If the word “Latvian” is associated with one certain scent, then first prize would go to the humble pīrāgs. One of the unique Latvian symbols that foreigners discover about Latvians worldwide is the often mispronounced, but never forgotten, little bacon and onion delicacy that smells absolutely divine while baking and tastes like heaven when just out of the oven.
This crescent-shaped mini-pie looks like an Italian calzone and has similar ingredients, but the taste is quite different. The Russians and other Eastern Europeans have similar dumpling or bun variations called perogi, piroghi, pierogi or piroshki. Other variations are boiled dumplings called pelmeņi, originating in Siberia, and varenyky, the Ukrainian version of the same thing. Many of these versions are boiled or boiled and fried, whereas the Latvian pīrāgi are baked using bread dough, hence the resemblance to calzone. The Latvians have also elaborated on the theme and created other savoury fillings as variations on the original: kartupeļu pīrāgi (potato buns), sēņu pīrāgi (mushroom buns), kāpostu pīrāgi (cabbage buns) and the list goes on. Those with a sweet tooth are not left wanting: apple pīrāgi, rhubarb pīrāgi, cottage cheese pīrāgi… the possibilities are endless!
If there’s one way to get someone to remember your nationality, it’s through their stomach, so why not discover the secrets of the ancient Letts in the fine art of the baking of pīrāgi or speķa rauši, as they are also called in Latvia.
For an insight into the myriad recipes that are out there, the recipe portal receptes.lv is the first port of call. It’s important to note these are recipes that have been sent in by people who live in Latvia, so their recipes will mention local brands of flour, margarine and other ingredients. Latvians living elsewhere may need to adapt the recipes after trial-and-error to reveal the best local brands in their part of the world.
For a pictorial how-to, revealing the basics with easy-to-follow steps, have a look at Cāļa virtuve, part of the family oriented Cālis portal. Another step-by-step guide is found on Handy Home Projects, a blog by a family in Canberra, Australia, that is “trying new things, living naturally and frugally, having fun.” Be sure to review part 1 and part 2.
Elvis Stumbergs, who immigrated to the United States in 1990, describes pīrāgi and associated folklore. Although th site is not as specific in terms of quantities for ingrediants, the author makes one very important point: the joint effort of baking for a specific event stimulates community solidarity. This can be cross-generational (passing the tradition down to the next generation) or simply strengthen individuals’ ties with their heritage.
For a more personal take on the subject have a look at Silvija and Pēters Vecrumba’s Latvians.com, which draws the following conclusion: “Pīrāgi are the Latvian woman’s secret weapon. None can withstand their delightful onslaught!”
Don’t forget Latvians Online has its own Latvian Culture and Cooking Forum, where many of the topics are related to recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.
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