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 elegant nor fancy, but they are very tasty.
Throughout the centuries, Romanian cuisine has been influenced and enriched by many different cultures, such as the Saxons and Magyars who settled in Transylvania, the Greeks with whom Romanians traded, or the Ottomans who dominated the country for centuries. But despite these influences, Romanian cooking has kept unaltered the taste of its traditional dishes, through recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. Here is a guide to some of the traditional Romanian dishes that I grew up with and also cooked for my family over the years:
Ciorba de Perisoare (meatball sour soup). Ciorba is a distinctive type of soup that is soured 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, lovage can’t be found in our grocery stores in America. The meatball sour soup is served with hot cilli peppers.
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. It is served with hot cilli peppers.
Dovlecei/Ardei Umpluti (stuffed squash or bell pepper) is served as the second course of the meal, after the soup. This is a baked dish stuffed with ground beef or turkey, rice, onion, herbs and spices. Can be served with/without sour cream. Very, very tasty.
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. I was delighted to see this on the menu of a small restaurant at the Village Museum, when we visited Bucharest last summer.
Sarmale cu Mamaliguta (stuffed cabbage rolls with polenta) Although prepared a little differently in each region of the country, this is one of the most delicious and popular Romanian dishes. The cabbage rolls can be made 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. Sarmale are enjoyed year-round in Romania, but they are a traditional food for Christmas and New-Year’s Eve.
Ciolan de Porc la Cuptor (roasted pork knuckles) This 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.
Tocanita de Vita cu Cartofi (beef stew with potatoes). This 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.