Lithuanian Culinary Arts – A Unique Approach

Senieji lietuviški receptai
Rimvydas Laužikas

Rimvydas Laužikas is a Professor of Digital Social Science and Humanities in the Faculty of Communication of Vilnius University. Educated in the interdisciplinary fields of educational sciences, archaeology and communication and information sciences, his first area of research was the architecture of old wooden churches.

He notes that the history of gastronomy is one in a series of paths he was drawn to through archeological research. A long-standing interest in “everyday” history took him to the site of the Radvila castle, where a great deal of gastronomic material was found and had to be analyzed. This inspired his personal experimentation, which is a source of information in itself, he says, and could not be gleaned from written sources.

In an interview on bernardinai.lt, Prof. Laužikas says he could not choose a favourite food, because there are so many. His childhood in northern Lithuania taught him that the cuisine of that area is somewhat different from other regions of the country. The culture of the north actually gravitated toward Riga, Latvia, not toward Vilnius. Historically there were a quite a few German estates in the north, which also brought in a specific Livonian culture.

The food of his childhood was fairly traditional, with hot-smoked pork sausages, bacon, and blood sausages (a rare item, which is now disappearing). For breakfast he remembers eating dumplings, not the “virtiniai” commonly called “koldūnai”, but large ones made with cottage cheese or meat, like “cepelinai”. Another common breakfast food was a flat pasta called “skryliai”, or in his region, “plociniai”.

Since the end of the Soviet era, people seem to be taking a greater interest in traditional food. This tradition is not linear in concept, because there are many gastronomic traditions that coexist at the same time. It’s important to keep a wider perspective of tradition, and not focus on a few items as the only true Lithuanian dishes. Gastronomic tradition is alive and constantly evolving. It is a network connecting many traditions, and Lithuanians have taken dishes from elsewhere, just as others take them from Lithuania.

For example, the dumplings filled with cottage cheese. How are they different from the traditional ones? In the region of Biržai, they’re quite large. Other than that, the dough used is very similar. But the fillings and the ratio of dough to filling can be different, which affects the taste of the dish. Another example is the dumpling called “koldūnas” and how it differs from the “pelmenis”. In fact, the “koldūnai” we eat today, are more like the “pelmenis” which came to us in the later decades of the last century. “Koldūnai” were originally from the cuisine of the Lithuanian Tatars, filled with beef, lamb, tallow and onion and eaten with horseradish sauce. A “virtinis” is large, with a lot of dough. “Virtiniai”, like “cepelinai” are traditionally formed by hand from a small ball of dough, not by rolling out the dough on a table using a rolling pin.

Prof. Laužikas and his wife Anželika have compiled an interesting volume with much more information on this topic in the e-book “Senieji lietuviški receptai“. (Available from Vilnius University Press, in Lithuanian.) The authors chose dishes from books dating from the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Prof. Laužikas