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By Andra Kunstberga. 15.01.2013


Save to foursquare Tallinas 71
entrance via Balta pirts
Working hours: , Wed 10.00 - 20.00, Thu 10.00 - 21.00, Fri-Sun 10.00 - 22.00,



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It’s the last place you’d expect to find tucked inside a traditional Latvian sauna. But at Tvaiks – it means “steam” – you can enjoy expertly created dishes in an informal environment for a surprisingly affordable price.

The sauna, Balta pirts, has stood here since 1908 luring locals from the surrounding neighborhoods to cleanse themselves, slapping their bodies with bundles of birch twigs. During the 1990s it developed a questionable reputation, but ten years ago it changed hands and now attracts an entirely moral clientele.

The sauna’s owners looked for someone to operate a café for their clients, either to take food and drink into the sauna itself or to munch and imbibe after a good sweat. They couldn’t have found anyone as capable or enthusiastic for a new challenge as Latvian-American chef Kārlis Celms.

With a passion for American comfort food, homey and honest, he loves creating original dishes using traditional fresh local ingredients. He changes the menu, which generally lists about ten dishes, every week.

You might order, as we did, slow-cooked pork belly with potato pancakes, mushroom cream sauce and “bacon jam” (€5.50). Nowhere else in Riga can you taste food this good for such a reasonable price.

Try, if you get the chance, the celery root crème soup with dill oil and croutons (€3.30) or traditional Latvian potato pancakes with oven-roasted root vegetables and mushroom sauce (€4.50).

Even if potato pancakes are not on the menu that week – or anything else you might fancy that Kārlis and his able assistants can rustle up on the spot – they will oblige and then add their own twist to your favorite dish. Just ask what’s in the kitchen. Wash it all down with the normally hard-to-find but excellent Rēzeknes Brūveris beer, at just €2 per 0.5 liter glass.

Up to 24 people can sit down comfortably at the same time for a meal at Tvaiks. That very rarely happens. But with 150 souls drifting into the sauna on the busiest days Kārlis is used to catering to large numbers of people. He’s used to entertaining groups with interactive cooking lessons, and there’s a 50-seat banqueting hall upstairs.

If you can manage to get this far out of the city center, Tvaiks is a very enjoyable eating experience. Combine it with a steam in this traditional sauna and it’s a few hours well spent.


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