Vampires. Nadia Comaneci. Nicolae Ceausescu. These are the words that I use when I’m describing the country I’m residing in, especially if the person that I’m talking to raises an eyebrow upon hearing, Romania.
Still in recovery from their communist past, the capital city of Bucharest is a great background setting for A Tale of Two Cities’ opening sentence – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. There are parts of the city that have become modern, even along the lines of futuristic, artsy or for the hipsters. But at the same time, what I like the most is that they were able to preserve the old European charm with their majestic mansions, palaces, and of course, the communist residential buildings.
It took me a while to learn the basics of their language, but my first Romanian words were the names of the food. Everybody was surprised at how I came to like their cuisine because I came from the Southeast Asian background of spicy, fried, and heavily garnished food.
So when in Bucharest, after having your dose of urban exploration, make sure to try any, if not all, of these Romanian foods!
When they told me that this is their cure for hangovers, I immediately got drunk to see if it works. And lo and behold, it actually didn’t work for me. But hey, it tasted so good I actually forgot I was drunk.
This soup is also known as tripe soup, with tripe as the main ingredient. This dish is not just local to Romania, as other European countries have their own versions of it. But what makes Romania’s ciorba extra special is the bors base. This is what makes the soup sour as it is made of fermented wheat bran. Other ingredients that you’ll find in ciorba are eggs, vegetables, meat, flour, sour cream, and pepper.
Mamaliga is a simple porridge made of corn flour. What makes mamaliga extra special is the unlimited side dishes that can possibly come with it. Sometimes I think that mamaliga is this part of the world’s version of the Asian’s plain white rice. And why not? Romanians have it with cheese, fried egg and sour cream or sometimes they serve it with pickled cabbage and pork fat. Choose your own dish to go with mamaliga and make it a Romanian culinary adventure.
Honoring the Romanian national sport of beer drinking and barbecuing, mici is in the center of it all. Usually, the main meat that they grill for their barbecue parties, it is composed of pork, beef, and mutton. The best way to eat this is dipping it in mustard with pickles on the side.
Hanul lui Manuc
When I first saw sarmale, I thought to myself, “This looks so much like vegetarian spring rolls.” And why wouldn’t I? It’s a kind of roll wrapped with cabbage. You can find rice, different kinds of meat and herbs inside the cabbage roll. Sarmale is boiled to perfection and served mostly during special occasions like Easter, Christmas, or birthday parties. And to be completely honest, you can’t find a great tasting sarmale in restaurants. You have to, and I mean this, you have to taste it in a countryside home served by a Romanian mom. Every Romanian claims that their mom makes the best sarmale, so why not try a home cooked one?
No list is complete without desert. And the best and the only Romanian desert worth tasting is papanasi. It’s a pastry that has jam and cheese inside topped with sour cream. And yes, it does look like two perfectly round boobs staring back at you. So dig in!