I regularly receive emails from people telling me how they've had to give up their favorite style of cooking after moving to Rīga because they just can't find the proper ingredients here. I feel your pain, believe me. Upon arrival in Rīga, with all the naive elation so telling of a newcomer, I went shopping for exotic foods. It was like running nose-first into a brick wall. I couldn't find anything, anywhere. Googling proved virtually pointless. I also quickly gave up the idea of ordering stuff online, since my shopping baskets looked like this: ”Products: £7.49. Shipping: £54.99” So, I did what any sane person would do: I gave up.
Instead, I started manually importing stuff every time I went home to Sweden. At the time of writing, chances are that my apartment is where you will find the largest assortment of exotic foodstuffs in Riga. If there are any airline security staff wondering what's really up with all those jars and stuff wrapped in nasty socks, even nastier underwear etc. – Rīga is the reason.
However (drum roll!), after countless hours of legwork all over this town, year in and year out, I have managed to find a few useful shops. Since I was stuck in limbo for years, I thought I'd lend a helping hand to those of you who are now in the position I used to be in. Now, the shops in the list below are by no means the solutions to all your problems. However, if you pay them a visit, I think you'll be able to get most of the basics you need for more exotic cooking. As should come as no surprise, when I say exotic, I mean spicy and/or Asian. This list is by no means exhaustive, nor is it intended to be. There are other specialty stores in Rīga (Italian, French, Spanish, veggie, eco, gluten-free etc.), but hopefully someone who's more knowledgeable about those things will write an article somewhere. Also, it's quite likely that there are shops which I don't know about, in which case I would love to hear about it.
So, without further ado, here is my list of the grocery stores that I wish I had known about six years ago. In case the stores in question have some kind of website, you can click/tap the name and it'll take you to it.
Here you'll find what is probably Rīga's biggest selection of non-European foods. This store sells a fair amount of stuff from Asia, Central Asia, India, the US etc. Brands-wise it's a mixed bag – I can testify that some brands are authentic and really great, while others are real bottom-shelf stuff which is to be avoided unless you really have no other choice (which is often the case in Rīga). As with all imported stuff in this city, the prices are really steep (even compared to the same exact products in otherwise expensive Sweden). The selection is far from perfect, there are many things that I miss, but if you've just moved to Rīga and you want to build a basic pantry of non-European foodstuffs, Garšu Bode (next to Rīga Plaza) is a good place to start.
Avokado, quite conveniently located on Tērbatas iela 49/51, is a little favorite of mine, even though their selection is not nearly as wide as at Garšu Bode. It's a small and very cozy shop, and while they seem to focus on dried spices of all sorts (hey, they got Sichuan pepper!), they also have not only a little selection of Asian ingredients, but also American hot sauces. The prices are kind of steep here too, though. Also, Avokado apparently provides some foodstuffs for Stockmann.
This is a shop you will probably never pass on your Sunday stroll. Although the distance from the center is not that great, the location is off enough for the shop to feel a bit hidden. It's a pity, because Gourmet Studio is also a very useful little store. Especially vegetarians will like this – they have all kinds of beans, lentils and other crucial vegetarian ingredients. It also sells lots of dried spices, and it differs a bit from the two stores mentioned earlier by having a decent selection of Japanese and Korean imports. Today, I found my favorite ramen soup there, great success! But apart from this, they also have some Thai, Indian etc. things. Gourmet Studio is well worth a visit.
Walking around Rīga is a bit like exploring a village in an 80's RPG video game. Many establishments don't have names, but instead they have signs saying ”Food”, ”Shoes”, ”Restaurant”, ”Clothes” etc. I'm surprised I haven't yet found a shop to upgrade my ”Armor” before picking fights at the ”Tavern”. Anyway, ”Austrumu” on Brīvības iela 132 is one of these places. It's an odd little shop, a bit like the 4DecorAsian stores, and it sells incense, strange outfits and, yes, some spices and things. At Austrumu, the selection is quite tiny, but it you're looking for Indian spices and stuff for cooking, you can always give this place a shot.
Hanumans, directly under the Hare Krishna place, is almost the same as Austrumu, but they have a slightly bigger selection. Considering how word travels about this spice shop, though, I'm surprised that the foodstuffs section is so small. But, again, if this is what you're into, you should pay them a visit.
Just down the road (the road = Brīvības iela) from kebab joint Stambula is a Turkish grocery store with the same name. This is a medium-sized shop with a lot of Turkish foodstuffs, with everything from snacks, tea and spices to meat and dairy products, as well as a lot of canned vegetables and the like. I must admit that I'm not overly familiar with Turkish foodstuffs, but at least to me it seems like you can buy the basics here.
This super expensive, upper class specialty store (I walked in there with street clothes, a big beard, a hood covering most of my head, and was instantly stared down by a hostile-looking security guard) doesn't seem to be geared towards any specific cuisine, but seems to simply be happy to serve whatever customer walks in with shitloads of cash. That said, I am happy that they are there. At Gastronome, you'll find lots of quality meats, cheeses, alcohol, sauces and spices. Just be prepared to cough up a lot of hard-earned money for their products.
To my mind, Stockmann is the best ”regular” grocery store in Rīga. The quotation marks are there because the prices are so steep that many people shy away from shopping for groceries there. However, they do have a much better selection of things than Rimi, Maxima etc. My favorite section is (surprise!) the international section, which, it must be said, is a mix of highs and lows. Some brands are awesome, others... not so much. I especially like the American products which are largely imported by the Swedish company Risberg Import. If you see their name on a product label, you can pretty much be sure that it's quality stuff.
Now, Rimi is a really basic grocery store which would normally have no place in an article like this. However, believe it or not, Rimi sometimes surprises me. The reason I bring them up in this article is because certain larger Rimi stores have started selling a Mexican brand called La Costeña, and this brand really makes great Mexican food. While writing this piece, I enjoyed their Salsa de Habanero Rojo, and their canned chipotles in adobo sauce are to die for. So hurry, show your local Rimi that you support their initiative before they take La Costeña off the shelves!
I hope this article has been useful to you (I know I would have loved to read such an article when I was new to Rīga...). If you know of more good places deserving to be on this list, please let everyone know in the comments section below all the photos!