Guide to Traditional Romanian Food – 7 Dishes You Should Try in Romania

    Guide to Traditional Romanian Food – 7 Dishes You Should Try in Romania
    Last updated: September, 2019

    Romania is a country with an old culinary tradition. From the villages of Transylvania to the capital city of Bucharest, almost anywhere you stop to eat you’ll find fresh, delicious foods. Romanians like to cook and good food has always been a part of their culture. Traditional Romanian dishes are neither elaborate nor fancy, but they are very tasty.

    About Romanian Food

    Throughout the centuries, Romanian food recipes has been influenced and enriched by many different cultures. Such were the Saxons and Hungarians who settled in Transylvania, the Greeks with whom Romanians traded, or the Ottomans who dominated the country for centuries. 

    But despite these influences, Romanian cuisine has kept its identity. Although the recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, the taste of the food remained unaltered.  Here are some of the traditional Romanian dishes that I grew up with and also cooked for my family for many years. 

    Traditional Romanian Dishes

    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 only a handful of cuisines that cross the cultural borders with ease. Romanian food is generally liked by foreigners, with very few exceptions. Here are some of the most popular dishes you should try when visiting Romania:

    Grilled Eggplant Salad (Salata de Vinete)

    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.

    Eggplant salad, Romanian food
    Eggplant salad

    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.

    Meatball Sour Soup (Ciorba de Perisoare) 

    Ciorba is a distinctive type of soup made with sauerkraut juice, borscht, vinegar, or with fresh lemon juice. The beaf-and-rice meatballs bring a delicious flavor and substance to the paprika-spiced broth.

    The soup is seasoned with fresh herbs like baby dill, parsley and especially lovage that enhances the taste in a very specific way. Unfortunately, we can’t find lovage in our grocery stores in America, so most of the time I either use powder of Borscht, or lemon juice. We eat the meatball sour soup with hot cilli peppers.

    Traditional Romanian dishes - meatball soup
    Ciorba de Perisoare (meatball sour soup)

    Tripe Soup (Ciorba de Burta)

    Tripe soup is one of the most popular soups in Romania and considered the ultimate hangover remedy. For most people, the tripe soup is a delicacy, but for some this is a disgusting recipe that they won’t even try: made with tripe (the stomach of a cow), lots of garlic and sour cream and soured with vinegar. Tripe soup is also good with hot cilli peppers.

    tripe soup, a Romanian traditional dish
    Ciorba de Burta (tripe soup)

    Beef Salad (Salata ‘de beuf’)

    Beef Salad (Salata ‘de beuf’) is the most traditional food in Romania for the 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 or Easter.

    Beef salad traditions Romanian dish
    Beef Salad

    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.

    Stuffed Squash/Bell Pepper (Dovlecei/Ardei Umpluti)

    Stuffed squash or bell pepper is a second course. We usually eat it after the soup. This is a baked dish stuffed with ground beef or turkey, rice, onion, herbs and spices. You can serve it with/without sour cream. Very, very tasty!

    Romanian dishes - stuffed bell pepper
    Stuffed Bell Pepper

    Grilled Mutton Pastrami with Polenta (Pastrama de Oaie cu Mamaliguta) 

    Grilled mutton pastrami with polenta is a specialty that you won’t see on every restaurant menu. This is actually a peasant food that my grandmother used to make us when we were kids. The mutton pastrami is very salty so this dish is best when served with wine. 

    grilled muttom pastrami
    Pastrama de Oaie cu Mamaliguta (mutton pastrami with polenta)

    I haven’t eaten this dish in ages, so I was delighted to see this on the menu of a restaurant at the Village Museum in Bucharest.

    Aspic with Beef/Pork and Eggs (Piftie)

    Piftie is another traditional Romanian dish usually prepared for an 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. Piftie is usually served as an appetizer, although it can be served as a main dish. 

    Piftie, Romanian food
    Aspic with beef and chicken (Piftie)

    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.

    Stiffed Cabbage Rolls with Polenta (Sarmale cu Mamaliguta)

    Stuffed cabbage rolls (sarmale) with polenta is perhaps the most popular food in Romania. Some other other countries in the Balkan territory also claim this as their traditional dish, but that’s not surprising.  Each region in Romania and prepares the stuffed cabbage rolls in their own way, but the taste is just about the same. 

    stuffed cabbage rolls - traditional romanian dishes
    Sarmale cu mamaliguta (stuffed cabbage rolls with polenta)

    You can make cabbage rolls with any type of minced meat, rice and spices or. If you are a vegetarian, you can replace the meat with grinded nuts and chopped mushrooms. You can eat sarmale year-round in Romania, but they are a traditional food for Christmas and New-Year’s Eve.

    Roasted Pork Knuckles (Ciolan de Porc la Captor) 

    Roasted pork knuckles is a delicious dish for the pork lovers (not me!), especially popular in Transylvania. The meat is infused with garlic and cumin, slow cooked in the oven until crisp and served with delicious potato dumplings.

    Roasted pork knuckles
    Ciolan de Porc la Cuptor (roasted pork knuckles)

    Beef Stew with Potatoes (Tocanita de Vita cu Cartofi) 

    Beef stew with potatoes is a slow-cooked casserole of tender beef in a red wine and tomato sauce, with potatoes, onions, and baby carrots. The meat can be cut in small pieces, sliced or left as a chunk. Can be served with pickled cucumbers.

    Beef stew
    Tocanita de Vita cu Cartofi (beef stew with potatoes)

    Have you ever tried any of these traditional Romanian dishes? If you visit Romania, look for the authentic traditional restaurants that still serve these foods. Lately the fancier restaurants in the country try to cater to the international tourists and serve more of an eclectic menu, but you may still find some of these delicious dishes on the list.