It sometimes seems like some kind of extremely vague and lame explanation to say one of the principle reasons I absolutely enjoy living in Romania is because of the food.
As mentioned in previous posts, a lot of foreigners think there really isn’t any such thing as Romanian cuisine. Clearly despite what moronic American chefs visiting this country and a few pizza guzzling schleps say, I’m here to tell you that yes, there is definitely a Romanian “cuisine”.
But it’s not just that I’m a fan of mamaliga and pickles (although, of course, I most definitely am), it’s about the state of food “in toto”.
Obviously every country is different but where I came from produces documentaries like this (21 minutes). It’s a painfully heartbreaking look at what are called food deserts where people live in urban areas where there’s little to no access to food at all.
Apparently there are great swathes of people in the United States who live in places where fresh food is too far away to get to and/or fresh food is too expensive. Millions and millions of people. I know I’ve certainly been to places like that and I’m sure many of you have too.
The only “food” these people in the food deserts have are fast food, gas station and “convenience” or corner stores – that’s it!
Mind you, that’s for the very lowest socio-economic people. But what about maybe more “middle class” people who can easily get to things like well-stocked grocery stores?
This isn’t a slur on anyone’s dietary habits, by the way, only looking at the food options available in the “king of the universe” country I came from.
You load up your car and you’ve got a “nice” grocery store – what’s in it? About 90% of the products are from a factory where they are enveloped in some kind of artificial material, probably plastic, and loaded with chemicals, preservatives and artificial aromas.
The next 10% of the store is the meats and cheeses, the vast majority of those heavily processed factory products sealed in plastic. The few truly fresh products are regrettably almost always sourced from large industrial agricultural enterprises involving the mass slaughter of tens of thousands of animals per week.
Sadly, very little of the produce is truly wholesome as well. Nearly every single fruit and vegetable on display was bred for its uniform appearance, ability to deteriorate slowly and to be shipped long distances without (visible) deterioration. Tragically this means nearly all of the taste is missing at the price of photogenic frankenstein fruits and vegetables.
I have cut some tomatoes in half in the United States that were more than half water on the inside and had a thick, loathsome rubbery skin on the outside. It’s an abomination to the taste buds and it makes perfect sense that millions of people hate vegetables.
Ok all this is depressing but let’s say you’ve got a very good income and are located close to the very best choices – a bustling “farmer’s market”. What are your options there?
Well mostly a great deal of crud but aside from that, even some of the most local farms with the smiling granny at her stall, the fruit and vegetables were raised with a great deal of chemicals.
However, you live in the best of all worlds so in your farmer’s market you can get some organic, pesticide-free, non-genetically modified fruits and vegetables grown just a short distance away from where you live. Although the prices are sky high, you’ve got the money to afford it.
Since you’re so magically lucky, you might be able to get some honey and bee products and perhaps a few varieties of meat. Not many, but a few. Perhaps one or two home-made cheeses but definitely not more than that.
Unless you do it yourself in your own garden, only a few “elite” people in the United States can eat wholesome food while millions of people are living in “food deserts”, places where you can’t even buy a fucking onion, and tens of millions of more people eating almost exclusively fake plastic mutant food from suffering, diseased animals.
Meanwhile over here in Romania, there are not millions of people in a “food desert”. In fact there’s not even 10 people. There is not a single person in the entire country in a “food desert”.
Even the poorest, most raggedy gypsy in the urban jungle of Bucharest can walk around the corner and get three fresh, green, crunchy and absolutely delicious onions for 1 leu or 20 euro cents. Add a two-lei slice of homemade telemea cheese from his local piata and he’s got a tasty, organic, fresh lunch for one American dollar.
And that’s the guy in the most disadvantageous situation. Romanians everywhere have access, both financially and in terms of transportation, distance, etc to a tremendous variety of wholesome, fresh, organic and locally grown food, both fruits and vegetables and meat and milk and eggs and cheeses. Oh yeah and of course incredibly tasty, fresh bread, made with just four ingredients, flour, water, salt and yeast.
All of it affordable and all of it easy to get to.
I remember the first time it truly struck me, as I sat at a picnic table with some friends many years ago, looking at the vast spread of insanely delicious vegetables, meat, cheese and bread, all of it fresh, local and naturally free of chemicals and genetic mutations.
As I calculated in my mind what it would cost me to duplicate such a meal in the United States, tears rolled down my cheeks. Not only would it cost me a ton of money but acquiring it all would take at least a whole day, if not more, to even accomplish. Even when money’s no option, it’s hard to find even where to buy some things.
Unless I had my own butler or something, there’s just no way I could eat like that in the United States except every once in a while and at great expense. Yet here in Romania even the most beat-down peasant in his mud village is eating fresher, more delicious natural food than you could find in the best farmer’s market in the United States! Jeez!!!
And if you saw the documentary linked above, the most poignant comment was when the lady said (accurately) that for most Americans, lack of access to good food is literally killing people.
Gosh I don’t even know how it is in other countries but I rather imagine most of them are becoming more like the United States and less like Romania every year.
Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t get junky chemical food in Romania too, if you want it. Thankfully it’s more expensive, not less. Americans and some other “Westerners” always get shocked when a dinner at the Mec or KFC is more expensive than lots of other places. To me, I think it’s not just wonderful but rational, as it truly is more expensive to create a novel “food experience” with synthetic food, which is what those brands excel at.
There’s also lots of packaged and pre-made goodies in Romania, especially when it comes to things like snacks and treats, but those of course are an aesthetic pleasure rather than an issue of mandatory nutrition for basic survival.
I mean I myself didn’t really even like tomatoes before I came to Romania. They were mostly just a kind of way to add a slightly sweet wet texture to something else, usually combined with tasteless but crunchy lettuce in either a salad or on top of a hamburger. I sincerely doubt I ever ate tomatoes in any other circumstances and they were always mixed in with several other things.
In Romania however there is always a magic day sometime in the beginning of summer when the local tomatoes start hitting the market – no more imported ones from Turkey and no more greenhouse varieties. As you gain visual expertise, you can see the fresh “de gradina” (garden) tomatoes grown outdoors in Romania have a slightly different shape, often having a much more distinct “tip” on the bottom.
The smartest sellers in the market will take one of their tomatoes and slice it in half and leave it on display. That way you can see exactly what the inside looks like. At its best it should be nearly all “meat” that’s somewhat similar to the interior of a salmon in terms of texture but with a delicate, shaded red hue.
At home it should slice easily with almost any knife on hand and not have an overly thick or rubbery exterior skin. A few thin slices piled on a plate, drizzled with just a tiny bit of salt (and black pepper) is pure heaven to eat as is. Combined with some local burduf cheese and some juicy, crisp cucumber slices and you’ve got yourself quite a feast and far cheaper than a single meal at McDonald’s.
Mind you, all of the above is solely about tomatoes. I could write page after page about the grapes, onions, peaches, strawberries, bread and walnuts and still just be getting started.
So yeah, a big part of why I live here is the food, which as a subset does include a great number of Romanian dishes, but also just the fact that I too have access to a wide variety of local, wholesome and natural foods to make other kinds of dishes too. It’s quite wonderful, really.
Many years ago, a friend of mine came to visit me from the United States and within short order I bought him a sandwich from a sidewalk fast-food vendor. Mind you, this is the crappiest and cheapest food you can buy here. Nonetheless, he was in heaven at the first bite, not because of the delicious filling but simply because the bread itself was so fabulous. Yet here that incredibly delicious bun is nothing more than a cheap, crappy piece of bread not even worth mentioning.
Once you get your taste buds accustomed to the way food was meant to taste, it’s almost impossible to give it up again.
So there you go, I live like a king when it comes to food. So do 99% of my Romanian neighbors but they never give it even the slightest fucking credit. Oh well, their loss, fraieri! :D