My friend, Ieva, wasn’t joking when she told me that Latvian ice cream was a dessert-eater’s paradise. Even though the country maintains cool temperatures throughout the summer and frigid ones in the winter, locals aren’t afraid of a frozen treat or two.
It’s for this reason that I made the ultimate promise to myself — for each day I would visit Latvia, I would have at least once ice cream. It was going to be a dangerous quest, but I was ready to take on the challenge. Here are three of my top picks:
1. Latvian Ice Cream #1: Homemade, slow-churned, fresh-off-the-farm vanilla ice cream served at the local market.
Every true ice cream lover has to appreciate vanilla. It’s the most basic, back-to-the-roots option. While it’s always my flavor of choice, I can say with certainty that those who can master vanilla ice cream can master it all.
And you can’t beat the homemade stuff, slow-churned and served from a stand with two guys, a scoop and a picnic table seating area. Even my friend Ticha, a born and raised Portuguese woman (where ice cream isn’t nearly as popular), enjoyed herself a cone.
2. Latvian Ice Cream #2: Vanilla ice cream bar covered in milk chocolate on top, paired with watermelon sorbet-like popsicle on the bottom.
If you’re an American like me, then there have been days when you had the choice of pancakes or eggs for breakfast, and really all you wanted was both. There is nothing better than cheddar caramel popcorn, or bread ‘n butter pickles. I love a good taste fusion, and on a hot summer day when a fruity popsicle is on your mind, let me introduce you to something even better: half milk-chocolate coated ice cream (the dairy lover’s delight), half watermelon popsicle (the thirst quencher). And when you combine the two together, there is no greater force.
Best enjoyed while sitting with thousands of other people at the Latvian Song and Dance Festival, a week of celebration of Latvian traditional culture that occurs only once every five years, ending with an epic concert with 14,000 simultaneous dancers in a football stadium, and is absolutely the best time to visit Latvia for a “taste” of true Latvian culture.
3. Latvian Ice Cream #3: My personal favorite: rye bread and cranberry ice cream, served in a cone, from your local Narvessen convenience store.
Have you ever thought something like rye bread and cranberry would have anything to do in ice cream? Think again. The cranberry ice cream with small bits of rye bread in it were an amazingly delicious treat, especially while en route to Kaņepes Kultūras centrs, a cool “hipster” bar with couches and furniture outside, where we settled for an evening of conversation that remained strong until the sky finally grew dark at about 11:30pm.
If you’re an ice cream lover, get Latvia on your list. And if you could care less about ice cream, then take me with you when you go, and I’ll eat yours, too.