Romanian cuisine is hearty and diverse. There are influences from neighboring Ottoman Turkey, Hungary, Greece, Slavic-speaking countries and even Germany, courtesy of the German colonization of Transylvania in the mid-12th century.
In recent years the dining scene in Romania, particularly in Bucharest has experienced a renaissance with a crop of young internationally trained chefs plating up new interpretations of traditional Romanian flavors. But Romanian foods have yet to receive the attention they deserve. If you’re wondering what to eat, here are 10 best foods to try in Romania:
1. Cabbage rolls (sarmale)
Cabbage rolls or sarmale is Romania’s national dish. It’s cabbage stuffed with rice and usually minced pork or a mixture of minced pork, minced beef, and pieces of smoked bacon. Most of the time, this dish is served with sour cream and polenta (mamaliga), the essential side dish in Romania.
2. Roasted pork knuckle
Roasted pork knuckle doesn’t look fancy when served, but it sure satisfies a hungry meat-lover. Especially popular in Transylvania, you can also find the best roasted pork knuckle in Caru’ cu Bere in Old Town Bucharest. Known as the “soul of Bucharest,” this over 130-year-old restaurant’s original owners were from Transylvania. Their signature dish is roasted pork knuckle beautifully presented with polenta, braised cabbage, pickles, fresh horseradish, and green chili peppers.
Romanian’s cumin and garlic infused roasted pork knuckle is slow-cooked in the oven, making it tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.
You can’t leave Romania without trying papanasi; the donut-shaped dessert made of cottage cheese with sweet cream and berries topping. Not too sweet, this Romanian national dessert is excellent served warm accompanied with two shots of espresso.
When eating in Romania, you don’t want to skimp on sides. They’re just as important as the meat. The most popular sides to try is polenta, locally known as mamaliga.
This yellow and creamy side dish showed up on almost every traditional Romanian food I ordered. The classic polenta is made with coarse yellow cornmeal, butter, water and salt that requires constant stirring for 30 to 40 minutes unlike instant polenta in boxes found in American grocery stores.
Romania grows a lot of corn in the Danube Delta region. It’s a traditional peasant food that was an alternative to mashed potatoes and bread.
5. Beef tripe soup (Ciorba de burta)
If you like sour tasting soup, you’re going to love Romanian’s beef tripe soup. Made of tripe (cow’s stomach), garlic and vinegar, sour cream and beef tripe soup is perfect when you have a hangover. For a complete Romanian traditional meal, have a bowl of ciorba de bruta.
6. Mici (Grilled minced meat sausage)
For something grilled, look for restaurants that serve mici. Mici or grilled minced meat sausage without casings are the same as the Serbian’s cevapcici and Bosnian’s cevapi. It’s also known as mititei in Romania.
Mici is made from a mix of minced pork, beef, and lamb with garlic, coriander, black pepper, and thyme.
Nothing pairs better with beer than a variety of sausages. In Romania, these sausages taste even better accompanied by live music in a restaurant or at a square. Romania’s plescoi sausages are not your ordinary sausage, made from mutton and spiced with garlic and chili peppers. It’s a savory sensation that you shouldn’t miss.
8. Roasted eggplant salad (salada de vinete) with potato bread
Blended with olive oil, lemon juice, and grilled eggplant, the roasted eggplant salad dish is a refreshing dish when you need a break from all the pork dishes and sausages. Or order roasted eggplant salad as an appetizer or when you need a quick snack before that big dinner.
9. Placinta cu branza (cheese pie)
Romanian cheese pie is flat and round, usually filled with soft cheese or spinach, mushrooms or minced meat. You can also find sweet placinta in cafes throughout Romania.
10. Beef stew in tomato sauce (tochitura)
There are many different versions of Romanian tochitura. Some are made with cubed pork or lamb or sausages. Traditionally this dish is served with an over-easy egg and cheese on top and polenta on the side. Some add potatoes, carrots, and peppers.