Let’s put things into perspective. When it comes to food, we each have very different preferences. Even within the same culture or the same family, tastes are very different. There are some universally liked foods like pizza, french fries, or pasta. But even for those, there are as many haters as there are lovers. There are only a handful of cuisines that cross the cultural borders with ease. Most of the others remain a ‘delicacy‘ mainly for those who grew up with them. Surely, you can argue that taste can be developed. The more you learn to like some foods, the more open you become to new ones. But not all of us are ready to become food ‘connoisseurs‘.
I can’t help but smiling when I remember my first Burmese food experience. I had to invoke a severe stomach pain to get by without taking the second bite. I’ll never forget the sadness and disappointment of our host, who had spent her entire day preparing that dinner for us. But I experienced the other side of the coin as well, when I tried to impress my American guests with some traditional Romanian dishes. Thanks God for some cold cuts that saved the evening!
A good cook can make almost any food taste great. But that doesn’t mean that everybody will enjoy it. Here are three dishes Romanians die for, but most foreigners dislike:
Beef Salad (Salata ‘de beuf’) is the most traditional food in Romania for all holidays. It is usually served as a starter, but it can also be a meal on its own. You may not see this on the restaurants’ menus in Romania because preparation is a bit tedious, but you will surely find it in most households around Christmas and Easter. The ingredients are: fine chopped meat, potatoes, celery root, parsley root, carrots and pickles. The meet (it can be beef, turkey, or chicken) has to be boiled until it becomes very tender. The vegetables need to be boiled too, but not overdone. The ingredients are mixed together into a bowl with mayo and mustard (I use mustard with horseradish to give it a little spice). The mixture is then placed on a platter and shaped like a dome, then covered with a very thin layer of mayo and decorated with olive and parsley leaves.
Aspic with Chicken/Beef/Pork and Eggs (Piftie) is another traditional food popular around Christmas and New Year. Aspic is a dish in which ingredients are set into a gelatin made from a meat stock or consommé. Nearly any type of meat can be used to make the gelatin: pork, beef, veal, chicken, turkey. It is usually served as an appetizer, although it can be served as a main dish. The recipe calls for cow/pork feet that need to be boiled for a very long time (4-5 hours). The meat can be added a little later, but it needs to be cooked until it begins to separate from the bone by itself. Then the bones are removed and vegetables and spices are added (usually pepper, bay leaves, onion, carrots, celery). The meat stock is filtered and the meat and stock are poured into shallow bowls. Garlic is added, as well as thin slices of carrots and eggs. It is left to sit in a cold spot, such as a fridge or outside if the weather is cold enough. It coagulates into jelly and can be cut into slices.
Grilled Eggplant Salad (Salata de Vinete) is my favorite Romanian dish. It has a soft and creamy texture that makes it quite addictive. It is a spread usually served on flatbed, as an appetizer. In Romania this is a seasonal dish, prepared mainly in summer time, when you can find fresh eggplants on the market. But some people would preserve the grilled eggplants and make the salad in other seasons as well. It is very easy to prepare. The eggplants need to be grilled on the barbecue (10-12 min. on each side) until the peel gets slightly burned and the flesh is soft. The eggplants need to be poke it with a fork before cooking, to let the steam out. When they are done they need to be pilled and laid flat to drain (approx. 12 hrs), then chopped finely with a sharp knife and mixed with onion (chopped), salt, and a spoon of mayonnaise. You can add 3-4 spoons of olive oil a bit at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon.
These dishes –very tasty in my opinion– are widely enjoyed by Romanians everywhere, but they just don’t cut the mustard in many other places. I, personally, didn’t have much success with them in California.