When you think of Romania, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Dracula, snow, and beautiful remote castles. While many European countries are highly sought after for their cuisine, Romanian food has often slipped under the radar by getting lumped in with other Eastern European countries.
Here’s the problem with that: Romanian food is delicious.
Any traveler or food enthusiast should immediately add Romania to their list of places to visit, and not just for the Romanian castles. The local cuisine is rich in flavor, texture, and history, and is the perfect simple comfort food that you need in colder climates.
What Makes Romanian Food Special?
Romanian food wasn’t created to dazzle the tastebuds; it was designed to fulfill, nourish, and satisfy during cold weather. As such, much of the food in Romania is rich and hearty, and more designed for winter
Traditional Romanian food is a combination of dishes and cooking techniques from neighboring countries like Hungary, Germany, and Turkey. Tarragon, rosemary, and allspice are some of the most used spices, and slow-cooking food over many hours is used to create succulent stews and mouth-watering meat dishes.
Traditionally, food from Romania has a unique flavor profile, balancing tart flavors from ingredients like vinegar and sour cream with rich fatty bases.
Another thing to note about Romanian food – pork is king. Used in everything from soups and salads to traditional meatloaf, pork is a cheap and tasty meat option that has great cultural significance in Romania, and the national dishes reflect that.
Something to keep in mind for fussy eaters; the food of Romania is not particularly vegetarian friendly. There are a few options available in restaurants and cafes; devout orthodox Christians practice a vegan or vegetarian diet on Wednesdays, good Friday, and during various religious holidays throughout the year.
Keep an eye out for pickles and traditional cheese dishes, as these will become your best friend during your time in Romania.
Romanian food is certainly good for refueling yourself when exploring the famous landmarks in Romania.
Savory Traditional Romanian Foods
Food in Romania is distinctive in so many ways and can be difficult to find in other countries. While there are plenty of options from other cultural gastronomies, you should definitely try some of these unique and flavorful traditional Romanian dishes during your visit!
Sarmale (Cabbage Rolls)
Widely considered to be Romania’s national dish, these stuffed cabbage rolls originated in Turkey. They made their way over to Romania during the Ottoman empire. A common Romanian viewpoint is that “Turkey may have invented sarmale, but we perfected sarmale”.
They have a point.
The original recipe for the mince-stuffed cabbage leaves has been modified over time until it resembled the modern-day sarmale. A mixture of rice and minced meat (usually pork or a pork-beef combination) is blended with vegetables, local herbs and spices. It is then rolled in cabbage leaves or grape leaves to create the iconic dish in Romania.
This traditional Romanian food is usually cooked in clay pots, covered with a mixture of water and cabbage brine. Bacon or speck is often added to the pots to infuse the end product with a rich, smoky finish. Served with polenta and sour cream, sarmales are both delicious and hearty. It is the perfect dish to warm you on a cold day.
If you’re looking for the quintessential Romanian dish, look no further than Balmos. This traditional shepherd dish is a tribute to mamaliga, a rich polenta-type food that warms the body and soul. Buttery, cheesy, and creamy, this traditional Romanian food is one that will stick in your mind for years to come.
Balmos is incredibly easy to make, which makes it even more appealing for a hot meal after a long day of exploring. Cornmeal is boiled with butter, salt, and sour cream, and then topped with heaps of traditional fermented cheese. Eat it extra hot with butter and cheese on top for when you need a pick-me-up.
Salata De Vinete (Roasted Eggplant Salad)
One of the most popular appetizers in Romanian food, Salata de Vinete is a quick and easy option for a snack on the go or an entrée for a traditional Christmas dinner.
Similar to a Romanian baba ganoush, this eggplant salad is made by combining soft roasted eggplants with garlic, sunflower oil, and onion and served warm or cold.
Eggplant is traditionally believed to promote health and vitality, so Romanians often eat Salata de Vinete on holidays and special occasions. For best enjoyment, eat this deliciously tangy dip with fresh bread or vegetables for dipping.
While most of the other dishes on this list are traditional foods of Romania, Mititei is probably the closest thing to Romanian street food.
These grilled ground meat rolls are made from a mix of lamb, beef and pork, and heavily seasoned with thyme, black pepper, and garlic. Mititei translates to ‘the small ones’, referring to the size and shape of these delicious sausages.
Mititei is typically cooked by barbecuing, meaning that it’s a quick and easy food for street vendors to prepare and sell to hungry customers.
While the origin of these skinless sausages isn’t certain, one of the more common ideas is that a Bucharesti butcher ran out of sausage casings one winter and had to sell his wares in a state of undress to feed his hungry customers.
Decadent, crunchy, gooey… cașcaval pane is breaded, fried yellow cheese that is everything a good street food should be.
Similar to Haloumi, this semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese is perfect for frying, cooking, and grating. Cașcaval pane can be found at roadside restaurants, street vendors and pubs, and is a quick and delicious snack while you’re on the move.
This traditional Romanian food is typically served with fries, mashed potatoes, or mamaliga, or can be eaten solo for an easy bite.
Ciorbă Radautean (Radauti Soup)
Ciorbă is a collective name for traditional Romanian soup, which can involve many kinds of meat or spices. The romanian dish varies from region to region, but the most popular and well-known variety is Ciorbă Radautean.
Invented in the 1970s in Radauti, ciorbă radautean is an alternative to the traditional Ciorbă made with tripe. This version, made with chicken breast, is lighter in taste and body.
Loaded with sour cream and garlic, this traditional Romanian food has a unique tart flavor that cuts through the palate and makes this an unforgettable culinary experience. Make sure to eat this with plenty of homemade bread and butter.
READ MORE: 30 INTERESTING AND FUN FACTS ABOUT ROMANIA
Sweet Traditional Romanian Foods
That’s plenty of savory dishes, but we definitely cannot forget the Romanian desserts. The traditional foods of Romania does not just involve pork!
All the sweet tooths out are in for a treat. Romania’s sugary treats are plentiful, delicious, and just as satisfying as the savory options.
A typical peasant dish Alivenci is a stereotypical rags-to-riches story of Romanian food.
Alivenci is a kind of sweet polenta that has evolved into a cultural staple across households and restaurants across Romania. The cornmeal base is lashed with generous measures of milk, sour cream, and butter, showered with raisins and vanilla.
Alivenci is thick, heavy and creamy, and undeniably delicious. While it’s not an everyday food due to its rich taste, you’re missing out if you don’t give this delicacy a try.
You can find Alivenci in many restaurants and pubs, but make sure you haven’t had a big meal beforehand.
Julfa With Hemp Mousse
If you can find it, Julfa with hemp mousse is a taste experience that you won’t soon forget. Originating in Moldova, this traditional Romanian food is a typical dish during Christmas celebrations. It is a delicious, earthy dessert that lingers on the tongue
Thin layers of plain dough wafers baked until dry. They are then covered in sweet hemp cream and left to rest for two days before assembling. Traditionally, hemp is used, but the seeds can be difficult to find. Therefore, cheaper walnuts are often used as substitutes
Although the dessert is not difficult to make, it’s time-consuming and visually unappealing. Therefore, it can be difficult to find this Romanian treat in restaurants and pubs.
Julfa is usually prepared in the home for family celebrations, so if you get an invitation to a Romanian dinner, make sure you go!
Papinasi With Sour Cream And Jam
Originating from the north of Romania, this traditional dessert is widely available in restaurants and cafes, and from street-side carts during the winter months.
Papinasi are fried cheese doughnuts served hot with blueberry jam and sour cream, and are enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.
While the combination may sound odd, the sweetness of the blueberry jam works in perfect contrast to the tart sour cream and rich, salty cheese dough. If there’s such a thing as a match made in heaven, Papinasi comes pretty darn close!
Don’t be fooled by their alternate names; Gogosi are known as pancove in Transylvania and pampuște in Bukovina. However, the recipe and flavors of this traditional Romanian snack are almost identical anywhere you go.
Probably the most popular street food on this list, Gogosi are sweet Romanian pastries similar to Western jam donuts. The dough is flattened and deep-fried in oil, then dusted in icing sugar and cinnamon. Popular fillings for Gogosi include chocolate, jam, or cream cheese, and are best eaten warm.
These delicious Romanian treats are light and fluffy. They are super easy to find in bakeries and at street vendors anywhere in the country.
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
If you’re in Romania around Christmas or Easter, make sure you get your hands on Cozonac! While this walnut-filled sweetbread can be found year-round in stores or fairs, Romania really steps it up a notch when it comes to holidays.
Cozonac is a labor of love, with kneading and preparing the dough for baking taking hours and usually multiple bakers; grandparents will often teach their children how to make the traditional dessert during family gatherings, and pass recipes down for generations.
Alternative fillings for Cozonac include poppy seed paste, Turkish delights, or raisins, so there’s something to suit everyone’s tastes!
Bonus Romanian Drink: Tuica
Sometimes known as ‘white lightning’ or ‘white whiskey’, this traditional Romanian spirit is often referred to as Romanian moonshine due to the well-known practice of making home-batches that can’t legally be sold on supermarket shelves.
This colorless plum-based spirit is technically a Brandy and sits with an ABV of between 45-60%. It’s customary to welcome guests with a shot of Tuica, and this potent kick-back is also consumed heartily at festivals, holidays, and sporting events. Tuica is also often served as an aperitif with many traditional Romanian foods.
Enjoying Food In Romania
So if you’re thinking about visiting Romania for the natural beauty and rich history, you can add the local food to your list of reasons to go. Some of these dishes can’t be found anywhere else in the world, and while they might not always suit your tastes, some will be favorites for years to come.
If you’re after some other unique flavors to explore in Europe, try the Balkans for some of the best eateries in the world.