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My Site: Day 95: Latvia

My Site

 
 

Day 95: Latvia

Here’s the newest odd scenario that resulted in me having somewhere to eat: my new friend Abba (who I met when she cooked us the amazing meal for Bahrain Day) saw a Latvian friend of her’s on Thanksgiving who is currently living in Seattle. She asked her if she would be willing to cook Latvian food for me. Her friend said she wouldn’t be able to do the cuisine justice. So Abba’s Latvian friend contacted her own father, who told her that there was a Latvian cultural center in Los Angeles having a function which would include food, then sent Abba an address. After some research, Abba and I could find no proof that anything was going on there at all. But nonetheless, Abba, a few other friends and I all decided to give it a whirl. And again, all we have is an address.



When I arrive, it’s essentially a relatively small community center with a front hallway, a bar, a small kitchen serving home made food and a recreation room filled with people selling crafts, smoked fish and baked goods. Abba got there before me, and has already made friends with John the bartender, whose wife cooked all the food for today, so I grab a beer (they’re only two dollars!) and we head into the recreation room. We are absolutely the only non-Latvians here, but the people couldn’t possibly be nicer. “You must try these pīrāgi,” a woman says, as we buy the pleasant little baked bread pockets filled with ham and onions. Another woman assures us that hers are better, sells them to us, then asks what we’re doing here. Abba explains, then the woman quickly offers to take us to her home and show off her photos and recipes some time. We tell her that, unfortunately, due to the everyday nature of the project, we really can’t backtrack and that I’ll have to write about it all in the morning. “That’s okay,” she says, “we’ll go today.” We don’t want to impose, but she seems very committed to the idea, so we tell her we’ll talk more when the function seems to be winding down. So we buy some smoked fish, then head over to the hot food counter, drop down ten bucks and buy a plate full of John’s wife’s food.



We bite into slightly sweet sauerkraut, some very tender roast pork, boiled potatoes with a very tasty and eggy kind of hollandaise sauce, then munch pig-filled pīrāgi and intensely smoked salmon, wash it all down with beer, and suddenly, I feel like I’m in a very good place. First of all, I can’t even believe that this place turned out to exist, much less serve good food and cheap booze. Our friends Erin, Ben and O’Ryan arrive, follow much the same rotation as us, then join us with their own food and beer. “If this were an actual bar,” I say, “open late and available to the public, we’d come here all the time. It would be packed.” Everyone nods in agreement as a table full of older Latvians begin drunkenly singing their native folk songs. Meanwhile, the woman from before is heading home and offers us one last chance to take her up on her offer, but we are happily entrenched where we are, thank her kindly and let her be on her way. We feel good, the day seems to be a success, the food is extremely comforting (with the salmon having some insanely tender and delicate parts in the middle which I’m really quite fond of) and with that, we think it’s time to wrap up and head home rather happy.




But then two blond women (and the only ones there who seem to be under 45) come over to our table and say “Hi! Can we join you?” Turns out they’re interested in what these non-Latvians are doing here and pretty soon, Julija and Zane are our new best friends, we all buy each other lots of beers, apple schnapps and mulled wine, and the day begins to progress rather dangerously. Eventually, the place seems to be closing down, our table is the last one remaining and a very drunk Latvian man in a full suit joins us, saying “I’ve started my own program. I have sex with a woman from a different country every single day. But I’m only on day thirty five.” Before you know it, we’ve been there for about five hours, there are a lot of empty bottles on our table, and everyone has exchanged hugs, hand shakes and phone numbers. Erin, O’Ryan, Abba and I step out into what has somehow become evening, then look back at the small Latvian community center that gladly took us in for a few delightful hours. Amazed, confused and also in awe, we say goodbye and each head home— universally happy, even though I’m still not totally sure what happened. Another amazing day, in the books.

Latvian Community Center
1955 Riverside Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) 669-9027

Food Breakdown: An unknown amount of alcoholic beverages, three plates of pork, cabbage and potatoes, 2 bags of pīrāgi, one piece of smoked fish.
Price: $58
Distance From My House: 16.6 miles

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Comments

  1. (folk hero) Jason Bernstein · Dec 09, 06:56 PM

    Wow. I went to college with Zane. She’s the best. Not only does this blog-project remind me of how vast the world is, but also how small it is as well.

  2. mamabites · Dec 09, 07:03 PM

    sounds like a lot of fun! We should all be so adventurous and open to new places, food and people!

  3. Abba · Dec 09, 08:21 PM

    What a great day! In my next life, I want to come back as a Latvian. I’m quite relieved we left when we did, a few more shots of schnapps and I might have volunteered to help our new friend with Bahrain Day.

  4. Latvian · Dec 10, 05:32 PM

    Come and visit us more often, on dec 21, we will have Latvian X-mas event for children, there will be lots of authentic foods, if you have any little ones that you know, bring them over, just don’t forget to bring a wrapped present for Latvian Santa Claus (he looks different than US one and speaks Latvian) and add your child’s name to it. In order to get a present (that you brought :)), every child will need to recite a poem or sing a song (pref. in Latvian, English will work, too). It is always a lot of fun. Enterace fee: voluntary donation to Latvian School. If you have any questions, you know where to find us!

  5. merossbc · Dec 10, 08:06 PM

    No one knows how to eat, drink and be merry like the Latvians! I was lucky enough to spend several years living and playing with them and I REALLY want to come back as a Latvian! Try their amazing cheese Ķimeņu siers (caraway cheese) but stay away from the balzams! Trust me!

  6. irena · Dec 11, 04:07 PM

    There are outstanding chefs in our community. One such person is Mara Rozentals and she gives classes on a latvian cake called klingeris. Her e-mail is maravellous1@att.net

  7. Julija · Dec 11, 10:25 PM

    i had such an awesome time with all you excellent people! let’s do it again sometime… i’m still finishing up the sauerkraut. it’s amazing how that stuff lasts and gets better with each reheating. i’m enjoying reading about all your other exploits, too…

  8. Megan Grubaums · Dec 12, 01:10 PM

    Yay! I’m in Santa Barbara, and so glad to hear that there is a Latvian center in So. Cal.

  9. Astra · Dec 12, 08:50 PM

    Do not stay away from balsams! It is not poison, it is great medicine!
    Rp: 2 cl Black Balsam mix with one teespoon of honey and drink it each morning before breakfast. You will live 100 years!
    Black Balsam has 24 ingredients – linden blossom, birch bud, valerian root, raspberry, bilberry, ginger, nutmeg, black peppercorn among other spices.
    This strong King of Latvian Liquors was invented in the middle of the 18th century by Abraham Kunze, a pharmacist living in Riga. Once used as a medicinal remedy, especially aboard sailing ships. The legend has it that Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, having fallen ill during a visit to Latvia, was cured after drinking Black Balsam.
    Black Balsam is only produced in Riga, Latvia, carefully prepared in oak barrels, which allow its characteristic strength and the slightly bitter-sweet taste to develop.
    Available in ceramic jugs, 90 proof alcohol. It is used in small amounts to lend an aromatic and slightly bitter element to mixed drinks.
    Riga Black Balsam is well known in many countries. Also, it has earned numerous awards and medals throughout the world.

  10. Latvian · Dec 14, 09:58 AM

    Balsams, here few ways of how to use it…
    Dessert: Vanilla Ice Cream: for topping add: about 4 table spoons balzams, some honey and rosted hazelnuts on top… believe me it is good!
    Morning starter: Coffee (expresso), table spoon of balzams and some whip cream on top…
    Dinner: You might want to try roasting pork and add couple teaspoons of balzams, if brings out an interesting “rosemarry” like taste.

  11. Noah · Dec 15, 09:36 AM

    Wow. Thanks for all the invites and tips everyone. We really had a great time.

  12. Mara · Feb 20, 06:30 PM

    Oh, I’m so glad you had a good time. I’m a Latvian-American living in LA and I didn’t even know about the cultural center here! I agree with the posts above – you’ll have to try homemade caraway cheese and Balzams.

  13. Bobby · May 27, 04:07 PM

    Super photos. :)