Nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer day than a bowl of ice cold pink soup… Says who? Says every Lithuanian around the world. Meet šaltibarščiai, the cold sour milk and beetroot soup that you can order anywhere in the country (Poland, too – it’s called “chłodnik litewski” there; when in Latvia, go for “aukstā zupa”), at least in the summertime. It’s also very popular to make your own šaltibarščiai at home, because, in fact, it’s quite an easy dish to prepare.
The oldest known recipes of šaltibarščiai date back to 19th century, but older stories about foreign guests of Grand Dutchy of Lithuania being met with a bowl of cold soup do exist. Today, the staple ingredients are pickled beetroot (you can buy that in any store), sour milk (kefyras and/or rūgpienis, it’s also available everywhere), cucumbers, dill, spring onions and hard-boiled egg. Some people like to add radish, too (if you have plenty of radish you can just omit the beetroot); others prefer pickled cucumber.
The tone of pink in the sup varies according to the sourness of the pickled beetroot, and the amount of sour milk and other liquids. You can’t go wrong – you just have to find that perfect balance between sweet sour. The combination of sour milk, water, and/or milk can be adjusted depending on taste and skills. The newest trend is adding a splash of Vytautas, the very sour mineral water that’s produced in Birštonas and is a very cool drink indeed. You can also blend your šaltibarščiai if you like 'em smoothies.
Šaltibarščiai are usually served with boiled (or boiled and fried, or mashed, or...) potatoes, preferably young, seasoned with dill, salt and butter (optional).
As we’ve mentioned before, in Lithuania, one can get šaltibarščiai everywhere. The soup is often served as part of business lunch in July and August, it’s also on the menu at most restaurants and cafes. Upscale places tend to create their own versions of the dish, for example, Monte Pacis serve a very special šaltibarščiai sherbet, while at Diverso (located at Park Inn by Radisson Kaunas) your šaltibarščiai is delivered in a decanter. If you prefer a more down to earth version, we suggest you try šaltibarščiai in places like Bernelių užeiga (here's our thorough review of the place), RePUBlic, Talutti etc. In fact, even the canteen at the Kaunas Zoo serves šaltibarščiai! You can also buy a pre-made bucket of pink nectar of gods at most supermarkets.
The price of šaltibarščiai starts from 1 EUR in casual places and can be as high as 7,5 EUR in Monte Pacis (but it’s totally worth it). One thing is for sure – you haven’t experienced Lithuanian summer if you haven’t tried šaltibarščiai. Skanaus!