Romanians are quite well known for a hearty cuisine, complete with a lot of pork meat, very strong plum brandy and award-winning wines. With a lot of influences from the peoples that have either conquered the country or have sent migrants over, the Romanian cuisine is colorful, tasteful and a reason to visit the country.
>>consider buying a railpass if you visit more than one city in Romania
But what exactly is the traditional Romanian food you should be trying? Read…and drool.
Meat filled cabbage rolls – “Sarmale”
The queen of the Romanian cuisine is the “sarma” (cabbage roll), which is not of Romanian origin. Traditionally they are made with ground pork meat, which is mixed with rice, onion, and seasonings. These are cooked a bit before being wrapped up in cabbage leaves – which can be either sour, kept in brine or fresh, and just a bit cooked in water to make them easy to roll. During the lent, a version with mushrooms is made in the country. How big they are and what seasonings are used depends on the region of Romania that you are visiting.
Served with “mamaliga” (polenta) and sour cream, they are enjoyed at the end of a traditional wedding, for example. They are also present on the Christmas menu.
Polenta – “Mamaliga”
Made with corn meal, it is a staple in the Romanian diet. Both my parents and my godmother have a “polenta day” which, in both cases, is on Saturday. It can be served as a side dish along side sarmale (or stews) or as a meal in its own, accompanied with sour cream and cheese. You will find these two combos in Hungary as well.
Make a ball out of polenta filled with shepherds’ cheese, toss it on the grill and you have “bulz”.
Smoked bacon – “slanina afumata”
Traditionally made at Ignat – when the pork is sacrificed – it is very hearty and keeps you full for a long time. Eat it at breakfast before you set out on a long hike and you won’t get hungry fast. Served with onion – purple onion or spring onion being the best -, it makes an appearance at the Christmas meal, as well as at the Easter meal.
Boiled, flavored with paprika and garlic, it is a great option for a meal before you head out in the cold winter days. Pair it with onion or horseradish paste.
Smoked sausages – “carnati afumati”
We love our pork and our smokers. Ground meat, various spices – paprika, cumin, garlic, black pepper – are mixed together and forced through a pig’s intestine (after it was cleaned, of course). The drier the better if you ask me. They make an appearance at the Christmas table. Pair it with horseradish paste.
Bean soup – “supa de fasole”
Made with large, white beans, the bean soup is a staple in the Romanian diet and it comes in many shapes and forms. Most of the time it has some pork added to it, of course. During lent, only some vegetables can be seen in there, such as carrots and parsnips. Tarragon is a very popular spice to add to it but sometimes bay leaves are also added.
Boiled Corn on the cob – “porumb fiert”
A popular snack which pops out at every fair during late summer is boiled corn on the cob. Served with just salt, it’s portable and yummy. Another version of it is the grilled corn on the cob (pictured)
Cabbage a la Cluj – “varza a la Cluj”
The food is traditional in Transylvania and it is pretty much cabbage rolls …not rolled. Sour cabbage is shredded and then cooked in a ceramic pot , with pork meat , spices and a handful of rice. Some – like my parents – don’t like to add rice in the mix.
Chimney cake – “colaci secuiesti” / kurtos kalacs (Hungarian)
This amazing desert – which is now popular in Hungary, as well – has started its life in Transylvania and it is still super popular here. Sweet dough, wrapped on special baking rolls, cooked over charcoal and then some coatings are added: cinnamon and sugar, only sugar or minced walnuts.
Vegetables salad with beef – “salata beuf”
This salad can be seen on every table of every Romanian, for any occasion. And I am not kidding you. Boil the vegetables – potatoes, carrots, parsley roots, parsnips – along with a chunk of beef . Separately boil some eggs. Make a home-made mayonnaise and let it rest. Cut the veggies and meat in cubs, add all together with the cubed eggs, canned peas and mayonnaise and you have a hearty salad for a starter. At home, I make a lighter version of it, usually skipping the meat or using chicken breast.
Roasted pumpkin – “dolveac copt”
My favorite early winter treat, it takes ages to bake it in the oven. The orange winter pumpkins are sweet and quite addictive.
Tripe soup – “ciorba de burta”
This is one of the “bizarre” foods which you either love or hate. I am in the latter category. Made from a calf’s stomach , which is boiled for hours with vegetables, ciorba de burta is served with sour cream and hot, pickled peppers.
Plum dumplings – “gomboti” / szilvasgomboc (Hungarian)
Traditional in Transylvania, the plum dumplings are actually a Hungarian food. Made with a sweet dough which includes potatoes, it features ripe plums. The dumplings are boiled and then, while hot, tossed in a mix of ground bread crumbs, cooked in butter and spiced with cinnamon.
Lamb haggis – “drob de miel”
The staple food for Easter and one that you either love or hate. Ground lamb innards, spices, spring onion and garlic, are all tossed together and then baked.
Eggplant dip – “salata de vinete”
The Middle Eastern baba ganoush has made its way to Romania but it took a slight different form. Eggplants are chard on the grill, skin taken off then the cooked eggplant is minced. A mayonnaise is then made to be added to the eggplant . Spice it up with either onion or garlic.
Eggplant paste – “zacusca de vinete”
This is one of my favorite things to eat and, vegans rejoice! Finally it doesn’t have any ounce of meat or animal product in it. Eggplants and red peppers are grilled. Skin taken off, then everything is minced. Separately, the onion is cooked in oil, then the eggplants, red peppers and tomato sauce are tossed in to cook. Add black pepper, salt and bay leaves for flavor.
There are recipes which add either mushrooms or boiled while beans to the basic “zacusca” and that makes it heartier and an excellent lent meal.
Fish egg salad – “salata de icre”
I almost forgot about this since we are not making it lately anymore. A base made of boiled semolina is first made. When that cools down, mayonnaise is added, as well as salted fish eggs and onion. All mixed in and served as a starter.
Great Meat Rolls – “mitiei” or “mici”
Ground meat – can be any combination under the Sun but pork will be there , for sure – combined with spices , made in sausage form and then cooked on the grilled. Can be found anywhere and everywhere, as they are the true fast food of Romania. Eat them with mustard and fresh bread.
Plum brandy – “tuica” / palinka (Hungarian)
A very strong spirit, traditionally made by distillation of plums . Various other fruits are also used for incredible flavored tuica types. Try the apricots or pears one!
Babka – “cozonac”
Traditionally cooked for Christmas and Easter , the Romanian babka may contain many interesting things added to it: walnuts , Turkish delight or raisins, being among the favorite ones. Try it with warm milk on Christmas morning when you are waiting for Santa.
Chicken noodle soup – “supa de pui cu taitei”
A traditional soup from Transylvania, it made with a base of chicken stock. Boil the chicken slowly and then add in the vegetable – carrots, parsnips and root parsley. Take all out when done and put in a handful of home-made noodles. Some people don’t add the veggies back in, while I do. Serve hot with freshly ground pepper and fresh parsley leaves on top.
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