Having finally migrated from the snowy valleys of North Sweden, we find ourselves in the patchwork city of historical Riga. Riga in Latvia is known for its tumultuous journey to independence in 1991, and more recently winning the European Capital of Culture title last year. Modern Riga comprises of a cultural medley of stunning architecture, quirky cafes and underground pubs, where its long-standing suffering and oppression remains but a vestige in its humble, lived-in appeal. And lucky for us, also in the midst of the charming jumble of streets, is a growing minority of veggie cafes and restaurants all boasting vegetarian and vegan food, including raw.
Most menus in Riga seem to harbour a small selection of veggie mains, although rarely vegan friendly. So naturally we tried our luck in the vegetarian Buddha restaurant which of course did offer some vegan respite.
Of course the household name ‘Buddha’ conjures up images of swirly peace symbols, streaming incense, atmosphere steeped with karmic levels of equilibrium and warm, smiley people with big earrings but actually the restaurant was smartly decorated in black, white and gold, with stripes and arabesque print. And the staff hardly smiley or generous in the earring department. Though realising my prejudice akin to beliefs beheld by smug carnivores, I pushed my first impressions aside. Why shouldn’t veggie restaurants be smart with befitting staff? It also didn’t harp on about the fact it was veggie which I think sets a great example for cultivating a mass vegetarian market.
There was a set lunch offered at a very reasonable price and when I asked if it was also vegan (the French potato dish didn’t inspire much hope) the waitress swept back to the kitchen with a grunt, and returned to point at vegan dishes on the regular menu. I asked if I could have the cabbage soup starter on the set lunch menu. ‘No,’ she growled, ‘ I just told you the dishes on the other menu.’
I was really craving a cup of coffee as the bar/coffee shop we’d ducked in earlier didn’t have soya milk.’Excuse me, no,’ the bar man sneered when I asked. I felt so ashamed, I knew telepathically he was accusing me of being some pretentious Starbucks enthusiast. It stayed with me all morning.
So on the brink of potential meltdown what with this latest hospitality villain, I was too timid to approach the subject of soya milk, so I just smiled when actually I think she was waiting for me to order a drink. Luckily Marc had a free tea with his lunch
So the meals came and predictably the cabbage soup seemed perfectly vegan. I even had a spoon just to prove a point (though after the waitress had disappeared).
My meal in question was quite a simple yet tasty stew of rice, split beans and lentils and other vegetables. It was lightly spiced with mustard seeds and cloves. It was pleasant though nothing much to shout about. And I’d missed out on the cabbage soup experience, a dish I’d formerly associated with Charlie’s miserable diet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Victoria Beckham. Overall I’d say it wasn’t really the experience we’d hoped for. But Marc’s lunch at about 8 euro was certainly good value for money.
But let’s not forget, it is a new place just finding their feet in the vast melting pot that is Riga’s central hub. And at least for now, they’re headed in the right direction.