The traditional food and wines

“…after that extraordinary ‘ciorba’ and after that dreamy ‘tourta’, I would say that not only does the world in fact no nothing about Romania, but neither do you Romanians recognise miracles. When it comes to cuisine, at least, you are very, very rich in your so-called poverty.”Jacques Yves Cousteau

The Romanian food is without a doubt a symbol of the country’s history and cultural diversity and has been influenced along time by the Roman, Greek, Turk, German, Hungarian and Russian cuisines. The traditional Romanian food is based on meat, mostly pork and beef, grains, dairy products, vegetables and fruits. Despite some new trends of adopting foreign recipes, the traditional dishes remain the most popular and wide spread food courses.

The preference for the ingredients of the traditional Romanian food goes back in time as Romania was for most of its history an agricultural country with excellent geographic conditions for agriculture, livestock breeding and hunting. The wide spread of this way of life came in handy during the last decade of the communist period, when the policy food rationalization made people dependent on agro products from the countryside.

Even today, when international hypermarkets are omnipresent in large cities, having vegetable gardens, orchards, grain plantations, vineyards and livestock is an important part of the Romanian way of life. This ensures the existence of natural grown vegetable and fruits, home-made dairy products and fresh quality meat products that can be bought from small rural producers or in local agro-markets.

Traveling to Romania you’ll notice important differences in the culinary traditions of each region, the result of the many cultural and historical influences through the past centuries. You’ll find Romanian food in most restaurants, but for a truly authentic experience we recommend smaller restaurants from Carpathian resorts or home-cooked meals by a Romanian host.

“The central characteristic of the Romanian cuisine is its great variety. It is a cuisine influenced by repeated waves of different cultures: the ancient Greeks, with whom Romanians traded; the Romans, who gave the country its name; the Saxons, who settled in southern Transylvania; the Turks, who for centuries dominated Romania; as well as Slavic and Magyar neighbors. All of these influences gradually blended into the varied and delicious Romanian culinary tradition” (Nicolae Klepper — Taste of Romania)

Romanian recipes bear the same influences as the rest of Romanian culture. The Turks have brought meatballs (perişoare in a meatball soup), from the Greeks there is musaca, from the Austrians there is the şniţel, and the list could continue. The Romanians share many foods with the Balkan area (in which Turkey was the cultural vehicle), Central Europe (mostly in the form of German-Austrian dishes introduced through Hungary or by the Saxons in Transylvania), and Eastern Europe. Some others are original or can be traced to the Roman or other ancient civilizations. The lack of written sources in Eastern Europe makes it impossible to determine today the punctual origin for most of them.

One of the most common meals is the mămăligă, a type of polenta, served on its own or as an accompaniment. Pork is the main meat used in Romanian cuisine, but also beef is consumed and a good lamb or fish dish is never to be refused.

Stews made with different chicken and pork in addition to various vegetables are very popular in restaurants. One of the favorites among Romanians is the tripe soup served with garlic or hot chili pepper and vinegar. Carnati, a dish made with pork liver and intestines is also a favorite. More meat favorites include the following: frigarui (skewered meat),  mititei (grilled mince meat rolls) and snitel (a breaded pork, veal, or beef cutlet).

For vegetarians, some options include ghiveci (mixed fried vegetables),  oua umplute (filled eggs) and bulz de mamaliga cu branza(polenta mixed with cheese, however you should carefully read the ingredients as there are variations which include meat). Potatoes are also served often. Breakfast contains mainly of eggs, whether fried, soft-boiled, or omellettes.

When it comes to desserts, there is a wide range of crepes with various fillings and toppings. Other favorites include baklava (an extremely sweet layered pastry),  pandispan (sponge cake),turta dulce (gingerbread), papanasi (a kind of doughnut with jam and sour cream on top)and orez cu lapte ( rice pudding).

The most common Romanian herbs, spices and vegetables are allspice, basil, bay leaves, caraway seeds, celery root, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, dill, lovage, parsley, parsnip, rosemary, summer savory, tarragon, and vanilla.

Before Christmas, on December 20 (Ignat’s Day or Ignatul in Romanian), a pig is traditionally sacrificed by every rural family. A variety of foods for Christmas prepared from the slaughtered pig consist of the following:

Cârnați – sausages which may be smoked and/or dry-cured;
Caltaboș – an emulsified sausage based on liver with consistency from fine (pâté) to coarse;
Sângerete (black pudding) – an emulsified sausage obtained from a mixture of pig’s blood with fat and meat, breadcrumbs or other grains, and spices;
Tobă (head cheese) – based on pig’s feet, ears and meat from the head suspended in aspic and stuffed in pig’s stomach;
Tochitură – pan-fried cubed pork served with mămăligă and wine (“so that the pork can swim”);
Piftie or Răcitură – inferior parts of the pig, mainly the tail, feet and ears, spiced with garlic and served in aspic;
Jumări – dried pork remaining from rendering of the fat and tumbled through various spices;
The Christmas meal is sweetened with the traditional cozonac, a sweet bread with nuts, poppy seeds or rahat (Turkish delight).

At Easter, lamb is served: the main dishes are borș de miel (lamb sour soup), roast lamb and drob de miel – a Romanian-style lamb haggis made of minced offal (heart, liver, lungs) with spices, wrapped in a caul and roasted. The traditional Easter cake is pască, a pie made of yeast dough with a sweet cottage cheese filling at the center.

Romanian pancakes, called clătite, are thin (like the French crêpe) and can be prepared with savory or sweet fillings: ground meat, cheese, or jam. Different recipes are prepared depending on the season or the occasion.

Wine is the preferred drink, and Romanian wine has a tradition of over three millennia. Romania is currently the world’s ninth largest wine producer, and recently the export market has started to grow.

Romania ‘s climate and soil are hospitable to the production of many different types of wines, from dry, sparkling whites to rich, aromatic, purplish reds.

Popular domestic grape varieties used for wine production include Frâncuşă, Fetească Albă, Tămâioasă, Fetească Neagră, Băbească.
Frâncuşă – A very versatile soft, dry wine, crisp and lively, with just the slightest touch of sweetness.
Fetească Albă – Semi-dry white wine, well balanced, with a distinct aroma reminiscient of the first flowering of the vineyard.
Tămâioasă Romanească – A naturally sweet or semi-sweet white wine with subtle honey and basil aromas, an exquisite amber color and a persistent rich taste. Its sweet taste may also suggest a blend of rose petals and wild berries.
Grasă de Cotnari – A naturally sweet white wine with a delicate fragrance and a smooth interplay of fruitiness and acidity.
Galbenă de Odobeşti – A light white wine with a delicate bouquet that preserves the fragrance of the mellow grape.
Fetească Neagră – Semi-sweet, medium bodied, light red wine, with original aromas.
Băbească Neagră – Traditional full bodied red wine with a delicate bouquet and a slight taste of clove.

Romania also produces its share of worldwide vintages, including Riesling, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Muscat Ottonel.

A trip to Romania offers many opportunities to visit wine-producing regions and to discover and sample the many different wines of Romania such as Murfatlar, Cotnari, Jidvei, Dealu Mare and Odobeşti.

Beer is also highly regarded, generally blonde pilsener beer, made with German influences. There are also Romanian breweries with a long tradition.

According to the 2009 data of FAOSTAT, Romania is the world’s second largest plum producer (after the United States), and as much as 75% of Romania’s plum production is processed into the famous ţuică, a plum brandy obtained through one or more distillation steps.

As we say in Romania: Pofta Buna!