Coming to Romania is a must for any travel enthusiast and food lover because there is such a richness in terms of traditional cuisine, that your senses will be absolutely spoiled with amazing and intense flavors. Romanian cuisine is not fancy like the French one for example, nor is too spicy or very complicated but yet, interesting and inviting, in short, comfort food at its peak!
Pork is the most loved “vegetable” but, also, Romania excels at soups and salads. The intriguing fact about Romanian foods is that when tasting it seems familiar, but at the same, time different. This is because the traditional cuisine is actually a mix of dishes and cooking techniques borrowed from neighboring cultures – Hungarian, German, Turkish and Slavic but all transformed and Romanised with local herbs and spices so it is a perfect reflection of both the country’s past and its agrarian and shepherd roots.
In the following, we have selected for you ten Romanian foods that you should definitely try on your next visit to Romania. They all have been tested and tasted and they reached our hungry hearts.
Considered to be the national food, these stuffed cabbage rolls have actually Turkish origins but, the Romanians claim that theirs are the best and they are probably right. The initial recipe was strongly transformed over time until it reached what it is considered to be now the perfect stuffing, a balanced mixture of rice and minced meat (usually pork or pork combined with beef) and other vegetables and local herbs, rolled in cabbage leaves (best using pickled cabbage) or young grape leaves for a delicate flavour. The tastiest cabbage rolls are those slowly cooked in clay pots in the oven, covered with little water, some cabbage brine for sourness and some slices of traditional bacon for a tasty smoky touch. Traditionally served with mamaliga (often translated as polenta, this is a corn flour mush replacing bread in many traditional dishes) and sour cream, the Romanian sarmale are not only delicious but very creamy, consistent and fully satisfying.
Here’s a great recipe for sarmale that you can try at home.
2. Ciorbă Rădăuțeană
Ciorba refers to a type of traditional soup which comes in many different ways depending on the ingredients used, but the one called radauteana is among the most appreciated in Romania. Invented in the late ’70s in the city of Radauti, this dish is actually an alternative to another traditional soup – the tripe soup, which was considered to be too heavy and many people didn’t enjoy the particular flavor of the tripe. So instead of tripe, ciorba radauteana is using chicken breast. To keep it simple, this dish has plenty of sour cream and garlic in it and for the specific sour taste, vinegar is u It’s a delicious soup, not too fatty and not too heavy but a whole meal in itself. Best served with homemade bread!
100% Romanian, balmoș is a traditional shepherd dish, a true tribute to the famous mamaliga, which will blow your mind when tasting it. It’s fatty, it’s buttery and sticky, with tons of cheese in it, it’s soft and silky like a cream but heavy and rich in taste. And it’s incredibly easy to make it if you have the right ingredients! Sour cream is boiled with butter and a bit of salt for a couple of minutes. Then, the corn flour is added until it is properly boiled with no lumps in it and, finally, plenty of salty traditional fermented cheese is added. Served extra hot, with some butter and sweet cheese on top, balmoș is the perfect dish for cold winter nights when all you want is something truly tasty and comforting.
Enjoy this tasty dish following this awesome balmos recipe.
4. Smoked bacon and greaves
This is a traditional Romanian appetizer made, of course, from pork. The traditional bacon named in Romania slanina is, actually, smoked salty pig fat flavored with garlic, pepper, paprika and other spices and it’s a dish usually prepared by all Romanian families for the winter time. The frying crunchy version is called jumari, meaning greaves, and, along with slanina accompanied with raw onions, homemade bread and a shot of tuica (traditional plum brandy) as digestive, they represent the perfect starters for an authentic Romanian meal. Definitely, a must try!
Also known as mititei, are the most popular Romanian grill and they are so loved that, there is absolutely no Romanian who can imagine a proper barbecue without them. These caseless sausages made of different combinations of ground meat, black pepper, and other spices are grilled until they darken a little and become moist and soft. They are served simply with mustard and bread. You can find mici in restaurants, in fast foods, in street food shops or you just can buy the mixture from any grocery store, fresh or frozen, ready to be grilled or fried whenever you feel like it. Simple, meaty and savory!
Cighiri are something similar to huge meatballs but the recipe includes besides ground pork and the meat of some organs, especially liver, heart, and lungs which are combined with onions, eggs, bay leafs, garlic and plenty of salt and pepper. All this mixture is then wrapped in hog stomach and fried. They are absolutely delicious, perfect for a hot quick snack. Served with any garnish you desire, some pickles and red wine these cighiri have high chances to become one of your next favorite comfort foods.
There is nothing like the famous tochitura and there is no exaggeration in telling that this is the ultimate Romanian dish as it combines the best foods that Romania has to offer: mamaliga, traditional salty fermented cheese, fried eggs, fried pork and traditional sausages and pickles. It’s the perfect combination of tastes and textures. It’s Romania on a plate!
Time for some dessert! This desert took birth in rural poor areas basically out of nothing! First, it was something similar to a sweet polenta but nowadays, alivenci are a true delight. It’s the perfect combination of milk, sour cream and butter with corn and wheat flour, raisins, and vanilla, served with fresh yogurt and some caster sugar. It’s a bit heavy but definitely worth trying!
9. Julfă with hemp mousse
This traditional dish is the kind of desert that your grandma would make, but unfortunately it is rather hard to find in restaurant menus, mainly because it’s not very good looking, is time-consuming to make and hemp seeds are nowadays quite expensive. But if you ever have the occasion to taste it, just do it and you will not regret it. The desert itself is not very complicated, using plain dough made of wheat flour and water cooked in thin layers (approximately ten or more) in the oven until dry and stiff. After cooling, each layer is covered with sweet hemp cream and let to rest for at least two days for all the moisture of the cream to be absorbed. Some ladies prepare julfa with walnut mousse, as walnuts are cheaper and easier to find. The result is delicious as well but, nothing compares to the earthy flavor of the hemp.
10. Papanași with sour cream and jam
A traditional dessert originating from the north part of the country but popular among all Romanians, being available in almost every restaurant. Papanasi are a kind of fried cheese doughnuts best served hot, with sweet and sour cream, and preferably, blueberry jam. Maybe it doesn’t sound too appetizing but the taste and the gummy texture combined with the blueberries’ sourness is absolutely divine!
And because everybody loves them, here’s a papanasi recipe so you can try them at home.
So, here they are, ten amazing traditional Romanian foods that once tried will definitely make your Romanian experience unforgettable!