Romanian cuisine has a history almost as robust as its flavor. Certainly influenced by the Ottoman meals, Romanian food also has strong influences from other countries it borders. Most of the country’s traditional dishes feature meat as the primary foundation, with other ingredients folded in nicely to give the dish a good appeal. Families in the mood for enjoying a standout culinary adventure should try the following ten Romanian staples that are sure to please.
Icre (Fish Egg Salad)
Straightforward and elegant are two words that describe this dish. One simply mixes carp fish eggs with oil, lemon juice, and chopped onion to make this recipe. Icre is typically served as a spread on crackers or small slices of toasted bread and makes for the perfect tasty snack for fish lovers.
Zacusca (Smoked Vegetable Dip)
Mix eggplants (aubergine), red peppers, onions, tomato paste, olive oil salt and pepper to make this delicious vegetable dip that is Russian in origin. Usually made ahead of time and stored to use later, this vegetable mix is a staple in Romanian homes for the winter. Zacusca’s flavor improves with age but must be consumed once the container is opened since it can spoil. Most people eat Zacusca as an appetizer on sliced bread or as a side dish. Also, one can add Zacusca to rice or polenta to enhance the flavor.
Salata de Vinete (Eggplant Salad)
Originally copied from the Turkish Babaganush, this eggplant salad is subtle and smoky.
Cooks first grill the eggplant until the outer skin is black and crusty. Then the cook peels the skin off and smashes the eggplant, mixing vigorously with oil, chopped onions, and salt until it resembles a rough paste.
Traditionally served over crusted bread slices, Salata de Vinete is part of the salads used by the locals in summer and a great addition to many school sandwiches. For a different flavor or creamier texture, experimental cooks can add yogurt or mayonnaise. For a spicier version adding some cayenne or garlic powder to the mix should help.
Muraturu was a prominent historical method of preservation in Romania since refrigerators were scarce in the countryside and vegetables were hard to come by in winter months. The traditional recipe calls for four parts water to one part pickling salt when it comes to pickling the vegetables.
The Romanian versions mix in some bay leaves, red peppers, garlic cloves, and whole peppercorns to bring out the pickling flavor. Traditionally, the vegetables and the add-ons are put outside in the sun for at least two weeks until they ferment and start the pickling process. Once the process is done, the containers are placed in basements for use throughout the year.
Sarmale (Stuffed Cabbage)
Turkish and Romanian people often dispute the origin of Sarmale.
Romania, of course, claims this stuffed cabbaged dish as its own. Traditionally stuffed with minced meat, rice, and sauerkraut, the dish flavor is robust and tart. The cook rolls pork or beef, sauerkraut, and rice into cabbage leaves then boils the cabbage in a tomato based sauce with bay leaves.
Ardei Umpluti (Stuffed Peppers)
Aredi Umpluti is a traditional Romanian stuffed pepper dish.
One makes Aredi Umpluti by stuffing pork or beef, rice, and onions neatly inside a bell pepper. The stuffed vegetable then cooks in the oven in a hearty tomato sauce for at least two hours.
Some recipes incorporate other vegetables and spices into the mixture to vary the flavor. This traditional dish works well for formal occasions as well as weekly family dinners.
Mititei (Grilled Spicy Sausages)
A tasty Romanian dish that is essentially a sausage with no casing.
Traditionally cooked on an open flame, one makes Mititei from a mixture of beef, lamb, and pork. Spices such as garlic, black pepper, and thyme are added to round out the flavor. The sausage like delight is something every traveler to Romania should try.
Mititei originated in Transylvania, created by renowned sausage maker, Lonescu Lordache, who made it when he did not have any skin to use for sausage casing. Mititei is a crowd pleaser for appetizers and pairs well with a nice chopped vegetable salad or as an entree with mashed potatoes and rice.
Mamaliga (Boiled Polenta)
Unchanged throughout history, mamaliga dates back to feudal times when Romanian peasants had to cook with very few ingredients.
Commonly consumed when there was no bread available, mamaliga consists of corn meal derived from maize flour. Classic Mamaliga, served cold or hot, has a creamy texture and a mild flavor. However, many family recipes season it with slices of sausage or other meats for texture. Cooks can add milk and soft farmer’s cheese to give weight and smooth out the grainy mixture.
Papanasi (Fried or Boiled Flour and Semolina Dessert)
Eating fried papanasi is one of those memorable moments that most visitors to Romania recall.
This dessert is a light, yet delicious Romanian delicacy that is an either fried or boiled semolina sphere that can be filled with some soft sweet cream. It is often topped with a creamy, tart jam and sometimes whipped cream. Although it’s rather simple to make, this dish will please anyone with a sweet tooth. Adults can complement it with a sweet dessert wine for the best flavor experience.
Savarina is essentially rum soaked sponge cake, a delight for adults.
The cake is named after 18th-century lawyer and gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. One makes Savarina out of sweet yeast dough and, after baking, soak it in rum overnight. Cooks serve Savarina either with a sweet pastry cream on the side or a dollop of whip cream and fruit on top. The result is a sweet, moist, light and fruity treat more catered to the adult taste buds than the kids taste buds because of the strong, bitter taste of the rum.
When visiting Romania, parents should try to introduce their kids to all these dishes and see which ones they like. Clearly, the sweet dishes will probably be an easier sell to most kids. However, many of the Romanian dishes are salty and will appeal to some of the kids. Even the pickiest of family members might find a new favorite when visiting Romania.