The recent revelations from the census have unearthed some startling facts about London’s ethnic and national makeup, in particular the fact that the Poles currently make up the largest group of immigrants to the capital. Often overlooked however are their near neighbours, the Lithuanians who have also arrived in large numbers (you might well have mistaken them for Russians if you’ve passed them in the street – the men in particular have a similar physical build and their language sounds similar to the untrained ear).
Barring visiting the country itself (it’s worth mentioning that the capital Vilnius is a very pleasant destination for a weekend break) there are various ways that you can familiarise yourself with Lithuanian culture right here in London. Some time ago now I wrote what turned out to be a popular post about the Lituanica restaurant which sits above the big Lithuanian supermarket in Beckton, but since then new options have opened up that will allow you to spend some time in the company of our Eastern European neighbours, particularly when it comes to their cuisine.
‘Smilte’ at 627 Lea Bridge Rd
London now has four Lithuanian restaurants, all of them over in East London where the majority of recent Lithuanian arrivals have found themselves. There’s Lituanica, as I’ve mentioned above, and Krantas on Walthamstow High St, Smilte at Baker’s Arms and Berneliu Uzega at the Shepherd Inn in Leytonstone (part of a chain that also has restaurants in Lithuania itself). The latter two also act as nightlife venues for the local Lithuanian community – visit at the weekend and there’s a good chance that you’ll find yourself being serenaded by pop stars and folk groups from the home country.
Typical Lithuanian dishes include ‘cepelinai’ (Zeppelins) which are potato dumpling stuffed with minced meat, usually accompanied by a large dollop of sour cream – very filling, I wouldn’t recommend more than one at a sitting! ‘Zrazai’ (rolls of beef stuffed with vegetables) are also a popular evening meal as are ‘skilandis’ (pig’s stomach stuffed with meat and garlic – not a million miles away from haggis). You might want to wash it down with their fermented, slightly alcoholic bread drink, gira (which is fairly similar in taste to dandelion & burdock).
If you fancy something different for an evening out, why not steep yourself in some Eastern European culture and give our Lithuanian friends a try?