Garlic Rye Bread
Where are the tastiest ķiploku grauzdiņi in Riga?
With over a thousand years of beer brewing traditions and folk songs celebrating the amber nectar, Latvians are fond of a pint or three. And they have also created the perfect beer snack to line their stomachs.
Ķiploku grauzdiņi, fried garlic rye bread, is one of those beautifully simple things in life. Cut rye bread into chunks, fry or oven bake in oil, then rub generously with garlic. Serve with a cream or cheese dip. And behold a mouth explosion of oil, salt and tang that warms chilly northern hearts (and keeps cardiologists busy).
These treats emerged during the shortage-plagued Soviet era. With peanuts, olives or potato chips a distant dream, Riga barmen used what was available to keep imbibers' thirsts up. Square loaves of brown bread (affectionately called ķiegelītis, or “little bricks”) were readily available. Garlic was grown in every allotment. And thus a comfort food for the toiling masses was born.
In our age of plenty, Latvian supermarkets stock lots of take-home grauzdiņi made by local breweries and bakeries. But there’s nothing like sharing a bowl of piping hot, pungent snacks in a cosy pub with your mates, washed down with some local ale.
So we found another excuse to explore some of Riga’s most esteemed taverns and put their grauzdiņi under the microscope. Each place gets a score out of ten, based on their taste and presentation of the grauzdiņi, the atmosphere of the bar and value for money (though obviously prices can change).
#1 Trīs vīri laivā
Rowing since the nineties, "Three Men in a Boat" is a cheap and cheerful watering hole that has survived financial crises, lockdowns and the relentless gentrification of formerly working class Avotu iela. Defying the artistic florists and design studios marching up the road, here you can still get a pint of the decent house IPA for 2.80 euros.
So cheap you’re practically losing money not ordering another round! And another bowl of grauzdiņi for a mere 2.70 euros.
The grauzdiņi are quality, too. The garlic assails the nostrils before the friendly waitress has even lowered the plate. The ingredients are clearly fresh and they have a right proper crunch. The toasts are shorter and thinner than most, but in this case size doesn't matter. Likewise, the second batch we ordered used a lighter coloured bread than the first, but that’s only in keeping with the tradition of using what’s to hand.
If you’re want a bargain, like-a-local night on the tiles, come on uptown.
Address: Avotu iela 35
#2 Lidojošā varde
"The Flying Frog" is another survivor from the nineties, but on the other end of the social ladder. Set on a prime corner of the Art Nouveau district, it's army of well-heeled regulars come to hobnob on the magnificent summer terrace, dine on international classics and savour the comfort of one enjoyable, fixed point in a mad world.
As well as Caesar salads and BBQ ribs, the Frog also does grauzdiņi. Though as you'd expect, there are some posh touches here. The presentation on a wooden platter with some salad leaf garnish (and a wet wipe for your greasy fingers) is pleasing. The thin little triangles are made from wholegrain bread, and patrons can have them either just with a creamy basil-garlic sauce on the side (4.80 euros), or with the grauzdiņi bathed in melted cheese (5.80 euros).
The waiter was kind enough to let us have a little of both kinds. Melted cheese, that mighty edible anti-depressant, just smothers the flavour here. More to our liking, the unadorned grauzdiņi have a subtle taste, much lighter on the garlic than your raucous beerhall breed.
Which is keeping with the Frog's demure ambience. Paired with a Pooka craft lager made by Cēsu brewery, they go down a treat.
Address: Elizabetes iela 31a
With a historic wooden house plonked on top of a three-storey modern edifice, this long-running central Riga bar offers one of the weirdest takes on heritage preservation around. But inside it's just straight up good times.
"Burga" means a basement where frat guys go to drink beer. And since the crazy structure and its tavern are owned by a Latvian fraternity, that's what the place is about (open to all mind you, not just the members).
The clean, modern interior is populated by twenty and thirty-somethings noshing on burgers and pasta and knocking back brews with an eye on the sports screens. There's no Animal House-style chaos, but laughs aplenty.
Burga's grauzdiņi set you back 5.20 euros and are nicely presented on a round wooden platter. But while they have a good garlicky flavour, they lack a bit of crunch. And the mayonnaise/ tomato sauce dip was a little sweet for our liking.
Still, other pods of diners seemed to be dipping and munching them with delight, so maybe it's just us. Have another Madonas unfiltered and kick back.
Address: Dzirnavu iela 36
#4 Folk Club Ala
"The Cave" is a Riga institution, frequented by folky locals and travellers keen to get a taste of Latvia in an ever-more globalised city. And it doesn't disappoint, as the crowds filling the sprawling medieval cellar attest.
Live bands and folk dancing evenings keep the feet tapping. Hefty portions of meatballs, grey peas with bacon and 1 kg pork hocks are washed down with a long list of Latvian beers, ciders and moonshine.
But Ala's grauzdiņi left us underwhelmed. Their flavour was less bountiful than elsewhere, and the presentation on a boring white plate with an Ikea glass tub for the sauce doesn't set the mood. Five euros a bowl is a fair enough Old Town price though.
Maybe it unfair on our part for coming very early for the review. Because when you're three sheets to the wind, leaping about to the band, such details don't matter. So after a couple extra mugs of Brenguļu beer from Valmiera way, add another point to the score. And another point after a few litres more.
Address: Peldu iela 19
"The Droplet" is another Old Town cellar restaurant with loads of history. It was reportedly a drinking den for thirsty Teutonic Knights, and in its current version has been wining and dining since 1975.
Legend has it communist bigwigs used to grab a cheeky vodka here between reviewing parades on the Daugava Embankment. And there's a resident ghost, (whose political views are unknown).
The interior is tastefully medieval, and the menu is generous helpings of Latvian peasant fare and extravagant game dishes - keep your eyebrows away from the venison flambee in rum.
The grauzdiņi are worth jousting for. The thickest rye triangles you'll ever hold, fried to a sublime crunchy outside, melting soft inside. Served with a blue cheese sauce which, if slightly untraditional, is a marriage made in high-cholesterol heaven. Which for 4.80 a serve (beautifully presented in earthenware vessels), plus 4.50 a pint of Užavas from Ventspils, makes for one of the best tenners you'll spend in Riga.
Proprietor Oskars Dundurs, a gent with the old school knack of being both attentive and discrete, explains that grauzdiņi need to be big to get that inside/outside balance. And the garlic needs to be hand grated. A painstaking job which he says, "makes the chefs' knuckles bleed."
Their pain is not in vain.
Address: Anglikāņu iela 2
map of rye garlic bread locations in riga
check out these amazing tours in latvia!
- Let me be your guide around the highlights of Riga on my free walking tour, discover the city's superb wooden architecture and explore reminders of Soviet history.
- Explore Latvia's famous seaside resort with a Jurmala free walking tour or a full day excursion around the resort.
- Celebrate the magic of Latvian music with the Song Festivals History Tour.
- And check out Riga visitor info and the Jurmala visitor guide for fun places to go after your tours!