Much as the country’s culture, Romanian gastronomy reflects its wide and varied history. From the ancient times, the food providing activities of Romanian habitants were agriculture, animal growth and hunting, so the Romanian cuisine has always benefit from a wide variety of traditional meat products, cheese and vegetables.
Over the time, giving the continuous migration and domination of various other nations, such as Ottoman Empire, over Romanian territory and the mix of cultures, Romanian cuisine has been influenced by the Balkan cuisine, the Turkish, the German, the Italian, and the Hungarian dishes. Evan today there is a lot of western influence over the Romanian food.
Romania’s gastronomic culture inherited numerous culinary habits from its invaders and neighbors: the Romans were responsible for the pie, the Turks for ciorba de perişoare (meatball soup), chiftele and ardei umpluţi (stuffed peppers), the Greeks for moussaka, Austria brought the delicious schnitzel, and the Bulgarians the various vegetable based dishes, like zacusca, a very popular mix of boiled vegetables prepared during autumn time.
One of the traditional meals is mămăliga, a type of polenta, mostly made of maize flour, water and salt. It was used in the past as a substitute for bread, but today we can find it in most traditional Romanian restaurants, next to pork, beef or lamb dishes, Romanian cheese and sausages (branză and cârnaţi), sarmale or game.
Here are some amazing Romanian foods that you must try at least once in this lifetime:
- Sarmale – Cabbage Rolls
Probably one of the first things that comes to mind if you ask a Romanian native about an example of a traditional dish. Made of minced meat (usually pork, but also a combination of pork and chicken or just poultry meat) mixed with rice and spices, rolled into sour cabbage leaves (fermented cabbage) and boiled for hours in a special sauce made of the sauerkraut juice, water, tomato juice and other secret ingredients, they are simply delicious.
- Mici – Grilled Minced Meat Rolls
Mici or Mititei are literally translated as “Small ones” and this comes because of their size: normally, they are no longer than one adult’s finger, even though lately bigger mici have become the norm. Created from a mixture of minced pork and cow meat, mixed with spices and garlic as well as sodium bicarbonate, they are then grilled and eaten hot with mustard. They are absolutely delicious, too!
- Ciorbă de Burtă – Beef Tripe Soup
Eating beef tripe might not sound like the best thing to do when you visit a foreign country, but that’s because you have never tried the Romanian Beef Tripe Soup aka Ciorba de burtă. Serve it with sour cream, vinegar and a traditional garlic paste known as “mujdei” and all your pleasure spots will be tickled.
- Varză a la Cluj – Cluj-style Cabbage
This dish sounds a bit like the “Sarmale,” made a bit differently: minced meat, condiments and sauerkraut baked in the oven and usually served with sour cream. This dish is more popular in the northern parts of the country, but it’s equally delicious no matter where you decide to eat it.
- Mamaligă cu brânză şi smântână – Polenta with Cheese and Sour Cream
Mămăliga is probably the second thing that Romanians will use as an example for traditional Romanian foods, after Sarmale (and maybe after Mici). It is very similar to the Polenta: boiled corn flour in water with a dash of salt and a few drops of sunflower oil. It is usually served with traditional Romanian cheese and sour cream and often times it is used as a side dish for Sarmale, Varza a la Cluj or other dishes.
- Pomana porcului – Honoring the pig
This is really an old tradition and difficult to experience as a whole: the Pomana porcului is eaten in the honor of the pig that has just been slaughtered, usually in December, before Christmas. Fresh meat from the recently-deceased pig is cut into larger pieces and fried in a deep pan, usually in the pig’s fat. It is then served immediately to all those who participated at the pig’s slaughter and always accompanied by the traditional “moonshine” – Ţuica. Restaurants serve this dish as well, but you will never get the real taste unless you eat the meat from a recently slaughtered pig.
- Ciorba Rădăuţeană – Soup from Rădăuţi
A delicious, fatty soup made from a lot of vegetables and chicken meat. It’s also usually served with sour cream and after you try it once, you won’t eat your chicken soup otherwise!
- Jumări cu ceapă – Greaves with Onions
These are obtained from frying bits of bacon and they are as delicious as they are unhealthy. However, if you don’t overdo it and serve them warn with salt and large chunks of onion, you will surely love them. They make the traditional Ţuica go down easier, too!
- Iahnie cu ciolan – Beans with Hocks
You can’t go wrong when you combine beans with a large chunk of a smoked pork hock or any other type of smoked meat. Usually eaten during the winter, together with pickles, it’s a culinary delight.
- Salată boeuf – Beef salad
This is a really funny traditional Romanian food: despite the French name and the “beef” in its title, it’s actually inspired by a Russian salad and is usually made with chicken meat (even though the beef version still exists). Add pickles, peas and mayonnaise and you will get the delicious salată boeuf.
Usually prepared for Easter, the Drob is normally prepared from lamb organs but many prefer the chicken liver version. You mix the meat with dill and spices, you place boiled eggs in the middle, cook it in oven and you serve it cold.
- Zacuscă – Vegetable Paste
A delightfully tasty paste, the Zacusca is made mostly of eggplants, but there are other varieties, with peppers, onions and even mushrooms. The ingredients are baked and boiled for hour, then canned and eaten when they’re cold. It doesn’t look like much, but it is delicious.
- Slăninuţă afumată cu boia – Smoked Bacon with paprika
Usually made of fat coming from the pig and smoked at home, this bacon is served with paprika and red onions with salt. Add some homemade bread to the mix and a traditional red wine made in Romania – or even our Ţuica and you are all set!
- Pârjoale Moldoveneşti – Meatballs from Moldavia
A special type of meatballs, these are made of minced pork meat mixed with dry bread crumbs, garlic and spices, then deep fried in sunflower oil. Unlike regular meatballs, they are larger and flat.
A sort of sweetbread filled with a sweet walnut paste, poppy seeds paste or Turkish delight, this dessert is usually cooked during the holidays. Now you can find it in every store here in Romania, but if you want to experience the real taste of the Cozonac, you have to try the homemade version!
- Mucenici – Sweet Dough Rolls
These sweet dough rolls are eaten once a year, on the 9th of March. There are actually two types of Mucenici in Romania and they are completely different one from another. We’re talking about the Moldavian version here, which are large, 8-shaped pieces of delicious sweet dough, baked in the oven and served with a topping of honey and walnut paste.
The other version of mucenici is the Muntenian one. They are smaller, basically 8-shaped pasta, boiled and served in a huge bowl of syrup with vanilla and lemon flavor.
A delicious dessert made usually of cottage cheese (or any type of sweet cow cheese), that is rolled into donut like shapes, filled with sweet cream and topped with jam, usually berries or cherries. They are pretty difficult to make and if you don’t like them when you first try them, try ordering them some place else: if they get them right, they are a delight for your senses!