Living on Plants in Riga

IMG_7834When M. and I made the decision to transition to a vegan lifestyle nearly two years ago, I was initially concerned that making such a huge change would be extremely challenging, particularly considering that we were living in Riga, Latvia, where meat and dairy make up the centerpieces (and sides) of most meals. I wasn’t sure quite where to begin, especially when it came to dining out, but it didn’t take long for us to figure out how to make fantastic plant-based meals, where to shop for vegan ingredients and other products, and which restaurants offer the best plant-based dining experiences. For a long while now, I’ve wanted to put together a little “being vegan in Riga” guide, and now – just days before our two years here come to an end – I finally feel that I have a strong enough grasp on the concept do it.

And so, I present to you the following (which is in no way meant to be exhaustive):

Dining Out – Most restaurants in Riga have vegetarian dishes on their menus, and most of these are easily made vegan simply by leaving off the cheese or cream. We have yet to encounter a place unwilling to veganize a meal (in some cases, it simply cannot be done, for various reasons, and in those instances, the staff has always been apologetic), so if you find yourself at a restaurant with seemingly no vegan options, don’t be afraid to ask. Below are some of the restaurants where we have consistently been able to enjoy vegan meals.

Terapija Vegan Cafe (Bruņinieku iela 69)
Riga’s only 100% vegan restaurant, Terapija, is located on a quiet street in the city center. Its menu is tasty and inexpensive, with dishes like falafel wraps, homemade seitan and tempeh burgers, and chickpea scrambles. Service can be on the slower side, especially if the cafe is busy, but the excellent food and friendly atmosphere make up for it. Portions are generous, so bring your appetite! Terapjia also offers a weekend brunch buffet for 9 EUR per person.

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Brunch at Terapija… yum! Photo credit: Terapija’s Facebook page

Indian Raja (Skārņu iela 7)
Nestled in Old Riga next to St. Peter’s Church, Indian Raja’s menu includes several delicious vegan options. Our favorites are the onion bahjias, chana masala, and vegetable samosas. Dishes can be made as spicy as you’d like, and the service is always friendly. For a 7 EUR fee, Indian Raja also delivers right to your door. Of course, taking in the decadent aroma of spices as you dine next to a 400-year-old cathedral is never a bad idea. Opt for a patio table if the weather is warm.

Himalaya (Blaumaņa iela 14 and Brīvības iela 102)
Our only regret regarding Himalaya is not learning about it earlier during our tour in Riga. We have only been to its Blaumaņa iela location, a sweet little downstairs dining room decorated with colorful Tibetan prayer flags and scenes of Nepal, and it is fantastic. I had a lentil soup there that blew me away. Service is quick and friendly, and prices are inexpensive.

Fat Pumpkin (Grēcinieku iela 11)
Easily my favorite restaurant in all of Riga, Fat Pumpkin is mostly vegan and all vegetarian. Its Old Town location and high quality ingredients make for prices that are slightly higher than elsewhere in Riga, but the generous portions are worth it. Best known for its spicy red bean burger, homemade fries, and huge menu of smoothies, Fat Pumpkin is a vegan’s dream. Be sure to check out the dessert case as well, and if your appetite is big enough, stop in for the newly-added weekend brunch.

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Fat Pumpkin’s famous spicy red bean burger, served here as a naked burger (with lettuce in place of the bun), with house-made French fries and vegan mayonnaise.

Miit (Lāčplēša iela 10)
Miit is a cozy little hipster veggie coffee shop in central Riga. During the week, there is a smallish selection of vegetarian breakfast and lunch options, but Miit’s weekend brunch is where it’s at. At 7,50 EUR per person, the self-serve, all-you-can-eat, 95% vegan (a couple of the dishes are made with eggs or cheese/dairy) brunch buffet is a favorite of ours. Selections include various versions of hummus, quinoa salads, grilled veggies, homemade bread, beetroot pancakes, and fresh fruit. If you’re a morning person, be sure to get there early (brunch starts at 11:00 am) to get a table; otherwise, rest assured that you can wander in well into the afternoon, as brunch lasts until 4:00 pm.

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The coffee bar at Miit.

Mr. Fox (Dzirnavu iela 34a)
This cute little cafe in Riga’s Art Nouveau district near the Albert Hotel has several vegan breakfast and lunch options on its chalkboard menu, available for dining in or take-out. Enjoy a fresh salad, vegan pancakes, or a variety of sandwiches. The staff is friendly, as are the customers, which is great, because some of the seating is shared.

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Freshly made vegan sandwiches at Miit. I was initially skeptical of the peanut butter and hummus combination they put on these, but it is delicious!

stockPOT (Ģertrūdes iela 6)
Another favorite of ours, stockPOT takes the cake when it comes to their motto, “cooked slowly, served fast”. Although several of stockPOT’s menu items include meat, many dishes are 100% vegan, and the menu – which changes every day – clearly identifies them. The cuisine is heavily influenced by the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Asia, and is consistently delicious. But, when the food runs out, it’s out, for the rest of the day. Open Monday to Friday only, stockPOT’s rices are inexpensive and portions come in different sizes to suit your appetite. Expect to stand in a line out the door if you arrive after 11:15 or so (but it moves quickly!). Service is friendly and seating is shared. A new location, called stockPOT too, recently opened at Dzirnciema iela 27A.

The Beginnings / Raw Garden (several locations throughout Riga)
The Beginnings is a local brand whose products are sold in Raw Garden shops and restaurants throughout the city. Most offerings are vegan (all are vegetarian), and lunchtime specialties include offerings such as curried quinoa and rich, colorful salads. The menu features soups and main courses of the day, providing an element of adventure and variety. Prices are reasonable, and portions large. In the shop, customers can purchase packaged foods and personal care products.

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Save room for dessert at Fat Pumpkin!

Gan Bei (multiple locations throughout Riga)
Gan Bei is a trendy local franchise best known for its sushi. However, fear not: there are numerous vegan dishes on offer in Gan Bei’s extensive menu that rivals some history textbooks in length. Among our favorites are the Singapore-style cauliflower and crispy zucchini. Vegan sushi options include the Kappa Maki (with cucumber) and Avocado Maki. Prices are reasonable.

Shopping – While on the surface, shopping for vegan-friendly ingredients in Riga may seem like a daunting task, rest assured that this is not the case. Most of the large grocery chains have at least a small section devoted to plant-based milks and yoghurts, and specialty stores throughout the city easily make up the rest. Below are my favorite standbys.

Riga Central Market (Nēģu iela 7)
The best place in Riga for fresh, local produce is of course the Riga Central Market. Housed in five giant World War I Zeppelin hangars that have been repurposed into market pavilions, Riga Central Market is where the locals come to shop. While there is no shortage of vendors selling all varieties of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, at the Riga Central Market you can also find an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially during the summer and early fall months. The selection is more plentiful, colorful, and flavorful than what you will find at the grocery stores, and the prices are much lower, as many items are locally grown. If you are in search of high quality medjool dates, nuts, and bulk spices, this is also the place to go, and those items are available year-round.

Dabas Stacija (Lāčplēša iela 17-1)
This little shop in the center of Riga has (in my opinion) by far the biggest and best selection of vegan pantry staples. Here you can find just about anything, except for fresh produce. From a pretty good variety of tofus and other meat substitutes to vegan cheeses and condiments like mayonnaise and sour cream, Dabas Stacija has just about everything I have ever wanted or needed in the way of vegan ingredients. It offers a wide range of whole grains, dry beans, and various flours, sugars, and nut and seed butters. There is also an abundance of plant-based milks, yoghurts, and ice cream, as well as some personal care products.

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“Dabas Stacija” means “nature station” in Latvian.

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Tofu, tempeh, and seitan can be found in many shapes and sizes at Dabas Stacija.

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Dabas Stacija’s selection of vegan yoghurts, cheeses, and butters.

Bioteka (multiple locations throughout Riga)
This tiny shop offers huge returns when it comes to plant-based living. Scattered in various locations throughout the city (the Spice Home location is particularly good), Bioteka offers a wide variety of plant-based pantry items, mostly from Germany. What I like most about this shop is its selection of personal care items, and it is here that I have been able to find high quality vegan soaps, shampoo, and even a conditioner that works for my unruly curly hair. I’ll be frank: these products are expensive, but knowing that they are cruelty free and ethically sourced is worth the price.

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There are several Bioteka shops throughout Riga.

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The personal care selection at Bioteka is the best I have found in the city.

Stockmann (13. janvāra iela 8)
This large Finnish department store is akin to Macy’s or Nordstrom in the United States, with one exception: on the ground level, there is a large gourmet grocery store, and in it are a number of vegan-friendly products. It is at Stockmann that I have been able to find hard-to-get ingredients like miso (also available at Dabas Stacija) and pure vanilla extract. Stockmann also carries a variety of vegan household products.

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Cleaning products like these, from Earth Friendly Products, are available at Stockmann and Rimi. They are two to three times the price of most of the other cleaning products, but they are high quality and a little bit goes a long way.

Rimi (multiple locations throughout Riga)
Owned by Swedish parent company ICA, Rimi is the most ubiquitous grocery chain in Riga and easily spotted by its bright red facade. While every Rimi I have visited devotes a large portion of its space to meat and dairy, there is also always a section of plant-based milks, yogurts, and tofu (found in the cheese case). While at first glance, this section may seem limited, a careful scouring of the entire store will reveal many, many vegan staples, such as quinoa, multiple varieties of lentils, a plethora of whole grains, refined coconut oil (ideal for making vegan cheeses and butter), pure cocoa powder, and a huge selection of nuts, seeds, and the like. The ethnic food section is also a reliable source of versatile ingredients like tortillas, nori, rice noodles, coconut milk, and different curries and sauces (be sure to check the labels carefully as not all are vegan… this is a great opportunity to learn the Latvian words for milk, butter, and eggs!).

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The produce section at Rimi is a good alternative to Riga Central Market during the winter months.

With so many options readily accessible, being vegan in Riga is very easy! Have you visited Riga and found any vegan-friendly places that I have missed? Please comment below and let me know.

Thank you for reading!

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