Every country is proud of its gastronomy, and it would be a shame if you wouldn’t try as many traditional dishes as possible every time you visit a new destination. It’s often that culture or history is best unveiled by taking a culinary trip, a delicious feast of hearty recipes that combine flavors and ingredients of particular origins.
Romanian food is no exception as the country’s history and multicultural heritage have created a fascinating mix of Greek, Turkish, Austrian, Hungarian, and Slavic influences, spiced here and there with a bit of French sophistication.
Photo credits Nitu Iulian
Romanian food recipes vary even when it comes to basic dishes depending on each historical region. If you travel across the entire country, you’ll soon notice that any type of soup (ciorba) has a different taste in Maramures than in Bucharest or Dobrogea. What differs from region to region is the preference for a specific flavor, the origins of this diversity depending on the history and the cultural influences of various neighboring empires.
What’s universal about Romanian food is its preference for meat, most often pork, cooked in big portions that often prove challenging to finish for anyone who eats a salad for lunch or dinner. But even vegetarians are in for a treat as Romanian love cheese and dairy products, usually full-fat, locally sourced vegetables and fruits, either fresh, pickled or preserved for the winter.
Photo credits: Nitu Iulian
The preference for the ingredients of the traditional Romanian gastronomy is historically determined by the rural character of the country until the mid-20th century and the predominance of small-scale agriculture and livestock breeding in the countryside.
For hundreds of years, rural communities have grown their own vegetables, cereals, and raised their farm animals to survive and provide revenue for their families. This know-how came in handy during the last decade of the communist period when food shortages made locals dependent on products cultivated by small-scale rural producers.
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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 puts on the table organic vegetable and fruits, home-made dairy products, and fresh quality meat that can be bought from small rural producers or in local agro-markets.
Some of the most popular traditional Romanian dishes are polenta (mamaliga), polenta with cheese (mamaliga cu branza), sour soups or borscht with vegetables, beef, smoked meat, pork or tripe, meat stews with lots of onion and garlic (tochitura), meat rolls in cabbage and wine leaves (sarmale), barbecue sausages (mici), pork sausages (carnati), Easter lamb (drob de miel), cottage cheese donuts with sour cream and jam (papanasi), and the traditional holiday sweet bread with nut filling (cozonac).
Photo credits Nitu Iulian
Many more delicious dishes complete the core of the Romanian food and traveling across the country is the best way to experience this diverse gastronomy. While you’ll find Romanian food in most restaurants, for a truly authentic experience, we recommend smaller and family-owned restaurants or home-cooked meals by a Romanian host especially on major celebrations like Easter or Christmas.
In the end, the words of great explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau capture best the essence of Romanian food:
“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 recognize miracles. When it comes to cuisine, at least, you are very, very rich in your so-called poverty.”