It seems just about every visitor to Romania ends up noticing the vast plethora of pizza restaurants in this country – simply put, they’re everywhere. In fact, if you’re in a small town with just one restaurant, chances are pretty good that they will serve pizza.
The quality of pizza you will find ranges from barely edible to absolutely heavenly and if it’s a dish that you like even a little, it’s probably fairly likely that you’ll end up sitting down in a restaurant and ordering some while you’re here.
Since this dish is served a little differently in Romania, it can be confusing to some. The first thing to understand is that most of the time all pizza orders are for a “one person” pizza – ie each person orders their own separate pizza.
Sometimes you’ll get your choice of sizes, usually listed in the menu by their weight (in grams), often called mic (small), mediu (medium) and mare (large). But if you don’t see any mention of sizes, assume that all pizzas are “one person” size. The law states that the weight of each pizza must be included on the menu although in some cases they don’t.
400 grams = 1 pound
Secondly, in about 99% of all cases, the crust (dough) will be very, very thin, also known as Neapolitan (from Naples, Italy) or “old skool european” style, and quite often crunchy. As far as my brain can remember, the multinational chain Pizza Hut is the only place I’ve ever seen a thicker, chewier crust option for pizza.
What’s always been odd to me is rarely does the customer (you!) get to choose the toppings in Romania. Instead, the menu will list a variety of pizzas by name and then list the ingredients below in Romanian only, or if they feel like being tare they’ll also write them in Italian.
If you see a pizza you absolutely like but it has one ingredient you don’t want, just tell the waiter/waitress fara x (fuh-ruh) where x is the ingredient you don’t want. It’s far easier (and comprehensible to your wait person) if you order a pizza minus some toppings than a pizza plus some specific toppings.
Below are a few names of the most common pizzas and their ingredients. You may notice most of them are in Italian. Again, this is how Romanian pizza restaurants look “cool”. Often the spelling of the Italian is horrendously butchered because Romanians don’t give a shit about correct spelling except for in their own language.
Piadina – Just the crust with olive oil and some herbs on it and has neither red tomato sauce nor cheese.
Margherita – Your basic pizza: crust, cheese and red tomato sauce. Theoretically it’s supposed to have basil sprinkled on top but it almost never does in Romania.
Quattro Stagioni – Literally means “four seasons” so each fourth of the pizza has different toppings, consisting of meat, mushrooms and other vegetables.
Quattro Formaggi – Literally means “four cheeses” and theoretically should be made with four layers of different cheeses but in your lower end (crappier) places, you might just get two layers of the same cheese.
Canibale – You guessed it, related to the word “cannibal”. Always a lot of meat toppings, consisting of a combination of sausages. If you want a lot of meat on your pizza, this is a good choice.
Prosciutto – This means ham, sometimes written in Romanian: sunca (shoon-kah).
Prosciutto e Funghi – Exactly the same as above except it also comes with mushrooms. Rarely but occasionally written in Romanian as sunca si ciuperci (she chew-perch).
Funghi – This is a vegetarian pizza that is a margarita plus mushrooms. Be extremely careful however as sometimes you’ll get the pizza above (ham and mushrooms) instead.
Tonno (E Cippola) – This means “tuna fish” and usually also has onions as well.
Vegetariana – Every vegetable in the restaurant on top of your pizza – often including eggplant, green peppers, mushrooms, peas, corn, onions and olives. Quite often the heaviest pizza on the menu and by far your most economical (price per weight), good to know for the budget traveler.
Diavola – Literally means “Devil pizza”. Usually the only pizza you can get anywhere remotely approaching spicy, as in picante. The toppings are a variety of spicy sausages.
Salam(i) – You guessed it again! This pizza’s main topping is salami, which is very similar to or identical to what’s known in some places as pepperoni, which occasionally you will see as a separate pizza choice.
Hawai’i – Ham and pineapple.
Fructe de Mare – One of the few names almost always written in Romanian, this means “seafood” and can be a variety of meats from creatures who live under the sea. Which creatures? I’m sitting here with five pizza menus spread out in front of me and not a single one lists the ingredients more than “seafood”.
And those are your most basic ones. There are other common names used for pizza (such as romana style, meaning “Roman”) but each restaurant has different toppings so you’ll just have to decipher the ingredient list. For sure you will usually find lots of combinations of pork, as that is the ingredient Romanians are insatiable for.
Probably the oddest topping for (some) visitors is usually there’s several pizzas with corn (porumb – poh-room) as a topping as well as some with sour cream (smantana – smun-tuna).
Be aware that nine times out of 10, when a pizza comes with masline – (musleen-aye) these are whole black olives with the stones still inside, perhaps just three or four per pizza.
Now let’s talk about condiments.
I think Cluj is the ketchup capital of Romania because in this town, ketchup comes automatically with just about every pizza order and quite often at no charge.
Just about everywhere else, it is quite popular but you have to order it and pay for it separately.
I’m sure that upon hearing that, many of you will have the same reaction I did when I first came into contact with this practice – I shuddered in revulsion. I was imagining a thick, red sweet paste similar to the Heinz 57 version, something I rarely ever ate except with potatoes.
Ketchup in Romania is completely different, with the most popular brand being Finnish. In Romania ketchup is much thinner and less tangy and more similar to the sauce on your pizza than the Heinz 57 variety.
Most Romanian pizzas comes with very little tomato sauce. Therefore the ketchup is a way to add a little more sauce on top of your pizza. As noted before, it often comes in both dulce (sweet) and mildly iute (spicy) varieties.
In some cases they may have sos iute (sauce you-teh), which can be anything under the sun.
In just about every case, however, the wait staff will bring a small condiment tray to your table that has salt, pepper, oil and vinegar on it. These are free to use and many Romanians like to put oil on their pizza as a topping. Occasionally at some places you can get ulei iute (ooh-lay), which consists of hot peppers steeped in oil.
Very few other condiments are usually available, even at a separate price, including oregano, parmesan cheese or hot chili peppers.
The very tastiest pizzas in the world (including in Romania) are made in a special purpose oven, which has a very distinct, round shape. The fuel used to cook the pizza is wood and it has a delightful aroma.
In Italian this is written as forno a legna and in Romanian as la vatra (la vatrah – the name of a traditional peasant oven). Many restaurants use one or the other of these terms (or a combination) to let you know they serve this kind of pizza.
The easiest thing to do is simply walk towards the back of the restaurant and take a peep at the kitchen. Pizza ovens are usually so huge (and put out so much heat) that they are easy to spot. In fact, quite often they’re put on display front and center.
In most cities of decent size in Romania, pizza restaurants often have delivery services, known as livrare (la domiciliu), literally meaning “delivery (to the domicile)” or house.
It’s quite rare to get someone on the phone who speaks English, so your best bet is to ask a Romanian to order for you. If you’re staying in a hotel/hostel, the easiest thing to do is ask the person at the front desk to order it for you. Sometimes they’ll give you a song and dance about how they can’t do it because it’s “against the rules” but just blink your puppy dog eyes at them and usually they’ll relent.
Be aware that it is very, very common for the restaurant to deliver your pizza via taxi, which means you’ll also have to pay the driver the normal fare on top of the price of the pizza.
In the very biggest cities there are a few restaurants (including with food besides pizza) who have websites where you can place an order. This quite often will result in someone calling you to confirm your order, so if you don’t speak Romanian well just say da a lot.
As everywhere else, all orders should be paid for in cash. A small tip for prompt service is appreciated but in no cases is it ever mandated, although rounding up to the nearest leu is standard practice.
Be aware that if you have a pizza delivered or want to take some uneaten pizza home from the restaurant, you have to pay for box or container, usually referred to in Romanian as ambalaj (packaging) or sometimes cutie (box).