Romania – Traditional Food and Cooking Styles

Romania is a beautiful little country in Eastern Europe in the Balkan region. While living and working there over the years, I have eaten and enjoyed many delicious meals. Meal time in Romania is a very special time. Family and friends come together and may linger long after a meal is over in deep conversation.

The food of Romania is diverse. Food choices and cooking styles are influenced by Balkan traditions as well as German, Hungarian, Turkish, Russian and those of the Near East which includes Israel, Palestine, Jordon, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.

Some of the traditional Romanian dishes are stuffed cabbage leaves known in the Romanian language as sarmale. Other vegetables cooked and served are stuffed bell peppers (ardei umpluti); green beans (fasole verde); carrots sote (sote de morcovi); roasted peppers (ardei copti); eggplant salad (salata de vinete); and tomato salad (salata de rosii). Potatoes are popular in Romania and are served very often. They are cheap to buy and are sold everywhere in the fall, both in markets and along the streets and highways in front of private homes. There are vegetables and fruits of all kinds and many of them are raised in the country itself.

Pork and lamb are preferred over beef in Romania and pork fat is used for cooking. For Christmas a pig is traditionally butchered by every family and a variety of recipes are used to prepare the meat. One of the popular dishes made from the liver and intestines of the pork is a long sausage called carnati. Another dish is piftie which is made from the feet, head, and the ears and is suspended in aspic. I have seen most of the country and in my travels around I have seen many more sheep and pigs grazing in fields than cattle. Romanians love spicy meatballs made from a mixture of pork and beef. Ghiveci is a Romanian dish which combines meat and vegetables and is baked. Other meat dishes include skewered meat (frigarui); cow tongue with olives (limba cu masline); grilled mince meat rolls (mititei); and chicken cutlet (snitel). At Easter roast lamb is served and also a cooked mixture of intestines, meat, and fresh vegetables called drob in Romanian. Fish from the Danube River and scad from the Black Sea is very important to Romanians. Pollution has widely affected the fishing industry in Eastern Europe and eating fish is not as popular as it once was.

Soups, especially bean soup, is served hot in the winter in Romania and cold soup made with cucumber, yogurt, and walnuts and known as tarator, is made in the summer. Lovage, an unusual herb tasting like celery, is used in Romanian cooking, especially in lamb soup. Soups are usually soured with lemon juice or a dash of vinegar.

Different breads are very popular in Romanian culture and there are many interesting varieties. Cooked cornmeal (mamaliga) is traditional in all of Eastern Europe and is considered the poor man’s dish and is a Romanian specialty. It is used with meat or cheese and is called polenta in Italy. It is cooked so long to be thickened and when done can be sliced like bread.

Cheeses of all kinds are very popular with the Romanian people. The generic name for cheese in Romania is branza. Most of the cheese is made from cow or sheep milk.

Desserts are usually crepes filled with fruits or cherry streudel. Other desserts in Romania include baclava, which is sweet layered pastry; sponge cake known as pandispan; rice pudding or orez cu lapte; and gingerbread or turta dulce.

More and more wine is produced now in Romania. In the past religious influences and fifty years of political isolation from market influences kept it from being so. Romanian brandy made with plums grown there is considered to be a national spirit drink and is called tulca. The meal ends with coffee, the strong thick Turkish style coffee served with dulceata which are soft candies made with apples, plums, or raisins or figs that have been stewed, thickened and rolled into balls, coated with nuts and dipped in rum or other alcohol.

When visiting homes anywhere in Romania the people are friendly and warm and always there is an invitation to share their food.