VEGAN IS LEGAL. Hottest Riga's spots and Veganuary.

It only took a couple of years for Riga to become a new rising star among meat-free friendly destinations no one talks about. If a decade ago there was a small selection of eateries to provide proper, non-lettuce-only vegetarian menu, then now a food place without at least few decent meat-free meals is considered buffer; many turn vegan-friendly, too. Today a traveller will need to take a couple of city-breaks to cover all vegan-friendly places popping up in Riga.
If there was AVOTI suburb for subculture lovers CAPITAL R created, then here is an article about the VEGAN QUARTERS on the opposite side of central Riga. A short read on 10 great vegan-friendly places that, turns out, are accidentally concentrated in one particular area for your finger-licking sin-free meals and purchases.


VE-GENESIS
Up to 20, yet basically 15 years ago vegetarians became more visible. Needless to say they were still considered to be fancy-pancy "artist", poor hippie or mad far-leftist/folklorist/punk hitch-hiker (dead weight combination) type of people. Or, at least, that's what many thought. Most likely vegetarians were the ones, who have "been" in Berlin or London, or "seen things" in the West. Meanwhile, when speaking about vegans, even a decade ago the most popular alt-celebrities could barely count a handful of people they knew, who were kinda close to semi-practising something similar to a vegan diet (including I still eat meat when drunk). Therefore, it is very difficult and fragmentary to discuss much about whether being cruelty-free was a diet, a kitsch, or a lifestyle.

The whole history would be slightly distorted and hard to recall through a lens of our presentalism saying that those people were such cool early adopters. Like already mentioned, it turns out many, who leaned to being vegetarians two to one decade ago, were doing it mostly for the sake of themselves - protesting something Post-Soviet or parental. Many then eventually turned back to being omnivores in a couple of years anyway. It is also important to mention that even today many medical professionals in Latvia consider meat the only main source of iron and no other source of B12 than that. At least we have surpassed the "where do you get your protein from" question.

THE TURNIP-TABLES HAVE FLIPPED
In the last five years, on the contrary, many consider themselves practising vegan lifestyle more than ever. Truly. And lifestyle is different from diet because of being more inclusive. The combination of thinking about environment, commodities, animal rights, of course, meals we eat for our own sake, and all of that. Some though don't much follow the contents of their cosmetics, footwear,, even furniture still, however, at least, it's something for starters. Many vegans are also identifying themselves with zero waste movement; for sure, it's not much different to many other countries.

Now the tables have flipped. When most vegetarians and vegans those years ago were mostly people who had been abroad, today most of influencers and life changers of other locals are Latvians themselves. There are also more and more people popping up, who say they have despised the taste and smell of meat since childhood. Eventually, the WWW can bring ideas and inspiration anywhere in Latvia, because, well, some say we might indeed have one of the fastest net speed globally.

Today the number of various versions of cruelty-free practitioners has grown so rapidly, Riga is more than kicking in creating its own ecosystem of fauna-aware-eaters. Every grocery store now considers it mandatory to have several types of plant-based milk on their shelves. Europe's largest covered Riga Central market has a whole pavilion dedicated to as-much-as-feasible local fruit and veg PLUS it has a huge Night Market, where one can ONLY buy fruit and veg. Even the famous Dome square Christmas market had a handful of vegan friendly vendors this holiday, which is a handful of hundreds per cent more than last year!

Night Market in Riga.

Nowadays one does not need to be a fancy-pancy "artist", a poor hippie or a mad far-leftist backpacker any more. The most active Facebook community "Vegan Latvia" has a solid number of 8200+ followers, PETA-like activist group "Animal Freedom" has 20k-and-growing number of supporters. Their illuminating, yet peaceful activities in some fur machineries in 2018 resulted in up to -27% loss to their profit. In 2017 "Animal Freedom" organized mass-protest and media activities prohibiting wild animals being used in Circus performances; it resulted to Latvian Parliament fully approving by law to do so. Finally, the second Veganfestival organized at the Botanical Garden in 2018 was, no doubt, the most visited (7000+ strong crowd), most hyped, as well as the most diverse and tastiest street food event in the history of Riga's and the Baltic's street-food fests. Period.

And now the "Neapēd Zemeslodi" (Don't eat up the Earth) campaign has been launched again this month, serving as a national event under the Veganuary. The global organisers have claimed, that the number of sign-ups for their charity activities will reach 300 000 individuals by the end of month - almost two times the size of last year's. Latvian statistics instead show that in a forth year the number have already grown past 3500 participants, which is 350% more than the first year. In 2017 a super majority of members of campaign (85 %) for various plant-based diets were aged between 15 - 35 and roughly 90 % female1. What a surprise.

PLANT-BASED FUTURE
Keep in mind, we still are generally speaking about Riga here. The rest of the country... rests. However the city has now reached a new vegan-friendly level when starting to offer products made locally last year. Avenei, a local craft ice cream manufacturers started to produce plant-only based frozen treats. Ice cream, in general, has been a turning point for Latvians, proving that, despite being Nordic, it is the most essential dessert in the country! For example, 3 years ago SIA BIKI started to produce the first vegan gelato in Latvia, while Mū & NeMū sold their plant-based icecream arount beaches in Carnikava in 2018.

Then, one of the largest dairy factories "Tukuma piens" created their vegan friendly cottage-soy desserts. Investors in Jelgava town announced their plans of building a 7'000'000 € factory to mass-produce plant-based products in a couple of years2. Somehow it seems just logical that a country with 50 % percent of forests + great areas of protected nature + deep roots and mass practice of horticulture has future in plant-based industries. Sadly, according to the parliamentary attitude, this country is quite stuck in the "best" Post-Soviet traditions of diets, breeding, and "caring" about that nature. If a state does not have its own automated container-deposit recycling system, what "green" nation can we really be talking about.

VEGAN QUARTERS
So, inspired by this fast and important context, CAPITAL R wanted to answer a question by many - where to eat vegan food in Riga? By putting all places on the map, it was hard not to notice that most of them concentrate in one particular area of the Central district. Accidentally or on purpose most of the places are also the biggest players in redesigning and developing cruelty-free agenda in the city.

SO!
Here we open the list of Riga's VEGAN QUARTERS:

BHAJAN CAFE
Drifting from a vegetarian, Hindu-influenced restaurant, now the cafe offers vegan menu of a continental, eclectic character.

BIG BAD BAGELS
This top place for Erasmus kids also serves a bunch of vegan bagel options and is open all days!

DABAS STACIJA
Literally, the best grocery station for bio and vegan-only food and ingredients. One can find a very wide selection of production that is also delivered to many restaurants. Keep in mind - it's closed on Saturdays.

L'ACQUERELLO
One of the toughest-to-remember names in the city offers the toughest-to-forget vegan pizzas that, many agree, do taste like in Italy. Whatever it might mean today.

MAZĀ TERAPIJA
Some say - a super fastly growing and a tastier child of one of the first vegan places Terapija (located in AVOTI neighbourhood). Visit this for the best vegan cakes, great business menu, evening and breakfast courses, as well as for vegan sausage in dough!

MIIT CAFE
Another place that drifted from being a cyclist bar, then vegetarian place, then vegan-friendly place with speciality coffee, then changing owners. Eventually has kept selling one of the best coffees in town as well as fantastic pancake brunches on weekends and vegan daily offer. Ironically, MIIT is a homophone of "to pedal" in Latvian rather than "flesh" in English!

MR. FOX
Although this place represents themselves as a healthy food restaurant by also serving animal-origin food, they have a solid menu for vegans with Peanut sauce noodles our most favourite.

STOCK POT
Maybe the very first world cuisine buffet that started offering vegan soups+mains on daily basis along the traditionals. Like all the Stock Pot chain, they looove spicy food and big portions.

STOCKPOT XL
The largest child of Stock Pot, that similarly offers mixed menu but is special with it's vegan-only Fridays and Saturday special menu packed with, of course, great options.

THE BEGINNINGS. SKOLAS
The very first vegan and raw food restaurant in Riga, than now has a sexier-looking child on Barona street 21. Yet this one still offers a great  selection of their own micro-produced health food of "The Beginnings" brand and superb raw sweets, as well as regular meals.



MORE INFO
What else: As for an extra shortlist we have a few more suggestions outside the VEGAN QUARTERS. Places, that offer great vegan-friendly menus for your perfect execution of Veganuary in Rīga, too.
  • Wok'n'Curry - super tasty, very affordable and very vegan-friendly Indian, Thai and Chinese food with vegan business lunch on Tue and Thu;
  • Terapija - the first hyped vegan cafe in Riga with good menu and great subcentral location;
  • Aqua Luna - restaurant with a solid vegan menu for your high-class stomach and a nice river view;
  • Fat Pumpkin - the only vegan restaurant in Old Town with Old Town prices, yet great cakes and brunches;
  • Rāma - although they haven't been able to change their canteen-style menu for a trillion years, this is considered the first vegetarian only eatery in the present day Riga. With many vegan-friendly options;
  • Oh my, oh hell yes, and there's extra for more subcultural, low-key options like Nata, Gardā pupa, Zaļais Gurķis, Shawarmas, Spināti un Sviests, BioBio, and others. You name it.
Find: You can look up for more vegan-friendly meals by following an Instagram page @augidraugi, where new pictures with plant-based meals are posted from around Rīga. Even if you don't dig Latvian, you can simply click on the location and find out more. Tasty and cruelty-free food speaks all taste-bud tongues.


1 Izaicinājuma "Neapēd Zemeslodi" rezultāti. 2017
2In Jelgava a vegan food factory is being built in the region of 7 million euros. 2018

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