“This is what you guys eat for dinner? Great, now I’m hungry AND sad.”
~Tourists in Latvia
America, in case you didn’t get the memo, is better than all the rest of you wannabe country motherfuckers out there. That’s just a basic truth, and if you disagree with it you’re either French or one of those jerkwads that writes those magazine articles about “happiness indexes.” Why is America great? Our education and health care system? Okay, don’t be a sarcastic asshole, we’re asking a serious question here. Well, many of you shouted all sorts of great things, like freedom, whiskey, and we’re pretty sure we heard someone shout “the world’s largest charcoal grill in Magnolia, Arkansas” which, um, that’s definitely unique but hey we’ll give it to you.
But if you ask us, of the many, many aspects of America we truly love, there’s one that tends to take a special place in our heart. Well, yes, booze, but we’re talking about something that has a special place in our heart because it’s physically lodged there. That’s right, America’s tradition of culinary excellence. We make amazing food! Horrifically unhealthy, sure, but amazing nonetheless.
Which is what brings us to our latest series here at AFFotD. While America is clearly the pinnacle of the food world (sit down and shut up, France) there are other countries whose national cuisines, the food they grew up eating out of a sense of identity and history, are…well, pretty depressing. So we’re going to take some time to tell you about countries who don’t just do food worse than us, they do food worse in us in a way that we don’t even want to make fun of them for it, we just feel kind of bad for the poor guys. Plus, we’re totally going to make fun of them.
The World’s Saddest Cuisines: Latvia
Latvia is a Baltic state that is home to about 2 million people. They lived under foreign rule for some 700 years, and most recently were under Soviet control until 1987, when they managed to gain their independence over the course of a four year bloodless rebellion through song and protest, which is just adorable. It’s a small little country that we don’t really think about that often, outside of maybe the occasional hockey game, but it seems to fit them well. They have a strong culture, boosted by a common language and over a thousand years of folk music.
They also prefer to eat food that makes us incredibly sad. We’re not even kidding—the cuisine is based on a peasant culture (“no, we were serfs!” one Latvian website actually bragged in response to that). Literally the food was intended to be cheap, flavorless, and high in calories so you didn’t starve. Jesus Christ, that’s so depressing. The Wikipedia page for Latvian cuisine includes such sentences as “Latvian food is generally quite fatty, and uses few spices” and “Consumption of ready-made or frozen meals is now common” and “upon finishing dinner, it is Latvian culture to sing a song that translates roughly to ‘all I eat is potatoes, and it makes water stream from my eyes.’” Admittedly, we put that last sentence into that page and they edited it out after like thirty seconds, but still.
The fact that we refer to the following national dishes as “cuisine” is kind of a misnomer, because cuisine implies that you’re putting thought, effort, love, and preparation to transform ingredients into something greater than the sum of their parts. Latvian cuisine is really just “food” in that it seems expressly designed for you to shove into your face hole, mash up with your mouth bones, and swallow down in order to amass just enough energy to continue tilling that field you’ve been toiling at all day. These are dishes that, when they’re not just weird, scream, “I must consume nutrients, for the oxen have frozen to death and now I must drive the plow.” It is a goddamn sad train wreck of a culinary tradition. So let’s dive in!
From the Tumblr “Poor Latvia” because of course that exists
We can understand some of you thinking that we’re way off base making fun of Latvia for their intense focus on potatoes. And we get it, potatoes are delicious and hardy. When you think of potatoes, you think of them loaded with bacon and sour cream, or mashed and served with gravy, or diced and fried. All of these are delicious things! Potatoes aren’t on trial here, but let’s point out one thing. While there are fried and mashed potato dishes in Latvia, generally you’re going to expect to be served bland, boring, boiled potatoes. And often. Like every single meal. If you’re stuffing boiled potatoes inside you three times a day, you are not eating potatoes because you feel like going carb-heavy today, you’re doing it because, deeply ingrained in your cultural memory, you are thinking, “It was a poor harvest this year, we must subside on these potatoes lest we starve.” Boiled potatoes are literally the most “oh shit I need to eat something to keep living” vegetable out there—the Irish had a whole famine because of them. A plate full of potatoes at every meal is the kind of thing that Norwegians would complain about in prison.
You’re still not convinced? Okay, let’s do a bit of a mental exercise here. Imagine someone sitting alone in a cramped room, one that’s only big enough to fit a small table and a single chair. Overhead is a flickering light fixture. Now imagine a 50 year old Latvian man sitting at that table, one hand holding a fork, the other a butter knife. In front of him is a plate of boiled potatoes. “Oh goody,” he says to himself in Latvian. “Potatoes again. What a lovely dinner.” Now touch your cheeks to determine how much you’ve cried since you began reading this sentence. Latvians eating boiled potatoes every day is even more depressing then a recent Lap-Band surgery recipient driving from the hospital straight to an Old Country Buffet.
Latvia is really into cheese, which isn’t necessarily depressing. But they manage to use cheese, and dairy in general, in astounding ways that just scream “I am weird” and “I am so, so alone.” Now we’ll give credit where credit is due, as far as the actual production of cheese goes, while some of it is extremely upsetting, they do produce some good dairy. They make sour cream, which they call skābais krējums because other languages are goofy, and their cheapest variety of cheese apparently tastes like a soft, smoked gouda. So, good job Latvia!
The rest is the equivalent of a 35-year-old virgin who still sleeps in a racecar bed. First of all, the traditional Latvian breakfast is simple enough, either a sandwich of an omelet, but what do they wash it down with? A nice, cool glass of milk. Maybe we’re in the minority here (we are not) but drinking a glass of milk with your breakfast just…feels wrong, right? Like, there are two ends of the “eating breakfast weird” spectrum. You have the guy who puts orange juice in his milk, who is gross but he spends most of his time surfing which somehow manages to explain that, and there’s the guy that sits down to an omelet and a carton of milk who you don’t know because he hasn’t talked to someone in a social setting in ten years. What we’re trying to say is, it’s pretty obvious Latvia doesn’t do a lot of surfing.
You can also get boiled potatoes (because of-fucking-course you can) with quark. What’s quark? Well, that’s where you warm soured milk until it curdles juuust the right amount, and drain the liquid. So yeah, when Latvia wants to really amp up their boiled potatoes, their go-to move is “yeah put some sour cow juice curdles on it!” By the way, these first two items are the best tasting traditional foods you’re going to see on this list, so consider yourself warned.
Beetroot Soup (biešu zupa)
Beets became a kind of hip vegetable a few years back, and no doubt there’s some trendy restauranteur in Manhattan reading this right now (okay that’s actually highly unlikely) who is like, “I just put beet soup on my menu! It’s delicious and I serve it with crème fraiche and let me tell you” before it just devolves into a series of fart noises to our ears. Whatever, we don’t care, we’re just here to say that if we saw you were listening to an Elliott Smith album, we would not want to further affect your emotional state by telling you that Latvia has a traditional dish that is a cold beetroot soup. It can be prepared many ways, but it’s basically cold, ground up beets mashed into a bowl and given to you with a spoon and a guarantee that your teeth will look like they’re caked in blood when you’re done eating.
We found a beet soup recipe from that same Latvian blog that bragged about the “we used to be serfs” thing. You want to know what they add? Sour cream, chopped hard boiled eggs, rolled oats, and six to eight motherfucking boiled potatoes. Are you fucking kidding us?
Grey Peas (Pelēkie zirņi) With Salted Pork Fat
We’d applaud Latvia for having pork fat (actually, pork is practically their national meat, which is the least upsetting thing about their entire culinary tradition) but grey peas just sound depressing. When you think of peas, you think of green little spheres that pop when you chew them. It’s a color of vibrancy, of life! Grey peas boiled and mushed and mixed with animal fat makes you think of rainy days and bland food and…wait a minute, what’s that? Is that England’s ENTRANCE MUSIC!?
God, Latvia, you’re trying so hard in that picture. You whipped out the finest china plate (singular) that you own (you only own the one plate) and carefully placed one of these little sweet pies on top of the other at the edge, you sprinkled it with some caraway, but still our first thought when looking at this picture of what amounts to, basically, baked buttered food mush was, “Man, someone should really start a kickstarter to help get Latvia off of food stamps.” By the way, this is considered by many to be the most important Latvian dish—it is the only Latvian dish to be listed in the Europeon Union’s Traditional Specialties Guaranteed Registry, which is the list that determines that you can only call a regional dish by its name if it adheres to the specifically registered recipe. So what is it?
It’s a sweet pie made out of rye bread, carrot paste, and mashed potatoes. We know, we’re as surprised as you are that they actually added a second step after boiling the potatoes, but there you have it. It’s fucking baby food on rye bread—it’s a baby food open sandwich. To make sklandrausis, you make some rye dough, cut out a circle using a mug, put a layer of mashed potatoes (made with sour cream, egg, butter, and salt added), then top that with a layer of carrot paste (made the same way, only with sugar instead of salt) and you bake it into a little handheld pie. We know we’re belaboring the point, but we have to point out—sweetened mushed carrots are something you have never wanted in your life once you graduated to solid foods. Anyway, the dish is served with honey and, once again in depressing fashion, milk, or you could get (un)lucky and find it served with skābputra, a fermented milk-and-barley porridge that we didn’t include on this list because we figured you’re already dejected enough from reading this far.
Keep in mind that, in this instance, we are almost entirely certain that buckwheat is typically served with a lot of pork incorporated into it. That should make this dish a little less disheartening. That being said, we wanted to show you something we saw on Wikipedia.
Bread Soup (maizes zupa)
This is a sweet soup made from rye bread and fruits. It’s literally called bread soup. Now, the one militantly patriotic Latvian in America who stumbled on this page after a day of hate-googling might read that and say, “Hey, Americans, fuck off, it’s not much different than your bread pudding!” And while that’s right, there’s something just so…dismal about a dish called bread soup. And that’s your dessert! You can’t just name your dessert dish, literally the treat you give yourself to celebrate having finished a good meal, bread soup and not expect us to check in from you from time to time to see, you know, if things are, you know, going okay, you know? Bread fucking soup.
Listen, here is a short list of fake food items that sound as absolutely miserable as “bread soup.”
– Punched plums
– Forgotten Casserole
– Rain Cake
– Jake from State Farm
– Bread soup
We included a real one in there, did you spot it?
Anyway, for those of you who are curious and are just, struggling to get through a tough time, here’s a recipe for bread soup. First, you cube about three and a half cups of dark rye bread, and you incorporate that with some dried prunes, apricots, and sugar to taste. You then boil up about four cups of water, which you put the bread and fruit mixture in. Once it has softened, and most of the water has been incorporated, you want to add a handful of boiled potatoes and mash them in.
Okay, so we made up the boiled potatoes part, but you 100% believed us for a moment there, didn’t you? And you know why? Because Latvia, god bless their revolutionary singing hearts, have one of the world’s saddest cuisines. Poor Latvia. 😦