses the town)?”. He said he had also wondered this when he started work there, but now knows all their custom is through word of mouth!

If you fancy a weekend away somewhere different then here you’ll have a fantastic room in a manor house for £40 (I took the ‘kids’ room for £15!) a night and a fantastic restaurant downstairs. It’s one of the first places I’ve stayed at along my route where I know I’ll definitely plan to return to one day on a mini break.


Kevin Carr

About the author

A man with a mission - to be the fastest to the circle the globe on foot. Kevin is literally running around the world and needs 8,000 calories every day.
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