When we first arrived in Romania, we didn’t know what to expect. Aside from a little history, some stories from friends, and a sprinkling of Dracula, we went in blind. As for what to eat in Romania, we were absolutely clueless. Thankfully, it wouldn’t take long to find out. Over our two month visit, we tasted as many traditional Romanian food items as we could find. If you’re heading to this fantastic country, we’ve compiled a list of traditional foods in Romania you need to try!
One of the most exciting aspects of travelling to lesser-visited destinations is discovering a new cuisine. Most people have a general understanding of the basics of Italian food for example. And French cuisine, with its sauces and stews, is the foundation of Western cooking as a whole. Even Mexican, Thai and Japanese are fairly commonplace these days. However, it was only on our recent visit to Romania that we discovered its unique and wonderful cuisine.
Soups and Mains
I’ll start with this little side note, simply because it’s used in several of the dishes listed here. Smântână is Romania’s amazing soured cream. But unlike the stuff in your local grocery store, this is often much thicker, creamier and has a far deeper flavour.
As well, smântână is regularly made at home using fresh, unpasteurized milk, which gives it a distinct flavour and a much more nutritional aspect. You won’t feel bad eating it for every meal!
Ciorba de Burta (Tripe Soup)
This might be the quintessential Romanian soup and is absolutely fantastic. Ciorba, in Romania, is essentially any sour soup; one flavoured heavily with lemon or vinegar. Ciorba de Burta, is a sour soup made with tripe — or cow stomach.
Now, don’t let the star of the dish scare you off. Tripe is one of those traditional foods that’s been used by the working class for centuries. And when properly prepared, it has a soft, almost pasta-like, texture, and a subtle flavour.
The tripe is simmered in a delicious, herbed beef broth and cut into thin pieces. Carrots and other vegetables are then added, along with vinegar and a significant quantity of smântână before being served.
Ciorba de Fasole cu Afumatura (Bean Soup with Pork and Tarragon)
Another sour soup, though the acid is much more subdued in this variety. Here, a rich beef or pork broth is filled with white beans, smoked and salted meat (typically bacon or ham, but sometimes chicken is used) and tomatoes. Before serving, cider vinegar and fresh tarragon are added, giving this soup its signature flavour.
Although this is technically a broth-based soup, the beans often thicken the liquid. This gives more of a light stew consistency. It’s perfect for those cold autumn nights in Transylvania. Or as Kylee would want, an everyday soup! The best one we had was at Laci Csarda in Targu Mures.
Sarmale (Cabbage Rolls)
I ate these tasty morsels whenever I had the opportunity. They’re my absolute favourite thing to eat out of all the Romanian cuisine.
In Alberta, where Kylee and I grew up, there’s a fairly significant Ukrainian population. As a result, we’re no stranger to cabbage rolls. That said, the Romanian variety are much different.
First, the meat to rice ratio far outweighs that of the Ukrainian style. In Sarmale, rice is merely a binding agent and meat is clearly the star. As well, the herbs and spices used in the mixture bring a surprising depth of flavour I’ve never encountered previously.
I’ll probably be forever banned from returning home for saying this; but Romanian cabbage rolls are far more superior to Ukrainian.
To try your hand at making these amazing morsels, go to the recipe!
Another delicious sausage are the Pleşcoi variety, produced in the village of the same name. They’re a sheep or mutton-based sausage heavily flavoured with chili and garlic. Unlike their cousins the Mici, Pleşcoi sausages are smoked and dried. Though grilling releases the fatty juices, giving a nice, soft texture.
Again, always served with a ton of mustard.
Mici (or Mititei)
These are another one of those snacks you’ll encounter everywhere in Romania. Mici — Romanian for “small ones” — are case-less sausages made with a mixture of lamb, beef and pork. They’re flavoured heavily with garlic, coriander and a range of other spices.
The curious addition of baking soda to the mixture gives a unique, almost spongy texture to the finished product. Mici are almost always grilled over charcoal or open flame, and are served with a generous splash of tangy mustard.
If you’ve spent any time in the Balkans, Mici are similar to Ćevapi, and just as scrumptious.
Literally translated to beaten beans, this vegetarian bean dip is as simple as it gets. The key to such an uncomplicated dish is using only the highest quality ingredients available.
White beans are boiled, then mashed with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. The warm puree is topped with a mix of caramelized onion and stewed tomatoes.
It’s usually served on its own with bread as a dip, but sometimes as a side dish.
Until visiting Romania, I’ve associated polenta — a cornmeal porridge — as exclusively Italian. These days, polenta and Romania are synonymous to me.
Mamaliga is found across Romania and Moldova. And much like Ciorba de Burta, its found on nearly every menu. This traditional polenta stew is not only delicious, but incredibly rich and heavy. Butter, sheep cheese — traditionally branza de burduf — and eggs are stirred into the steaming polenta.
The result is a sloppy-looking, almost chunky yellow mess. And while that might not be the most appetizing description, trust me: it’s amazing.
It’s usually served with alarge dose ofgarlic-infused smântână.
Lángoș (Fried Dough with Garlic and Cheese)
It seems every country has some version of fried dough. Canada has Beaver tails, Spain has churros. In the Netherlands it’s oliebollen, in Colombia bunuelos. The Indian answer is jalebi, and to the rest of us: doughnuts.
In Romania it’s lángoș. But unlike nearly everywhere else, the fried Romanian pastry takes a savoury turn. Rather than sticky fillings, frosting or a dusting of sugar, lángoș are commonly topped with garlic, butter, dill and cheese, and sometimes also stuffed with onions and ham. A great Romanian street food that is cheap and filling. Our favourite was just outside Cluj, after our hike in Turda Gorge.
Crepes. Thin, quick-cooking pancakes. There isn’t much strange or uncommon here. Clătite are the go-to snack when guests arrive at your home; whether expected or not. During our first visit to Sibiu, our host not only greeted us with clătite, she prepared a fresh batch to send with us on our Transylvania road trip.
Typically clătite, much like crepes elsewhere, are filled with almost anything sweet or savoury. Though during our entire two months in Romania, we only encountered the cottage cheese and dill variety. As one of my favourite Eastern European flavour combinations, this suited me just fine.
Brânză de burduf
This phenomenal cheese is one of the tastiest foods we tried in Romania. Fresh, unpasteurized sheep cheese curds are cut into tiny pieces, salted and mixed by hand. The mix is then stored in one of two very specific containers.
The first is a sheep stomach (burduf), which yields a round, ball-shaped cheese. Alternatively, and almost exclusively in the Transylvanian Carpathians, a cylinder of pine bark is used. Not only does the resulting shape differ, but the flavour as well. As the bark infuses a subtle hint of delicious pine sap.
This soft, salty, somewhat gritty and often strong cheese is the key to a proper mamaliga. Or just enjoy it as is. Many places sell this in markets around Romania, but our favourite was when we were in Bran. There are plenty of cheese and meat stalls just outside of Bran Castle.
Traditional Romanian Desserts
Gălușka cu Prune
I’ve tasted a lot of desserts in my life, but never have I had anything like this. Gălușka cu Prune are plum dumplings. Imagine taking a jelly doughnut and looking back a few centuries at its ancestry. I’m pretty sure you’d find this somewhere along that lineage.
Incredibly sweet, perfectly ripe plums are pitted and filled with cinnamon and sugar, then wrapped in a potato-based, vanlla-scented, gnocchi-like dough (let’s hear it for hyphens!). The rounded balls are then boiled until cooked through and tossed in a cinnamon, sugar and breadcrumb mixture.
Just don’t bite into these too quickly. Much like a freshly microwaved pizza pop, the insides will explode like magma, and it hurts really bad. Our AirBnb host made these for us when we were in Sibiu, read about the experience here.
I mentioned earlier that Romanian doughnuts are savoury. This is half true. Lángoș are a savoury fried dough, papanași are the dessert equivalent. However, papanași is like the eccentric and flamboyant cousin to the modest doughnut.
First of all, the dough is cheese based, giving a rich and considerably denser product. The familiar circular shape is fried along with a smaller ball of the same dough. Next, the doughnut hole is filled and the entire mass drenched in smântână. Blueberry or sour cherry jam comes next. Then the round ball is placed on top, covered with more of the duelling sauces. A final dusting of powdered sugar is added before serving. You need to try this!
Brânzoaica (fried sweet cheese pastry)
Much less complicated than papanași, brânzoaica are another sweet treat found all across Romania. These basic pastries are filled with a sweetened ricotta-like cheese that is flavoured with lemon. And are a great low cost snack to get on the go.
Pălincă is almost a general term for any fruit brandy, and is found across the region. Typically made with plums and often at home — unregulated — this stuff packs a serious punch. Those who make it themselves take great pride in what they produce. As such, they like to show it off.
Don’t be surprised if you’re offered this at any hour of the day, morning or afternoon. It’s also common to have a shot or two of pălincă when arriving at someones home for the first time. You will get to know it as ‘natural’ because this is the only way they described it to us, trying to get us to drink at 10am, we accepted.
Another traditionally homemade beverage is vișinată. The sweet, cherry liquor is produced by fermenting sour cherries and sugar in a jar. After several days, vodka or pălincă is added to stop the process.
The blend is left in a dark cellar for around half a year, only visited to turn the jar occasionally. Once complete, the cherries are strained out and the resulting liquid is a sickly-sweet, though very tasty liquor. Be careful with it though, this is the recipe for a hangover.
Have you tried any of these Traditional Romanian Dishes? Let us know what you thought in the comments!