The central characteristic of the Romanian cuisine is its great variety.
It is a cuisine influenced by repeated waves of different cultures: the ancient Greeks, with whom Romanians traded; the Romans, who gave the country its name; the Saxons, who settled in southern Transylvania; the Turks, who for centuries dominated Romania; as well as Slavic and Magyar neighbors. All of these influences gradually blended into the varied and delicious Romanian culinary tradition (Nicolae Keppler – Taste of Romania)
Sarmale | <sarmale> | are either made with stuffed cabbage or vine leaves, depending on the season. The dish consists of a filling made with (usually) beef, rice, tomato sauce, carrots, onions and parsley roots. The filling is wrapped in the cabbage or vine leaves and boiled for 45 minutes. In most of the families the recipes are mixed and people wrap half of the filling in vine leaves and the other half in stuffed cabbage. The best part about this mixture is that the prepared dish tastes divine and it borrows the flavor of both vine and cabbage leaves.
The dish is best served with polenta | pəʊˈlentə | (mămăligă), which is a substitute for bread consisting of cornmeal boiled into a porridge. The term is of Italian origin and it’s commonly eaten since Roman times.
Tochitură moldovenească | <tochitura> <moldoveneasca> | with polenta is a main dish made of pork leg, smoked sausage, smoked bacon garlic and onions. After the meat is prepared, it’s served with salty sheep cheese (or feta) and scrambled eggs. The recipe is only served like this in the Moldavian region of Romania, and you’ll only find it served with polenta. Although it’s a very heavy dish, especially if you’re more accustomed to eating more vegetables than fat meat, you should try it. If your life style is very different than what this food suggests, try to avoid it in the evenings and consume it as lunch.
The Army Dish (Ciolan afumat cu fasole| <ciolan> <afumat> tsʰu <fasole> |) is smoked pork knuckle with bean sauce. Served with pickles, it used to be an army delight. There’s an entire philosophy in Romania that food made in huge cauldrons tastes the best. Therefore, the recipe started to be more and more popular, and now it’s a national must. Today, although not army related, the authorities serve it for free in the public squares whenever there’s a national holiday, to celebrate the Romanian identity and struggle.
The best way to serve this dish is with țuică, which is a Romanian traditional booze with approximately 40% alcohol, distilled twice and made from different types of fruits. During lunch especially, and in very small glasses (shot glasses). Since we’re speaking of traditional booze, you should also try Palinca from Ardeal – the best sorts of this very hard alcohol are homemade and you won’t find it in markets, but you’ll certainly be served with some if you visit a Romanian family.
Tripe Soup (Ciorbă de burtă| <ciorbă> ˈdiː <burtă> |) is the type of Romanian dish that even the locals either love or hate. There’s no middle way as far as this dish is concerned. It’s yellowish, spicy and sour, with vinegar dressing. The dish is often used in Romania as a cure for hangovers – if you’re out partying an entire night, especially in the Old Town in Bucharest, you should try a local restaurant at 3-4 in the morning and buy a tripe soup. Not only will you be ready to party again, but certainly you’ll never forget this dish. It’s something memorable, particularly if you go to central restaurants.
Cozonac (| <cozonac> |Romanian Easter and Christmas bread recipe) is a slightly sweet yeast-raised egg bread, with raisins and Turkish delight, even with sweet-nuts paste. If you’re to make an association with something more popular, it’s the Romanian version of the Italian Panettone. It’s mostly served at Christmas and Easter.
Savarina | <savarina> | is the virtually identical with the French savarin, except for the rum syrup which is made differently and makes the entire recipe seem like a brand new cake.
Beef salad (Salată Boeuf) is, despite its French pronunciation, of Russian origin and its original name is Salad Olivjke. The person who first made the recipe wasn’t a gastronome, he worked at the Hermitage museum. As the name suggests, it was originally made with beef, but now it doesn’t matter what kind of meat is used in the recipe. The beauty of this dish is that it differs from region to region and even from a family to another.
Potatoes and root vegetables are always used in its preparation, though. Besides the fact that everything’s very finely and carefully diced, the Romanian housewives spend dozens of minutes decorating it elaborately with hard-boiled eggs and bits of vegetables. Olives, mustard, boiled carrots, boiled parsnips, pickles, mayonnaise and potatoes are just some of the most commonly used ingredients. Along with these there’s the meat and everything that the cook decides that would make a good mix.
Grilled eggplant (Salată de vinete| <salată> ˈdiː <vinete> |) makes for a wonderful salad as well. Even though it’s delicious in itself, largely consumed especially in the cold seasons, it tastes even better if the eggplant is cooked outdoors, grilled on a barbecue. Peeled an chopped, then mixted with mayonnaise and onion, it’s served cold and it makes a great appetizer. Special tip: If you find someone to use garlic instead of onion in the recipe, along with different herbs for the extra flavor, it must be your lucky day.
Fish egg salad(Salată de icre| <salată> ˈdiː <icre> |) is easy to make even if you’re not necessarily Jamie Oliver. Mixed with oil and lemon after having been salted, the salad’s added boiled wheat semolina and chopped onion.
Zacusca | <zacusca> | is a base dish in Romanian cuisine. It’s one of the very few vegetarian dishes you’ll find in the country. It’s prepared in the early days of autumn and it’s bottled in jars. It’s spreadable and served with a slice of bread. There’s nothing better in the cold seasons. The tastiest type, although the recipes vary a lot, is cooked with lots of eggplants and red, bell peppers grilled on an outdoor barbecue. Besides these basic ingredients, zacusca tastes best when it’s made with a larger variety of vegetables.