Grey Peas and Bacon: The Pride of Latvia

Grey Peas and Bacon
Grey peas and bacon, a humble yet hearty Baltic dish, is the national dish of Latvia. This traditional meal, steeped in history and culture, offers a taste of Latvian heritage.

This dish has been a part of Latvian cuisine for centuries, with records of its consumption dating back to the 19th century. It’s a delightful representation of the country’s affinity for legumes and smoked meats.

Our team at Remitly created this guide as part of our series that celebrates the culinary traditions of our customers around the world.

The History of Latvia’s National Dish

The origins of grey peas and bacon, known as “Pelēkie zirņi” in Latvian, are deeply rooted in Latvian history. It was often consumed during the winter months when fresh produce was scarce. The dish provided sustenance and warmth during the harsh Baltic winters.

Over time, grey peas and bacon became a staple at festive occasions. It’s particularly associated with Metenis – a Latvian festival marking the end of winter.

Key Ingredients in Grey Peas and Bacon

The simplicity of grey peas and bacon lies in its key ingredients: dried big grey peas, chunks of smoked bacon, onions, salt, pepper, and sometimes cream or butter for added richness.

Grey peas are unique to this region. They’re larger than green or yellow peas and have a distinct flavor profile that sets them apart from other legumes.

An Easy Recipe for Grey Peas and Bacon


  • 500g of dried gray peas
  • 200g of smoked bacon
  • 1 onion
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of sour cream or kefir
  • Condiments like pickles, tomatoes, or even some fresh herbs


  1. Soak the gray peas in water overnight, allowing them to soften.
  2. Rinse the peas and cook them in fresh water until they are tender. This may take an hour or two.

  3. In a separate pan, fry the diced smoked bacon until it’s golden brown.

  4. Add finely chopped onion to the bacon and sauté until translucent.

  5. Mix the cooked peas, bacon, and onion together, season with salt and pepper.

  6. Serve your Grey Peas and Bacon hot, garnished with sour cream or kefir and your choice of condiments.

Variations of the Dish Across Latvia

While the basic recipe remains consistent across Latvia, variations exist depending on personal preferences or regional influences. Some add bay leaves or marjoram for extra flavor; others prefer their dish creamier by adding sour cream or milk at the end of cooking.

In coastal regions where fish is abundant, smoked fish may replace bacon—a testament to how versatile this dish can be while still maintaining its core identity.

Serving Suggestions for Grey Peas and Bacon

Grey peas and bacon is typically served hot as a main course but can also be enjoyed as a side dish. It pairs well with rye bread, pickles, or sauerkraut—foods that are also staples in Latvian cuisine.

For beverage pairings, consider a local beer or kvass—a traditional fermented beverage made from rye bread.

Influence on Latvian Cuisine

The popularity of grey peas and bacon reflects the broader trends in Latvian cuisine: simplicity, seasonality, and resourcefulness. These principles are evident in many other dishes that make up Latvia’s culinary landscape.

This dish has influenced how Latvians approach food—valuing what’s locally available and transforming simple ingredients into satisfying meals.

Exploring Other Popular Dishes in Latvia

While Grey Peas and Bacon is the poster child of Latvian food, the country’s culinary scene offers an array of delightful dishes. Let’s take a quick tour:

1. Rye Bread:

Riga, Latvia’s capital, is famous for its dark and hearty rye bread, a staple in Latvian households.

2. Latvian Christmas Traditions:

Christmas in Latvia is a celebration of indulgence. Traditional Latvian dishes like gingerbread cookies, sauerkraut, and roast pork are all on the festive menu.

3. Pelmeni:

Latvia’s eastern neighbor, Russia, has a significant culinary influence on the country. Pelmeni, Russian dumplings, are widely enjoyed in Latvia.

4. Latvian Cheeses:

Latvian cheeses, such as the “Latvijas lielie pelēkie zirņi,” are popular choices for cheese lovers. They even have their own Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in the European Union.

5. Kefir and Sour Cream:

Kefir and sour cream are common condiments in Latvian cuisine, used in various recipes to enhance flavor and creaminess.

6. Global Influences:

Latvia’s history has seen influences from France and other European countries, contributing to a diverse culinary landscape.

Latvia’s national dish, Grey Peas and Bacon, continues to be a symbol of Latvian culture and heritage. Whether you’re in Riga or halfway across the world, trying this dish is like taking a bite out of the heart of Latvia. So, why not whip up a batch of Grey Peas and Bacon and experience a taste of Latvia right at home?

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