Things of Latvia: Dill

A favorite party question of mine to foreigners is: "What do you think is the most popular flavor of potato chip in Latvia?"

There will be a wide selection of answers, mainly based upon preconceptions of Eastern Europe in general: "Pork sausage?", "Sour cream?", "Cabbage?"

The answer of course is "Dill".

"Dill?"

Yes, dill. The kids love dill. Everyone loves dill.

Indeed if you drop the words "of potato chip" from the question above it still works, because pretty much everything tastes of dill.

If you come from France, Spain or Italy, you will no doubt approve of this stringy herb as a flavoring for seafood dishes. If you are Scandinavian, gravadlax salmon makes marvellous use of dill.

However, the thought of dill sprinkled over a pork chop, chopped and carpet-bombed into a salad or mixed in with a meat sauce will probably cause you to experience stomach spasms.

Latvians have stronger constitutions and an innate belief that there is no dish that cannot be enhanced by the liberal application of dill.

It goes without saying that dill will be in any pickle jar. It is popular in teas. I have seen dill pesto with my own eyes. I have heard rumours of dill vodka. Someone once boasted to me of dill ice cream.

If you don't like dill - or if you have an allergy to dill - you have no business being in Latvia. Luckily I like dill. I used to like it a lot, but like an opium smoker after many years of narcotic exposure, my tastebuds have become so sated by the taste of dill that these days it barely registers.

I no longer notice if I am eating dill, but I certainly notice when I am not eating dill.

A trip to Estonia or Lithuania has me thinking their potatoes taste a bit strange. Of course, they do not taste strange. They just do not taste of dill.

Just as Hungarians place a pot of spicy paprika on the table with every meal, Latvians place a heap of chopped dill roughly the size of a freshly-dug grave. The idea is that you take a shovel and fill in any parts of your plate that the chef has forgotten to cover with dill. The end result should look like a well-maintained lawn.

Luckily, things are changing and new herbs are making it to the table as the Latvian appetite for exotic foods grows. Only last week I sat down to dinner and saw a wide selection of herbs available for sprinkling, presented in neat little pots. One pot had pure dill. One pot had dill mixed with spring onions. One pot had dill mixed with basil.

I took a handful from each and threw them at my pork chop the way you throw a handful of sand into the sea.

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