My Vilnius introduces you to people for whom the city has become the place they call home. It’s all about the ordinary lives of extraordinary people, and vice versa. These stories cover their favourite hidden gems and sights, as well as detours and discoveries in life.
Our first guest is Julija Steponavičiūtė, the author and creator of KitchenJulie. Her blog is the ultimate resource for delicious dishes and recipe ideas. From her philosophy behind cooking to choosing Vilnius over life in a big city, you can find more in the interview below.
VP: What was that turning point in your life, when you decided that cooking is what you would like to do?
Julija: After my friends kept on encouraging me to start my own blog about cooking and share my recipes with others, I finally made it happen. Back then, I probably had like ten readers, all of whom were my friends. But it was the first step nonetheless.
At the time, I often travelled routes like London-NY, all across Europe, and sometimes even to Africa or South America. So the blog was my safe place and my kind of meditation after long and frequent flights.
Writing and creating made me feel grounded when I was all over the place mentally. It remained as a hobby for a couple of years, where I would upload a new recipe ever so often.
But at some point, I decided to upgrade it and turn my messy blog into a proper website which you can currently see. Right after, the next decision followed—moving back to Vilnius. That’s when I also started working with local brands.
This shift, from a hobby to something that puts food on my table happened very naturally. I was travelling as a model and still am. Well, not during COVID times. But being based in my hometown has allowed me to spend more time cooking and creating content. Meaning more time spent on building KitchenJulie how I wish and envision the blog to evolve.
VP: Do you have a philosophy about food and cooking?
Julija: I like natural and pure ingredients, bright and bold flavours, as well as seasonal produce. Also, I want to master various cooking methods and this way, understand more about the process of changing the chemistry of food.
I don’t get along with diets. I like figuring out what else I can include in my daily nutrition rather than remove. I believe that cooking should bring joy and excitement, and one must not be afraid to experiment in the kitchen. That’s where the best discoveries happen, and the learning process accelerates.
There’s this tagline I use for my blog that goes “where healthy meets guilty”. The slogan accurately represents my eating habits. I enjoy a colourful salad and a big bowl of chickpea curry. But I want my brownie buttery and sweetened with brown sugar.
I don’t go for a cookie that looks and tastes nothing like a cookie. To me, that’s simply fooling yourself. I’d rather enjoy life.
VP: If you would have to choose one favourite recipe for every meal—breakfast, lunch and dinner—what would they be and why?
Julija: Let’s start with Banana Pancakes for breakfast because I love a touch of sweetness here and there. Assuming I could only eat three particular meals, two of which are savoury. Then I would simply have to choose these sweet pancakes. I could change up the recipe a little by using different types of flour, from buckwheat to spelt.
For lunch, it would be a Wholesome Chicken Lunch Bowl because I love contrasting textures in a meal. It also has some of my favourite ingredients like sweet potatoes, lentils, rice, tzatziki, kimchi and chicken.
To finish off the day—I would go for a warm and hearty stew. Something similar to my Bean And Sweet Potato Chilli as I’m a lover of spicy and a sucker for stews. Also, beans!
VP: What’s your relationship like with Vilnius?
Julija: It’s a great one as I grew up in the city, where I genuinely feel at home. I know how to get around, and my whole family is here. I like the cosiness of Vilnius and its tempo—I feel much more content in a quieter environment rather than a large city like London.
I remember dreaming of moving to New York after my graduation. That’s how in love with the Big Apple I was. That dream eventually evolved into settling down in a peaceful place, creating the perfect home for myself. I enjoy visiting big cities, but permanently living in one of them would make me anxious.
VP: Do you have a favourite spot in town?
Julija: I adore M.K. Čiurlionis street, leading up to Vingis park, which is yet another worthy place to visit. I find it one of the most beautiful streets in Vilnius. There are a couple of old brick buildings that have gorgeous balconies, bursting with different kinds of flowers in the summertime.
There’s just something about the whole ambience and sensations there—I feel a lot walking down this particular street and to me, anything that brings strong feelings is of much importance.
VP: What are your go-to places for an after-work drink, coffee and cake, and dinner with your friends?
Julija: Nomads is a cocktail bar for an after-work drink, owned by one of my acquaintances. This spot is one of the cosiest bars in town, where they also develop seasonal cocktail flavours. You can get one of the best mocktails I’ve ever tried (code name: Tee no Gee).
When it comes to coffee and cake, it has to be Cafe Backstage (the one on T. Ševcenkos street ). They use top quality coffee beans which you can also buy for your home and toast them in-house. Their cakes are beyond delicious; you’ll keep coming back for more. Try the Key Lime Pie or the Banana Cake.
Bistro Pranciškonai is my choice for a laid-back dinner with friends. The place is slightly on the pricier side, but I can’t resist their signature burger with foie-gras, and fries which are the crispiest out there. The restaurant also has a cosy outdoor seating area which is perfect when the weather’s clear.
VP: Last but not least—what would you recommend for a first-time visitor in Vilnius?
Julija: One word: explore. The best way to get to know any city is to walk around as much as you can.
Vilnius gives off a certain vibe if you only visit the Old Town and a very different one (together with a broader understanding of what the city is about) if you wander off to Naujamiestis, around the train station. The same goes for visiting places like Užupis and Žvėrynas.
If you know any locals who can show you around, ask them. I think every person would tell a slightly different story of Vilnius.