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Cepelinai, Lithuania's National Dish | © Tobin/Flickr
Cepelinai, Lithuania's National Dish | © Tobin/Flickr

A Brief History of Cepelinai, Lithuania's National Dish

Picture of Elizabeth Georgian
Updated: 12 January 2017
Cepelinai are hearty dumplings that anyone visiting Lithuania should try at least once. Lithuania’s national dish consists of large, fist-sized dumplings made from a mixture of cooked and raw potato dough filled with pork and covered with a generous ladle of a bacon and sour cream sauce. Cepelinai were meant to feed hungry workers and provide sustenance during Lithuania’s freezing winters. They are best enjoyed on frigid days, as this hearty meal is anything but light.

As you may have guessed, cepelinai are labor-intensive to make, so they are often only prepared for large celebrations or during potato harvest season in the fall. Many Lithuanians even opt to eat this dish out at a restaurant rather than make it themselves.

Enjoying the traditional Lithuanian dish of Cepelinai in old town Vilnius | © Bernt Rostad/Flickr

Cepelinai, or zeppelins, are named after the inventor of the zeppelin airship in 1900, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Though the national dish for over 150 years, it was subsequently renamed from didzkukuliai in the 20th century to the current name of cepelinai because of the similarity in shape to zeppelins. Though used regularly in the 1900s, zeppelins fell out of favor after the infamous destruction of the Hindenburg in New Jersey, U.S.A., and no zeppelins survived World War II.

© FaceMePLS/Flickr

Luckily, Lithuania’s national dish hasn’t fallen out of favor and can be sampled at countless restaurants across the country. Just don’t expect each cepelinai to be created equally – every cook has their own recipe. Variations on the traditional cepelinai may include those stuffed with cheese curd, vegetables, or locally picked mushrooms, and the composition of sauces may vary as well. Additionally, the high-end restaurant at the Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square has created an elevated take on the traditional cepelinai, which is filled with crayfish and served with a light saffron sauce.

The long history of cepelinai comes as no surprise as it is representative of Lithuanian’s deep national pride and strong food culture. Thus, when you visit Lithuania, you must try at least one traditional cepelinai!