When I think of Romanian food, a myriad of childhood memories come to life. Traditional Romanian food is hearty and very much part of the culture. Romania is a country of many dimensions, each region with its own culinary tradition. You'll find a wide variety of dishes to satisfy your own taste.
Romanian food is very tasty and it's usually made using simple ingredients. It might not look like it's suitable for fine dining restaurants, but it's satisfying, filling and if made the traditional way, very delicious.
If you are a travel enthusiast, a trip to Romania is a must for the country has much to offer. Food lovers will be amazed by the richness and diversity of traditional local cuisine. True, Romanian food might not be as world-famous or as fancy as French cuisine, but it is inviting and interesting, the perfect comfort food! And yes, it’s not too complicated or too spicy either.
While the country is perhaps better known internationally for the horror film Dracula, Nadia Elena Comaneci, the retired 5-time Olympic gold medalist, and the historical region of Transylvania, Romania it’s worth exploring for its cuisine.
Romanian recipes are a mix of diverse ingredients and have been heavily influenced by other cuisines. The cultural impact of Hungarian, German, Serbian, Balkan, and Turkish cuisines is clearly visible. Due to these historical and cultural experiences, Romanian food is not only varied, filling, but very delicious indeed.
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Romanian Food to Try When Visiting the Country
As a country, Romania was created in 1859 from the two states of Wallachia and Moldovia. It was only after the 1st World War ended when the states of Banat, Transylvania, Bessarabia, and Bukovina become part of Romania.
So today, what we can call traditional food from Romania is really a blend of the cuisines coming from each of these regions rather than something uniquely “Romanian”. More recently, the region of Moldova ceded from Romania to become an independent country. It has, however, left behind some of her cuisines.
Traditionally, Romanian cuisine includes meat, lots of vegetables, and fruits. With intense and rich flavours, and yet with a familiar taste, we can only describe Romanian dishes as the ultimate comfort food. Whether its appetizers, main dishes or desserts, traditional food from Romania is a heady blend of self-indulgence and exotic flavours.
As you plan to visit Romania, get your taste buds ready for a journey of invigoration, to be satiated to levels not experienced elsewhere in Europe. What foods are we talking about?
Polenta, the Versatile Cornmeal
Polenta generally crops up in most Romanian recipe books. Basically, this comes as a versatile ingredient to some more elaborate dishes or as a hearty side dish. For centuries, this pudding that’s made of cornmeal has remained an essential component of the Romanian cuisine. It can be traced back to the Roman times when soldiers in the field prepared this grain-based porridge as a convenient and easy way of sustaining themselves.
Polenta may be fried, baked or formed into balls and served with some other meal or made into corn cakes. Also known as Mamaliga, this traditional Romanian food is both a regular item on menus in most restaurants and a staple of nearly every Romanian home.
Sarmale – Minced Meat and Cabbage Rolls
If you ask a local about an example of great traditional food from Romania, you are probably going to hear Sarmale. This lip-smacking and finger-licking “national” dish is made up of minced meat (pork, beef or chicken) and a mixture of rice, veggies, and local herbs. These are rolled in young leaves of grape/pickled cabbage to create a uniquely delicate flavour.
Exactly what goes into this Romanian dish? It’s usually pork, although a combination of pork and chicken also does very well. The best-tasting Sarmale has been slow-cooked in the oven using clay pots and covered with some water. For added flavour and sourness, cabbage brine and traditional bacon slices are added.
Ciorbă de Burtă, Yellow-Colored Soup
Ciorbă de burtă is a yellow-coloured, sour, creamy, and garlicky Romanian soup that contains beef tripe strips and red pepper slices. This soup is considered a rare delicacy by many because of the main ingredient, the lining of a cow’s stomach. Similar to many other Romanian foods, the origins of Ciorbă de burtă go back to the Ottoman Empire.
The tripe soup is traditionally seasoned with vinegar and mujdei – a rather spicy garlic sauce made from a mix of oil, salt, and crushed garlic cloves. For the broth, various ingredients are used including carrots, onions, lovage, peppercorns, parsley, celery, bay leaves, and parsnip roots. To enjoy this soup, however, you need to acquire a taste of tripe. Traditionally, Ciorbă de burtă is served piping hot accompanied by spicy green peppers and some sour cream.
Zacuscă – the Rich Vegetable Dip
It’s not just in Romania but vegetable spreads are very popular across the Balkans. In Romania, a popular version of this is Zacuscă, something so unique you cannot find it elsewhere. How is it different? Eggplant and red peppers roasted on a BBQ, then charred skins are removed and blended with other types of vegetables such as carrots or mushrooms.
This is a hugely a very popular Romanian food and your trip here cannot be deemed complete before you try it. It’s found nearly everywhere, from corner stores to supermarkets and even 5-star restaurants.
Drob, the Romanian Easter Meatloaf
Drob is a traditional Romanian dish typically served during the Easter season. This popular holiday dish is made by combining minced lamb offal (kidney, heart, lungs, liver, and spleen) with garlic, dill, and milk-soaked bread. To give it a dash of colour and flavour, a hard-boiled egg is added to the meatloaf.
Yes, some may find the ingredients a bit off-putting, but the use of herbs gives this dish a very pleasant nice flavour. If you want to taste this unique dish, you may want to make friends with a Romanian and get invited for Easter. Why do we say that? Because being a very seasonal dish, you may find it quite hard to get it in a standard local restaurant.
Balmos, the Traditional Shepherd Dish
Balmoș is a 100% Romanian shepherd dish. It will literally blow your mind (or is it taste buds?) once you taste it. This traditional food from Romania is fatty, buttery, silky, and soft like a cream yet heavy and very rich in taste, and yes, loaded with cheese.
How is it prepared? First, sour cream is boiled with butter plus some little salt for several minutes. Corn flour is then added until it is smoothly boiled without lumps. Finally, lots of salty fermented cheese is added. What about eating? It’s best served extra hot, preferably with some butter and sweet cheese topping. If you are looking for the perfect meal for a chilly evening, Balmoș is perfect as it’s not only tasty but comforting.
Ciolan de Porc la Captor, Roasted Pork Knuckles
Love pork? Then Romania has not forgotten you. Roasted pork knuckles, going by the name Ciolan de Porc la Captor, is a delicious dish if you love pork. It’s particularly popular in the Transylvania region, so if your travels take you there, don’t allow the opportunity to pass. We loved how the meat has been infused with cumin, and garlic, and then cooked slowly in the oven. You will enjoy the crisp, delicious dumplings.
How is it best served and eaten? Often, the roasted pork is served with polenta, which mingles nicely with the fat, salty pork. Mustard sauce served on the side together with pickled cabbage nicely cuts through the fatty pork meat to bring out the best taste and flavour.
We better warn you, but on a lighter note! When ordering this delicious Romanian food, bring your appetite along, forget about weight issues and simply indulge yourself! And the best part? The knuckles are served huge – plenty enough to share when you are two.
Pomana Porcului, Honoring the Pig
This is a very old Romanian tradition and as a whole, quite difficult to experience. This is for the brave-hearted, so to speak. Usually done before Christmas in December, the Pomana porcului is in honour of a pig that has been recently slaughtered. The Pomana porcului tradition normally takes place in the crispy, cold air of December, when pigs are slaughtered for Christmas dinner.
Fresh meat cut from a pig recently slaughtered is fried in a deep pan in its own fat. This savoury traditional food from Romania goes down pretty well when served along with authentic pickles. Often, restaurants across Romania have this meal on their menu. Before partaking, inquire whether the pig freshly is slaughtered because it may not have the same savoury taste.
Tochitură Moldovenesca, Thick Pork Stew
This is a thick pork stew that is cooked in a wine or spicy tomato sauce. To top it up, you get a fried egg. If you are the more adventurous type, try the traditional version as it may contain other animal organs. Less adventurous? Then don’t worry as what you are likely to find in most restaurants only contain meat with a base of tomato sauce.
Mititei/Mici – Rolled and Grilled Meat
Both the words Mici & Mititei can be translated to mean “small ones”. Mici literally means a small rolled meat. This Romanian speciality is usually made from a unique mix of pork, lamb, and beef plus spices like thyme, coriander, garlic, and black pepper. You may find some people adding sodium bicarbonate. The mix is grilled and is best when eaten hot with mustard.
This traditional food from Romania has an entertaining story regarding its origin. It is alleged that in the 19th century, during a diner rush, a popular sausage restaurant ran short of sausage casings. Under lots of pressure, a chef is said to have grabbed the sausage stuffing, and without the casing formed it into a tube, grilled and then served the dinner guests. They apparently loved the skinless “little ones” and thus was born Mititei, a new Romanian favourite.
Tocanita de Vita cu Cartofi, Beef Stew with Potatoes
Beef stew with potatoes is one meal you will encounter in nearly every corner of Romania and a staple in any home. This slow-cooked casserole of tender beef is typically made with potatoes, baby carrots, onions, and tomato sauce in red wine. The meat may be chopped/sliced into small pieces or left as a chunk and can be served along with pickled cucumbers.
However, in Romania, you will find that the stew is traditionally served with polenta (Mamaliga), another equally common Romanian side dish, described earlier in this article.
Shoarma, Romania’s Version of Shawarma
Perhaps you have tried Shawarma or Döner Kebab in your own country? Sharwama then is Romania’s version of this delicious meal or snack. In Romania, slices of marinated meat or pork are layered together on a single steel rod. To cook or grill the meat, the rod is installed vertically in front of a grill, and the meat is then grilled rotisserie style.
The meat is shaved off and then served with a sauce (garlic and yoghurt) when tucked into a bun or pita. We can assure you, nothing can beat this juicy meat preparation. Shoarma will leave you wanting more!
Salata ‘de beuf’, Beef Salad
Salata ‘de beuf’ is considered one of the most traditional foods from Romania, particularly for the holidays. Usually served as a starter, you can also take this beef salad as a meal on its own. If you are staying with a family during your Easter or Christmas visit, you are likely to see this on the dinner table.
Ciorbă de Fasole, Romanian Sour Soup
Ciorbă de fasole is a traditional Romanian sour soup that’s made with dry beans and an assortment of vegetables. The vegetables you will find in this soup include celery root, parsley root, onions, and red peppers. If you love seasoned soups, Ciorbă de fasole is typically seasoned with lovage, pepper, bors, thyme, and salt. This Romanian food may be served hot or cold and is best enjoyed with bread.
Cozonac, Traditional Sweet Bread
Cozonac is a traditional bread from Romania, a type of sweet bread usually eaten during festive seasons such as Easter and Christmas. While this bread may visually look similar to any standard loaf of bread, in Romania you will be pleasantly surprised by its taste. It’s actually considered a cake because of the ingredients. Besides the flour, these include sugar, milk, eggs, raisins, nuts, and cocoa.
Although this traditional Romanian bread smells heavenly when fresh out of the oven, the Romanians traditionally only serve it when fully cooled. You can enjoy Cozonac accompanied by a cup of milk, coffee, or tea.
Papanași, Fried Doughnuts with Jam
Rounding up the list of traditional food from Romania is the Papanași, a mouth-watering dish that is certain to leave you craving for more. If you love cheese, you are in for a treat. This speciality from the northern fringes of Romania is basically hot, fried doughnuts that are filled with sweet cream cottage cheese.
The cream doughnut is then topped with sweet and sour cream plus blueberry jam. This mother of all Romanian desserts, the ambrosial Papanași is a must-try, forget about the calories!