Romanian cuisine is very complex and diverse, with quite a few differences depending of the specific area which you are visiting. Romanian food has been influenced over the centuries by our neighbors, our invaders and colonists. Some have come and gone and some have decided to stick around, but they all have left their prints in the history of Romanian cuisine: Greeks, Turks, Germans, Hungarians, Serbian, Bulgarian and last but not least Ukrainian.
I am going to list the top 10 dishes that any Romanian would recommend you to try and which we all devour 🙂 every year for the holidays:
1. Smoked lard
Did you just make a face? Did you cringe? If you did i totally get it, but if this dish is properly made it is very tasty, feels like smokey meaty, butter-like texture and melts in your mouth. I was always a picky eater and only tasted this lard as a grown-up and loved it. Now guys, this is for small appetizer tastings and not for full meals.
2. Sarmale – Cabbage Rolls
There is nothing more traditional than cabbage rolls. If you were to taste only one dish in Romania, this is it. The Sarmale are made with minced meat, rice and condiments wrapped in cabbage leaves (usually sauerkraut aka pickled cabbage). The rolls usually come with a side dish of polenta and sour-cream.
The Sarmale or Sarma, come from the turks and can be found in different varieties in all the regions that were historically ‘involved’ with Turkey: Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Palestine, Jordan, Siria, Lebanon, Republic of Moldova. It is believed that the Turks got them from the Greek that have a similar dish called ‘Dolma’, the only difference is that they use vine leaves to make the rolls.
3. Polenta with cheese and sour-cream
Polenta or Mamaliga is a dish made with corn flower, water and salt. Depending on the corn – water ratio, we can make a harder polenta or a softer creamier polenta. If we add cheese and sour-cream we make a very tasty dish. Some people like to add little bits of ham or sausage as well, I like to add boiled egg and mush it in together with the cheese.
4. Romanian Sausages
No tasting is complete until you have tried the Romanian sausages that come in different shapes, sizes and types. Fresh or smoked, grilled or fried, we all love our sausages. Made with minced meat and stuffed in animal intestine, usually condimented with salt, paprika, garlic, cumin and hot pepper.
In the different regions of Romania the ladies have their secret recipes and condiments they use to make their sausages unforgettable. In some areas sausages are made only with pork meat, in others pork is mixed with beef or sheep. In Oltenia and Wallachia they use bone broth for extra flavor, in Transylvania a secret is using thyme, in Bucovina the meat is not minced but cut by hand.
4.1 A special type of sausage is the Blood sausage, similar to black pudding in the UK. The stuffing contains beside the meat and condiments, exactly what you would expect or not – fresh blood – the blood gives moisture and a unique flavor to the sausage.
5. Mici – Little Ones
Although considered a type of sausage, the Mici have to have their own paragraph. They are somewhere between a sausage and a meatball. The legend says they were created in the 1800’s in Bucharest, when a cook in a very popular restaurant remained without skin for the sausages and had to think fast and satisfy a crowd of hungry customers. He shaped the minced meat with his hands and started cooking them on the grill. When customers asked the name of this strange new sausage, he said it was ‘Mici’ literally translated ‘Littles’.
6. Pork Cracklings / Rinds
Cholesterol is not something we think about for the Holidays, so once a year you can try these little crunchy wonders. Pork rinds if you haven’t had tried them before, it is the skin of the pig, cut in small squares and fried in (of course) lard. The bits shrink in size and become deliciously crunchy with a bit of fat on one side and a bit of meat on the other. We usually eat them with red onion as a starter for Christmas meals.
7. Tripe soup
Tripe soup is truly a traditional dish. There are several recipes for this soup but the most popular has a sour-cream, garlic and vinegar base. This soup is actually a beef broth with vegetables and the main ingredient is the beef tripe cut in long think slices.
8. Bean soup with smoked meat in bread
Another must try dish is the Romanian bean soup in a bread bowl. This soup is thick with lots of beans, vegetables and smoked pork meat. Tasty on it’s own, becomes something special when served in a bread bowl that absorbs some of the liquid, gives the soup an amazing flavor and it is fun to scrape the walls of the bowl.
9. Cozonac aka Christmas Bread
Making Cozonac is a real challenge for any housewife. We all know it depends so much on the quality of the flour, the time allocated for kneading and on the love put into the dough. This amazing Christmas bread contains cocoa, nuts, rum, lemon and orange peel and a pinch of cinnamon. I can already smell the freshly baked cozonac on Christmas morning!!!
10. Papanasi aka Romanian Donuts
The Papanasi are the holy graal of Romanian desserts – fried donuts that contain fresh cheese and are served hot with sour-cream and fruit jam (usually blueberry). They are a perfect balance between sour and sweet, making them my favorite Romanian dessert and a must try for any foodie sweet tooth out there. 😉