Romania is one of those countries where you will find the most appetizing dishes in the world. The local cuisine sometimes presents differences depending on the region and on the season, but it remains delicious, throughout the year, all over the country. Moreover, we are excellent hosts and we like to give our guests … food to remember!
National food and drink
Mămăliga is a type of corn porridge, very similar to the Italian polenta. In the past, it was used instead of bread, but nowadays it is mostly served with cheese and sour cream, meat or with sarmale. The latter are cabbage or vine leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice and rolled. Sarmale cu mămăligă is the Romanian national dish, so it’s a must during your stay in our country.
The Romanian national drink is țuica, a homemade brandy made from fruits, usually plums. In different regions of the country there are small changes in its recipe and its name. You can find a similar drink under the name of rachiu, horincă in Maramureș or pălincă in Transylvania. Țuica is usually served before eating, as it is said to increase the appetite. Vișinata and afinata are the result of țuica left in a demijohn for some time with sour cherries or blueberries.
The Hungarian cuisine left its mark on the traditional dishes from Transylvania, which contain a mixture of different types of meat. Gulaș (goulash), the most representative dish, is a challenge for the tourists’ culinary taste, as it is spiced with plenty of boia (paprika). Everything is sweetened with the famous kurtos kalacs, a sugary pastry. To the north, in Cluj-Napoca, the Germans have left their trace in the local dishes. Try the famous varză a la Cluj (cabbage a la Cluj), cabbage mixed with minced meat and spices. Not leaving Transylvania, but moving to the east, we reach the picturesque areas of Rucăr – Bran and Mărginimea Sibiului, where brânză în coajă de brad (smoked cheese, wrapped in fir bark), served with a glass of pălincă, represent only the appetizer for a true culinary feast, in which Hungarian, Romanian and Saxon influences can be noted.
The traditional cuisine in Banat has also been influenced by the Hungarian one. Gulaș, sarmale bănățene (cabbage rolls from the Banat), papricaș cu găluște (stew with dumplings) and bulz (baked mămăligă with cheese inside) are only some of the region’s specialties. For dessert try Varga Beles, a Hungarian noodles and cheese pudding.
Moldavia prides itself with tochitură moldovenească (tochitură from Moldavia). It’s an absolutely delicious stew made of pork and other meats in pepper and garlic spicy sauce, with cheese and mămăligă and a fried egg on top.
In Dobrogea there is a noticeable Turkish culinary influence, which has imposed dishes and desserts such as musaca (moussaka – a baked beef or pork minced meat with potatoes and eggplant), baclava (baklava) or halva. The Danube Delta has a completely different cuisine, one in which the traditional fish dishes are held in great esteem. There is a high probability that you will be served fish for the appetizer. And the soup. And the main course. And, certainly, the dessert… But at least you will be able to choose betwen morun (sturgeon), păstrăv (trout), scrumbie (herring), știucă (pike) and many other types of fish.
From appetizer to dessert
Romanian meals, especially the festive ones, start with an appetizer. This starter usually contains cold dishes such as fresh vegetables, different types of meats and cheeses, eggplant salad, zacuscă (a vegetables spread very popular in the Balkans area), mashed beans and olives.
The first course is always a soup or a traditional ciorbă, which are part of every menu. Romanians love to eat them, especially for lunch and very rarely for dinner. Soups are usually less complicated to prepare, as they often lack vegetables. Supa de pui (chicken soup) and supa de găluște (dumpling soup) are the most common, but very tasty types of soup. In what regards the ciorbă, there are some that you should not – under any circumstances – miss while you are in Romania. The most bizarre for tourists, but excellent once you get to taste it, is the ciorbă de burtă (tripe soup), generally served with horseradish, pepper and sour cream. Another popular type is ciorbă de perișoare, which includes meatballs and vegetables. Ciorba țărănească (peasant or country soup) is a type of soup with many vegetables, eggs and sour cream and it can be with or without meat. Ciorba de potroace is a very sour cabbage soup with chicken entrails which is said to be the most effective cure for a hangover.
Pork and chicken are the “protagonists” of the main day-to-day course. People tend to exaggerate with eating pork in the wintertime, as the meat is present on the Christmas table in at least nine or ten different ways: tobă, caltaboși, cârnați (sausages), ham, smoked bacon and ribs, șorici (rind), piftie (jellied pork), ardei umpluți (stuffed poppers) and sarmale. Mici (grilled meatballs) with mustard and beer are a popular dish not only in restaurants and beer gardens, but also for picnics and barbecues. Lamb meat has its moment of glory during Easter time, but it shares it with other gastronomic “stars” such as drob (lamb organs’ haggis with vegetables) or pască (a special type of cozonac). Fish is less consumed outside the Danube Delta, where it’s the main ingredient in all the courses, from appetizer to dessert.
While the restaurants’ cuisine is high in fat, the homemade dishes are based more on vegetables. Tocană (stew with or without meat) and ghiveci (mixed stewed vegetables) are two dishes that you will probably not find in a restaurant. Now it starts to sound like a good idea to make friends with the locals, doesn’t it? We, the Romanians are very proud of our local cuisine, especially of the homemade relishes. If we invite you over for lunch or dinner, be sure that you won’t leave our house without at least one jar of homemade jam, pickled vegetables or zacuscă.
The dessert is the last, but not a less important course. Cozonac (walnut pound cake) is representative for the main Orthodox celebrations: Easter and Christmas. Pies with various fillings (usually apples or cheese), clătite brașovene (pancakes from Braşov) and papanași (a doughnut filled with sour cream and jam) complete the image of a rich and imaginative meal.
The Romanian wine production ranks eleventh in a world classification. From Dobrogea to Banat and from Moldavia to Transylvania and Wallachia, the Romanian wines are considered to be excellent. Murfatlar, near Constanţa, is the main wine area, producing mainly red wines, such as Lacrima lui Ovidiu or the dry Sec de Murfatlar. Fetească Neagră (red, sweet), Tămâioasa (white, sweet) and Grasa de Cotnari (white) are other appreciated types of wine, both in Romania and abroad.