Romanian cuisine is hearty, flavorful, and heavily influenced by the peoples that the area has come into contact with. Major influences have come by way of the Ottoman Empire as well as the Greeks. For example, the Turks brought meatballs and meat filled cabbage rolls (“sarmale”) with them; whereas the Greeks came with the moussaka (“musaca”).
Also, what you may not already know is that cuisines of neighboring countries (Serbia and Hungary) have played an important part in ‘shaping’ Romanian cuisine too!
My homeland’s cuisine includes a lot of pork meat but during the Lent period, there are a variety of plant-based dishes to be enjoyed, making the cuisine quite interesting.
Having lived my entire life in Transylvania, as well briefly having had explored Southern Romanian cuisine, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the foods all travelers should try when visiting Romania:
Ciorbă is a sour soup. Traditionally, the souring agent is borș, which is made from fermented wheat bran. Sometimes vinegar or even lemon are used to sour the soup.
The sour soup is traditional in Southern Romania and hardly ever seen in the menus in Transylvania (with some notable exceptions). Tripe soup (ciorbă de burtă), beans soup (ciorbă de fasole), meatball soup (ciorbă de perișoare) and vegetables soup (ciorbă de legume) are the most popular.
Tripe soup comes straight from bizarre foods land and features the cow’s stomach. Yes, it’s an acquired taste. You either love it or hate it. It is served with sour cream, vinegar, and hot pepper if you’d like to add a bit of a ‘kick’.
Drob de miel
Drob de miel can be translated to lamb haggis and is popular for Easter. Since the Romanian cuisine is nose-to-tail and nothing is wasted, something had to be done with the lamb’s offal. It is first boiled, then cut into small pieces, and mixed with garlic and herbs. Everything is then tossed in the lamb’s stomach and boiled.
“Supă” is also a soup but it differs from Ciorbă as it is never sour. It is mostly enjoyed in the Transylvania region. The most common soups are chicken dumplings soup (supă de pui cu găluște) and chicken noodle soup (supă de pui cu tăiței). During the days of lent, you can be sure that there’ll be plenty of this vegetable soup available in this part of the world.
Sarmale (meat filled cabbage rolls) was introduced to Romania by way of the Ottoman Empire. While most make them with pickled cabbage leaves, there’s also the variety made with grapevine leaves which is similar to the dolmades found in Greek cuisine.
The traditional sarmale recipe includes minced pork meat, rice, onion, and seasoning, all wrapped up in the cabbage leaf, whereas the lent version uses mushrooms instead of meat. They are served with polenta (mămăligă) and sour cream (smântână). During Lent, it is served without the sour cream.
Bulz is made from mămăligă (polenta) in which salty cheese is wrapped, then everything is tossed on the grill. Or, you can just order mămăligă(polenta) with smântână and cheese.
Mici (or “mititei”) is probably the country’s most popular grilled dish. Out comes the sun in spring and along with it the grills and mici’s distinctive scent. They are sausages are made without a casing. The ground meat used can be in various combinations, but pork is most often used. Then spices are added. Mititei is generally served with bread and mustard.
Varză a la Cluj
Varză a la Cluj can be simply translated to Cluj-style-cabbage. In case you didn’t already know, Cluj is the capital of Transylvania, therefore this dish is enjoyed in this region. It is similar to sarmale but there is no…wrapping. The easiest way to do it is with sauerkraut (or you can just cut the picked cabbage into small bits). Add the rice and minced meat plus seasoning before it goes in the oven and you’ve got a lovely savory dish. Similar to sarmale, it is typically served with sour cream.
To be frank, Papanași is just one of those names that cannot really be translated into English. It is a cottage cheese based dough which is then fried (in the South) or boiled and then tossed into fried breadcrumbs (in Transylvania). Served with fruit jam and sometimes heavy cream, it is one of the most popular desserts in the country!
Pască is the Romanian cheesecake, traditionally baked for Easter. A crumbling dough on the bottom on which a mixture of cottage cheese, sugar, eggs, and raisins is added on top and then baked. Each region has a different way to make the dough and filling – but one thing is for sure, they are all delicious!
“Salată beuf” (beef salad) is quite an interesting dish, which is just as popular as smarmale and mici. It also makes an appearance at every possible event or when guests are expected. A variety of vegetables – carrots, parsnips, parsley, and potatoes – are boiled together with meat (which can be beef or chicken). Everything is cut into small pieces, the cut pickles are added, as well as canned peas. Then everything comes together with a dollop of mayonnaise.
Zacuscă, translated as eggplant paste, is also prevalent during Lent. A completely vegan-friendly dish, it is labor intensive but definitely worth it.
First, the eggplants and red peppers are charred. Then, in a pot, the onion is cooked until it becomes translucid. While that cools down, clean the eggplants and peppers. Then mince them through the machine, along with tomatoes and the cooled down onions. Toss everything together with oil and seasoning (bay leaves, black pepper, and salt), boiled for 2-3 hours and enjoy when it cools down. It is perfect when enjoyed during the winter season.
This is the traditional version – there are also versions with mushrooms (in which half of the eggplants are placed with mushrooms) or white beans.
Jumări cu ceapă
Jumări cu ceapă is greaves with onion (typically red onion, to be exact). Pork’s fat (bacon) is fried until they become crispy. Yes, they are incredibly unhealthy but delicious. Popular at Ignat (when the pig is sacrificed) and through the Christmas time, jumări can also be served with horseradish paste or mustard.
Dovleac copt (baked pumpkin) is made from the same type of pumpkin which is typically used for pies. The pumpkin stays in the oven for hours and, for many of us, is the scent of childhood and is a very popular dessert during the winter season
Similar to babka (a type of yeast-based sweet bread), cozonac has a consistency that is close to Italian cuisine’s panettone. It is usually baked for Easter and Christmas, but also makes an appearance at funerals, baptism, and weddings. The simple fillings are cocoa or walnuts, but you can also find it with a feeling of Turkish delight.
By Cris Puscas, a contributing writer at BookCulinaryVacations.com.
Passionate about Mediterranean food and countries, she loves to discover healthy vegan recipes to try to whip up at home!