Since always Romania has been suffering from cultural influences of many places around the world. The country has been explored and colonized several times before becoming what it is now and due to that, there is a considerable diversity in their dishes. The mix in the Romanian gastronomy is mainly because of German, Caucasian Nomads, Hungarian, Turkish and Eastern Europe invasions and brought a unique taste and flavor for their recipes. The Turkish culture could clearly affect some aspects of Romanian gastronomy, and it is seen by some of the typical dishes that have strong roots from Turkey such as Sarmale, Moussaka, Baklava, Halva and Rahat Turcesc.
1 – Cheese and milk derivates
From what I could perceive, Romanians are very connected to handmade and traditional food, and I could call them expert at cheese making. It is easy to walk around the small markets that the towns host during the day and find yourself an incredible creamy cheese for a very fair price and it sounds amazing.
Buying mozzarella or any international cheese in Romania could not be a smart choice as it could be very expensive, but you can bet and trust the national ones made by their country-side people. Made from either sheep’s buffalo or cow milk, they can be salty or sweet and bring us an unforgettable sensation.
For those who enjoy a fresh cheese, I would recommend the most famous Romanian one called Telemea. It is light and white cheese, very similar to the Greek cheese Feta. Usually, it is quite soft and not very salty. Mainly it is used in salads, with fresh tomatoes and similar.
If you would like to try a cheese with some more personality and stronger flavor, maybe you should try Brânză de burduf, which is a salty type of Romanian cheese that is made from sheep of buffalo milk.
It has a very particular taste and a soft texture that I could never forget.
- Sarmale cu mamaliga (Cabbage Rolls with “polenta”)
I can definitely say that this is the favorite dish of the biggest part of Romanian population. It is very traditional, loved and make everyone’s eyes shine (even mine!). It is basically a roll of sour cabbage leaves stuffed with meat (usually pork, but can also be cow’s or chicken meat), seasoned and boiled for many hours. It can sound simple, but believe me: it is mouth-watering and more delicious that it could be explained. The dish is only perfect though if the famous mamaliga (is a porridge made with yellow maize flour very similar to the Italian polenta) accompanies Sarmale.
Mamaliga, by the way, is a very typical side dish for Romanians. They actually use it as most of the cultures use bread and it has a very good reason: when the country was under ottoman’s domination, Romanian people had mainly corn to feed themselves. Well, the preparation is very simple as Mamaliga is simply boiled corn meal. I know it sounds too easy, but trust me: it will surprise you.
Do not forget to ask a Romanian friend or in a typical restaurant “mamaliga cu smantana e telemea” – a simply delicious food.
- Mici – Grilled Minced Meat Rolls
It was very common to see every single summer day young and old people enjoying a big plate of meat with a big glass of cold beer: mici is not only one of the favorite dishes but one of the cheapest and easiest to find.
They are usually made from the ground meat of pork, sheep or cow and a mix of garlic and other spices, grilled and eaten hot with mustard. It looks yummy, but it is much more than that: it is the perfect meal to share with your friends in a fun day.
- Ciorbe si supe (Soups)
It is always important to say that soups and vegetable creams take a very big place in the Romanian heart. Nature, vegetables and herbs are part of the Romanian people’s conscience and you will find out that the soups are not different.
The typical and natural vegetables, herbs, meat and spices are present in each handmade soup and brings us a truly aromatic experience. For instance, one of the tastiest I tried was the simple Ciorba de legume (Vegetable Soup) that is perfect for summer and it is completely made from fresh vegetables and herbs. Ciorba de galuste (Dumplings Soup) could not be forgotten, as it is a very tasty and common soup, usually comes with chicken meat and is adored by most of the Romanian people that I know. For last, but not less important, I must mention the Ciorba de fasole cu ciolan (Beans with Pork Soup) which is mainly a Christmas dish, but we certainly don’t waste the whole year waiting for it.
- Salata de boeuf (Beef salad)
Made especially in holidays (Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or Easter) this salad is one of the most traditional dishes in Romania. Basically, it is made from eggs, vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and small pieces of meat (does not really matter if it is from cow, pork or chicken) and mayonnaise. I cannot really explain why but all those important holidays are directly connected to this salad and you will not feel in a real Christmas day if you do not have it on the table! The funny thing is that this salad brings up one of the Romanian characteristics: the syncretism. Romanian people are so mixed that one of their most traditional dishes has an international name: boeuf is a French word that now makes part of Romanian culture.
I must admit that I am a sweet addicted and if you are too, be prepared to taste one of your most delectable ones! Papanasi are some fried or boiled pastry filled up with white soft cheese with any sour jam (I personally love it with cherry jam!) and usually covered by sugar. Usually served hot they are a very different and curious desert that brings joy for whoever is eating it. It is sweet in the right way and sour too! You will never be able to pick just one.
7- Salată de vinete (Roasted Eggplant Salad)
By far, my favorite Romanian appetizer. It could be the best choice for a fast, delicious and healthy starter, as it is perfect for eating with bread and toasts before the main dish. The combination of garlic, grilled eggplants and mayonnaise brings us an incredible taste that will make you wish for more.
It can sound simple but Romanian cuisine is based on the unique technic of making the simple become gorgeous.
8 – Wines
I could call Romanian wines a “MUST TRY”. First of all, Romanians enjoy having their meals with a great glass of wine in front of them: you can delight yourself and taste a great wine together with your food and friends.
Being one of the largest wine producers of the whole world and undiscussable the largest in east Europe, Romania has many incredible and flavorful kinds of wines to taste. I could consider myself very surprised when I first took a sip: why are not they famous for this? Maybe due to their suitable weather and climate, Romania is certainly one of the best places to grow grapes or simply to take a glass and enjoy the moment. The wine quality is also constantly improving as there is a clear grown on the technological system for wine making, the replanting vineyards of better quality, etc.
If you are a wine lover, make sure you will take your time to get to know the best wines Romania has to offer. The growing of the grapes depends especially on the regions and there are many varieties of red, white and rose’ wine. They are very aromatic and a little bit more alcoholic than the Italian or French ones that we are more used.
For the white wines, the most known kinds of grapes from Romania are Fetească albă, Crâmpoșie and Fetească regală. Both kinds of Feteasca could be dry or semi-dry, and they are likely to have moderate acidity and alcoholic percental, while Crâmpoșia is famous for its floral aromas and freshness. It is also more alcoholic and acid than the other varieties.
I can tell that Feteasca Neagra is the most popular red wine in Romania. It is very flexible as it could make dry, semi-dry or even sweet wine. No matter what, it is always very red with ruby shades and its flavor is unforgettable. Remember that it gets better, more tasteful and smoother when aging.
There are also aromatic grapes that you should not miss; Tămâioasa românească and Busuioacă de Bohotin have surely made a name for themselves.
It would be unfair if I would not mention that there is also a big production of the international variety of grapes, and the most popular are Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc for the white ones and Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Syrah for the red ones.
I would like to throw one last tip: if you make friends in Romania, do not waste your chance to try a traditional handmade one. It is common to find local people that grow some grapes in their countryside or in their homes and do themselves their own wine. For me, that is no buyable wine that could be comparable to the ones made with love and care only for you.
My favorite Romanian wines