A highlight of any trip to a foreign country is getting acquainted with its cuisine. There's an old saying that the food is the heart of the country. It's an adventure that requires only some suggestions of good traditional restaurants and a desire to get to know the country beyond its most well-known tourist attractions.
The traditional food of Romania is a testament to the country's roots on the land and was influenced by both invaders and neighbors. This southeastern European country's traditional food reflects touches of Turkish, Hungarian, Slavic, and Austrian cuisines. However, over the years these dishes have become considered traditional Romanian just as much as the oldest foods in the country.
Traditional Romanian dishes heavily feature meat but also usually include vegetables or fruits. Cabbage rolls (called sarmale), stuffed with spiced pork and rice, are so traditional they are regarded as the national dish of Romania and are a favorite main dish. Sausages and stews (such as tocanita) are also at the top of the list of common meals for dinner. Muschi poiana consists of mushroom- and bacon-stuffed beef in a puree of vegetables and tomato sauce. You can also sample traditional Romanian fish dishes, such as the salty, grilled carp called sawamura.
Soups, Appetizers and Side Dishes
Soups, made with or without meat or made with fish, are a common item on menus at Romanian restaurants and nearly always are the first course of the main meal. Zama is a green bean soup with chicken, parsley, and dill. You may also encounter pilaf and moussaka, vegetables prepared in various ways (including stuffed peppers), and hearty casseroles.
Traditional Romanian desserts might remind you of baklava. Other pastries are best described as Danishes; they are pastries with cheese filling. Crepes with various fillings and toppings are also found on the typical Romanian dessert menu. Papanasi, which is a Romanian specialty, features fried dough, cottage cheese, jam, and cream.
As in other countries in Eastern Europe, the people of Romania celebrate holidays with special dishes. For example, during Christmas, a pig might be slaughtered and the fresh meat used to make dishes with bacon, sausage, and black pudding. Organs from the pig are eaten as well. At Easter, a cake (pasca) made of sweetened cheese is traditionally served.
Polenta shows up in many Romanian recipe books as a hearty and versatile side dish or as an ingredient of more elaborate recipes. This pudding made of cornmeal has been part of the cuisine in the region of Romania for centuries. It dates back to Roman times when soldiers cooked up this grain-based porridge as an easy way to sustain themselves. Polenta can be baked, served with cream or cheese, fried, formed into balls, or made into cakes. Mamaliga, as it is known in Romania, is both a staple of home cooking and a regular item on restaurant menus.