Meaty, savory and with a great variety, Romanian food is something you should try at least once your life.
Specific to the Balkans, Romanian food is a blend of different types of dishes inspired by the cuisine of its neighbors but with a local twist. Although you can get a little bit of its flavor in a one day trip, for sure it will have you craving up for more and force you to prolong your trip just to try everything that comes out from a Romanian kitchen.
Moreover, the traditional dishes differ from region to region. You will find Slavic influences in Moldova with its sour soups (borsch), heavy in cream dishes in Transylvania, meals full of fresh fish in Dobrogea and so many more.
Although we Romanians have a saying that the best vegetable is the pig, vegans and vegetarians should not fear of starving when visiting Romania. There are plenty of delicious meals that don’t include meat or animal products. After all, we have perfected the vegan menu having the fact that the main religion is Christian orthodox which has prolonged periods of fasting.
So here is the Romanian food you should definitely try:
Sarmale (cabbage/vine leaves/linden leaves meat rolls). This is by far the most known dish and a favorite at celebrations. Cabbage rolls can be found also in Turkey, Greece and several other countries, but the Romanian ones differ in the condiments that are used and in the different type of leaves that are rolled into. You can try the big as your wrist cabbage rolls made with pork and smoked meat, or the tinny tiny ones, as small as your thumb, rolled in vine leaves. Sarmale should always be accompanied by mămăligă (more on that later), heavy cream and a hot pickled pepper.
Mămăligă (cornmeal). Similar to polenta, this meal is made from boiling corn flour with salt and a little bit of butter (optional). It’s a side dish that, depending on its consistency (runny or firm), can be served along with other dishes as sarmale, fried fish, stews or salty cheese and sour cream (mămăligă cu brânză și smântână, a very popular dish).
Borsch and all the variety of soups. Romanians don’t get enough credit for the great variety of soups we are cooking. Depending on the region you are visiting you can try the sour borsch, smoked meat soups, tripe soup (made from the beef belly or the vegetarian-friendly one, from mushrooms), cirbă Rădăuțeană (a type of chicken soup a la grec), lamb soup specific to the Easter holidays. We even have salad soup which, funny enough, contains smoked bacon.
In Dobrogea fish soup is very popular and it is traditionally made with water taken directly from the Danube. Tip: if you are visiting the area, don’t leave without tasting fish brine.
Bulz. Traditionally made by shepherds, this is simply mouthwatering. The basic recipe includes cornmeal that is rolled into balls filled with cheese that are then grilled. Of course, there are many variations including sour cream, bacon, butter and even eggs.
This dish is perfect for the end of a hiking trip in Romania’s mountains. And if you happen to be at a sheep farm give your belly a treat with some fresh buttermilk and maybe some spicy smoked sheep sausages.
Mici. Street food and a barbeque staple, mici (grilled minced meat) are not to be missed when visiting Romania. It is said that they were invented in Bucharest when the chef being out of animal intestines for sausages, decided to use the leftover meat and create a new dish. The meat used is either beef, pork, and sheep or a combination of them and it’s seasoned with garlic and other condiments. They are best served with bread and mustard.
Although you will find them everywhere, from restaurants to country fairs, it is said that the best ones are in Obor Square, a farmers market. So make sure that your Bucharest city tour includes a trip to this place for a taste of Romanian street food and local flavor.
Murături. Oh, Romanian pickles, sour, salty and sometimes spicy, are something you should definitely have as a side dish to a meaty, savory meal. Usually served in winter, but not exclusively, Romanian pickles are made from various vegetables and fruits (green tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, small watermelons, cauliflower, carrots, peppers etc) that are soaked in brine or vinegar. Each family has its own recipe that swears it’s the best.
Pickled cabbage, which was kept in brine until it softens and get’s a distinct flavor, is also used for other dishes such as sarmale, varză călită (slowly stewed cabbage with smoked meat, duck or sausages), varză a la Cluj (deconstructed sarmale).
Deserts. A local favorite is Papanași, fried dough with sweet cheese or heavy cream and some type of jam (blueberries being the best combo). Other delicious desserts are pies (with salty or sweet cheese, apple or pumpkin) and sweet bread ( sweet dough with cocoa and Turkish delight filling) usually served during the holidays.