On Christmas in Latvia, it’s common to enjoy gray peas cooked in smoked bacon (speck), onion, and salt. In addition to being a hearty, savory dish, the holiday meal has one other benefit: ensuring good luck in the New Year. According to local folklore, gray peas symbolize prosperity and vitality. One Latvian cook notes that if you don’t finish all your peas on Christmas, you might even find yourself crying when the New Year rolls around.
Latvijas lielie pelēkie zirņi (Latvian big gray peas) have earned Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status from the European Union. As this large variety becomes increasingly rare, cooks have started turning to a smaller version of gray peas for their holiday meals. After boiling, the dark gray (sometimes brownish) peas have a soft consistency and mild flavor that tends to take on the savory, rich notes of the bacon and onions.
Need to Know
The Baltic Shop is an online store that ships gray peas to the United States and Canada.
Visit Latvia with Atlas Obscura Trips
Baltic Odyssey: Monuments, Myths, and Memory
Take a deep dive into Baltic history and culture on this immersive adventure through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, covering everything from ancient traditions to bunkers, silos, and grand memorial complexes.
Where to Try It
This is a restaurant chain that serves local and traditional dishes as well as other foods. All the locations are listed on their website. They also do deliveries.
Serving traditional Latvian food, this restaurant has an appetizer of gray peas with streaky bacon or cream.