April 18, 2019 / 5 Comments
Dishes & Foods You Must Try When in Romania is written by Marius Iliescu – the founder of Romanian Friend – a local initiative promoting handpicked tours with the best local guides so travellers can discover the authentic beauty of Romania while supporting responsible tourism. Plan your trip with help from a Romanian Friend and follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see what you can visit!
Traveling to another country is always fun, with many interesting places to visit and people to meet. But no travel experience is complete without a taste of local and traditional dishes and Romania is no exception. Romanian cuisine is quite an interesting blend as our dishes were influenced by the many gastronomies, food cultures and peoples Romanians came in contact with over the years, such as the Austrian, Hungarian, Turkish or Russian.
When exploring the beautiful cities of Romania, forget about grabbing a quick burger or pizza on the go. Look for a traditional Romanian restaurant and try some of the popular dishes that locals like so much. You’ll discover that Romanian cuisine is rich and delicious thanks to its heavy use of fresh and organic vegetables from farmers’ markets and home-made products. So here’s a list of the most popular Romanian dishes that you should try when visiting our country:
Vegetable Dips to start your meal
If you ask for a traditional appetizer in any Romanian restaurant, chances are you will be getting a plate that includes some of the most popular vegetable dips that Romanians have. There are typically three dips included: mixed vegetable dip, also known as zacusca, eggplants salad dip salata de vinete and mashed beans dip or fasole batuta. Spread them on homemade bread and add some Romanian cheese on the side for a delicious experience.
Zacusca is believed to be derived from an old Bulgarian dish and the original recipe is made out of red peppers and eggplants, blended with tomato sauce, oil, salt and black peppercorns. The recipe may vary in some regions of the country and may include other vegetables like carrots, mushrooms and celery. The key to any good zacusca is to roast the eggplants and red peppers on a barbeque and remove their skin before chopping them.
Eggplant Salad Dip is exactly what the name calls. The eggplants are again slow roasted on a barbeque for a natural smoked flavor, then blended with diced onion and homemade mayonnaise. And, as you may have guessed, the secret here lays in the homemade mayonnaise.
Mashed Bean Dip is probably the simplest dip you could ever make. The white beans are boiled and mashed with a bit of oil and sometimes garlic, but the secret to this dip is the caramelized onions on top. The onions are cooked in a frying pan, with a bit of oil and tomato sauce until they caramelize and give the dip a sweet taste.
Shepherd’s bulz – authentic Romanian recipe
Polenta is often used by farmers as a substitute for wheat and bread, and goes very well with many traditional Romanian dishes – which are among some of the best in Europe. But the best way to enjoy it is in a recipe called bulz (Shepherd’s ball, literally). Cooked polenta is filled with shepherd’s cheese, bacon and butter, the baked in the oven until slightly roasted. The dish is topped with a fried egg and sometimes sour cream. Sounds heavy, right? It is, but that’s because this recipe is the best expression of Romania’s agrarian past when people would have a frugal breakfast and then one big, massive meal at after a day’s hard work. Bulz has it all, but this recipe is so delicious and perfected over time you shouldn’t miss it!
Ciorba – healthy and filling sour soups
Probably one of the most loved – and omnipresent – Romanian dishes is ciorba: 5-6 vegetables are slowly boiled together whole and then one special ingredient is added to give it a sour taste. Served steaming hot, with sour cream, fresh bread and a spicy pepper, this dish is filling, belly-warming and simply delicious. A natural hangover cure too!
One type of meat can be added in the vegetable mix which will give it a distinctive flavour. One of the most popular is ciorba de perisoare which uses pork meatballs, but other variations use tender beef, chicken, turkey or even lamb meat. Try as many variations as possible!
Bean Soup with Smoked Ham
Another famous Romanian soup is ciorba de fasole cu ciolan: made out of white beans, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes and herbs, topped with smoked ham and red onions on the side. A combination you wouldn’t think of but I can tell you – it will surprise you! In some parts of the country smoked sausages or pork ribs are used, while in others, particulary in Bucharest and Southern Romania you can have the soup served inside a specially-made loaf of bread.
Cabbage Rolls – a ‘must’!
You can’t say you tasted Romanian cuisine if you didn’t have the stuffed cabbage rolls sarmale. The dish is made out of ground pork mixed with rice and onion and rolled into pickled cabbage leaves. The rolls are baked in the oven and topped with tomato sauce and herbs. The dish also has a vegan option, with mushrooms, onions and rice, typically made during Orthodox Lent (fasting) periods before Christmas and Easter. Sarmale is usually served with polenta and sour cream on the side and is a dish you will not have trouble finding in any Romanian restaurant!
The grilled skinless sausages called mici or mititei, which literally translates into “little ones”, are probably the most popular street food and Romanians’ favorite barbecue meal. A combination of finely grounded pork, beef or lamb meat mixed with herbs and garlic, rolled into finger-sized pieces, barbecued and served with mustard, bread and a cold beer. You’ll find mici at any Romanian outdoor events or fair and having 3-4 is, without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Romania!
Time for desert time: Cheese Pie
On the sweet side, Romanians are known for their delicious cheese pies that come in two variations. One is made with sweet cheese and raisins and the other one is made with simple salted cheese and herbs, usually dil. Both can be found either at restaurants, bakeries or street pastry shops. If you want to sound like a true local, ask for branzoaica when ordering a sweet cheese pie or merdenea for the salty version.
Papanasi – the ultimate Romanian desert
One of the most beloved Romanian desserts is this cottage-cheese-filled doughnut topped with sour cream and fruit jam (usually blackberry or blueberry). You can find papanasi in almost any restaurant menu in Romania and many refer to it as their go-to dessert. The origins of Papanasi have long been disputed, as many believe it may have derived from Austro-Hungarian dish, while others insist it has Latin origins, where “pappa” was sometimes used to describe kid’s food. In any case, portions are big and filling – so order if you’ve got enough space left or want to share with someone!
Cozonac – a refined delicacy
Cozonac is a traditional Romanian sweetbread filled with combinations of cocoa, walnuts, raisins or Turkish delight, usually baked during Christmas or Easter. The origins of this desert are uncler, as with many other dishes in Eastern Europe where everything was borrowed and adapted. But cozonac holds a special place in Romanian cuisine because of the effort, technique and dedication Romanian women put in hand-making the dough. It’s what makes this desert puffy and delicious even 5 days after it was baked. Many Romanian kids grew up with slices of cozonac and a glass of milk in the morning, lunch desert or evening snack. You should try it, preferably home-made in the traditional regions of Bucovina or Maramures!