The diversity of Romanian cuisine is a testament to how much different cultures have influenced it. Romania’s food sees glimpses of Hungarian, Turkish, Greek, German, and Austrian cuisines while maintaining the singularity of its Romanian persona with herbs and spices. Traditionally, Romanian dishes include meat, vegetables, and, sometimes, fruits as well. With rich and intense flavors, and yet having a wonderfully familiar taste to them, Romanian dishes are the ultimate comfort food. Feast your eyes on five must-have traditional food in Romania.
1. Sarmale (cabbage rolls)
The most popular traditional food in Romania, Sarmale, actually has Turkish origins. This lip-smacking ‘national’ dish comprises a minced meat (pork/beef and pork) and rice mixture, local herbs, and vegetables rolled in young grape/pickled cabbage leaves to create a delicate flavor. The best-tasting Sarmale are slow cooked in clay pots in the oven and covered with a little water. Traditional bacon slices and cabbage brine are added for smoky flavor and sourness. If you’re in Romania during Christmas, feast on a creamy, delectable, and an extremely satisfying dish of Sarmale with sour cream and mamaliga (yellow maize flour porridge), a traditional dish during the holiday season.
2. Salată de vinete (roasted eggplant salad)
This beloved eggplant dish is one of the most consumed appetizers in Romania. To lend them a smoky taste, the eggplants are grilled on a smoky outdoor barbeque until they possess a black ash crust. The peeled and finely-chopped/mashed eggplant is dressed with sunflower oil or mayonnaise, and mixed with salt, chopped, onions, ground pepper, crushed garlic, and herbs. Lemon zest might be added to lend a piquant taste, and the dish is garnished with chopped tomato slices and feta cheese sometimes. Lovers of eggplant, enjoy!
3. Ciorbă (traditional soup)
Ciorbă is a particular category of traditional Romanian soups usually made from vegetables and meat and possessing a characteristic sour taste. Nearly always the first course of Romanian meals, Ciorbă soups are a crowd favorite. Romanians swear by Ciorbă de burtă (tripe soup) which is a wildly popular hangover remedy. It is painstakingly prepared by boiling meat (beef tripe, pork legs) for several hours and creating a delicious stock of bones, hot peppers, bell peppers, carrots, parsley, celery, and garlic cloves as garnish. Ciorbă Rădăuțeană, a lighter alternative to the Ciorbă de burtă, is another crowd pleaser, as is the green bean soup of Zama made with chicken, dill, and parsley.
4. Mici/Mititei (grilled minced meat rolls)
Translated as ‘small ones’ in Romanian, Mici/Mititei is a grilled dish without which a Romanian barbeque is incomplete. This Romanian fast-food dish, while available in restaurants, is extremely popular as street food. Mici/Mititei are caseless sausages of various combinations of black pepper and other spices with ground meat grilled until they soften, moisten, and darken a bit. After they are smoked for a final taste, they are served with fresh bread rolls and mustard. Yum!
5. Pomana Porcului ('pork feast')
Literally meaning ‘pork feast’, Pomana Porcului is an age-old Romanian tradition of honouring the pig. The feast is in honour of the pig which has been slaughtered, usually just before Christmas. The fresh meat dish is eaten straight after the slaughter to honour the sacrifice and features larger pieces of lean cuts fried in the pig’s fat itself, with maybe a little wine as well. This absolutely true-blue farmers’ meal is then served immediately, along with the traditional bootlegged spirit of Țuică, to all those who participated at the slaughter.
6. Tochitură (stew)
If you wanted Romania on a plate, there is nothing like the Transylvanian stew of Tochitură, which is the finest example of ultimate Romanian food. The stew owes its flavours to the best traditional foods Romania has to offer - fried pork, traditional sausages, traditional salty fermented cheese, pickles, and pork fat sauce for added authenticity instead of tomato sauce. The dish is served with the other stars of Romanian food - mamaliga, fried eggs, and wine so that the ‘pork can swim’.
7. Jumari cu ceapa (greaves with onions)
This traditional, deliciously unhealthy, and crunchy fried appetizer of Jumari is made from bits of traditional bacon known as slănină in Romania, which is salty, smoked pig fat, flavoured with paprika, pepper, garlic, and numerous other spices. Prepared by all Romanian families usually during the winter season, Jumari is served with large chunks of onion and homemade bread, making it the perfect starter for your Romanian meal. They make the traditional Țuică go down easier, too!
Cozonac is a sweet bread filled with Turkish delight (rahat), poppy seeds paste, or sweet walnut paste and is usually a part of every major Romanian holiday, be it New Year’s Day, Easter, Christmas, or the Pentecost. Cozonac could be prepared differently across regions and could include rum or vanilla flavour, hazelnuts or walnuts, grated lemon or orange zest, lokum, raisins, and could be sprinkled with poppy seeds on top. Another style of cooking Cozonac is filling it with a ground walnut mixture with ground raisins, rum essence, cocoa powder, and poppy seeds.
9. Salată de boeuf (beef salad)
A well-prepared salad is somewhat of an essential side dish in Romania, especially at traditional festivals such as Christmas as well as on special occasions like weddings. This delicious blend of minced meat (beef/chicken), vegetables, peas, pickles, and mayonnaise served with parsley and olives is a winner of a dish. Eaten as an accompaniment to fried meats/appetizers, the quantity of the prepared salad depends on the occasion.
10. Papanași (fried doughnuts with jam)
Rounding up the list of traditional Romanian food is the ambrosial Papanași, a dish that will leave you with a hankering for more. This Romanian speciality from the northern fringes of the country is essentially hot, fried sweet cream-filled cottage cheese (or any cow’s cheese) doughnuts topped with sweet and sour cream and blueberry jam. This mother of all Romanian desserts is a must-try, calories be damned!
Be indulgent on your next trip to Romania
Romanian food is clearly a heady combination of flavours and decadence, whether it is the appetizers, the entrées, or the dessert. Be prepared to have your taste buds invigorated and satiated to the hilt on your Romanian holiday!
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