Romanian cuisine is a near perfect reflection of the country’s agrarian roots and twisted history.
Dishes borrow heavily from neighboring and occasionally occupying cultures – Turkish, Hungarian, Germanic and Slavic. The results are starters and main courses with a familiar homemade quality, built around staples such as pork, chicken, fish and lamb, but made special through the addition of organic vegetables, fruits and spices.
Romanian meals traditionally begin with a sour soup, called ciorba. The sourness derives from vinegar, lemon or fermented bran extract added during preparation. You might want to try ciorba de burta, tripe soup made from cow’s innards and flavoured with garlic. Other popular varieties include vegetable soup, beef soup, smoked pork sour soup. Soups are often served with a hot red or green pepper on the side.
There are a couple of salads which can be served either as appetizers or mains. The most common are:
Zacusca, a very popular vegetable spread made of roasted eggplant and red peppers, sautéed onions, mushrooms, tomato paste. Bay leaves are added as spice. Traditionally, a family will cook a large quantity of it after the fall harvest and preserve it through canning. Zacusca can be eaten as a relish or spread, typically on bread. It is said to improve in taste after some months of maturing.
Salata de vinete is a mashed eggplant salad made of grilled, peeled and finely chopped eggplants, sunflower oil and chopped onions. The eggplants are grilled until they are covered with black ash crust. The crust is cleaned off and the remaining cooked eggplant is mashed with a blunt, thick wooden cleaver (knife) on a wooden platter (popular belief has it that using a metal knife will turn the eggplant flesh black). Crushed garlic and ground pepper may be added too.
Salată de boeuf is a traditional Romanian dish, generally served during all festive and special occasions. It is a combination of finely chopped beef or chicken and root vegetables, folded in mayonnaise and finished with pickled vegetable garnishes. It can be made vegetarian, too.
For mains, you can expect big portions of delicious food, always presented wonderfully.
We will start with Romania’s national dish sarmale. These are pickled cabbage rolls, stuffed with spiced pork mincemeat and rice.
Mamaliga is a staple side dish in Romania that often replaces bread or other grains and starches. Classic Romanian polenta is served with warm milk or sour cream, and often benefits from shredded telemea, feta or other cheese on top. Sometimes mamaliga is served with a sunnyside-up egg on top. But mamaliga most often is served as a side dish with stews or sarmale.
Mititei or mici is a traditional Romanian dish of grilled ground meat rolls made from a mixture of beef, pork (sometimes lamb) and spices like garlic, black pepper, thyme, savory and sometimes a touch of paprika. It is best served accompanied by French fries, mustard and pickles. A cold beer is a must for this very popular dish.
Fasole cu carnati is a very popular Romanian dish, consisting of baked beans and sausages. A variation replaces the sausages with smoked meat. Also a traditional Army dish, fasole cu carnati is prepared by Army cooks and served freely to the crowds during the National Day celebrations on 1st of December.
Stews made with different chicken and pork in addition to various vegetables are very popular in Romania.
Tochitura is a traditional Romanian pork stew that contains not only raw meat, but parts of internal organs of the animal, like liver, kidneys, heart, bacon and smoked sausages fried together. It is served with mamaliga and salty sheep cheese called telemea or sheep cheese kept in bellows, called branza de burduf.
Ostropel is a typical Romanian stew that is primarily made from chicken mixed with a thick tomato sauce. Additionally, garlic or spring onions can be added to the dish. Rabbit, lamb or other types of meat are also sometimes used and, alternatively, vegetarian versions can be made during fasting periods.
Ciulama is a dish that can be mainly found in Romanian and Moldovan cuisine but its origins are found in Turkish cuisine. It is prepared from meat (especially poultry) or mushrooms in white sauce. The sauce is made from flour with fried onions. Often it is served with mamaliga.
When it comes to desserts, there is a wide range of crepes with various fillings and toppings. One national treasure is papanasi, fried dough, sweetened curd cheese, jam and sour cream on top.
A very important time of year for Romanian cuisine is Christmas. On December 20th (Ignat’s Day) a pig is traditionally sacrificed by every rural family. A variety of specialities are prepared at this time which are served during Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations or are smoked and served as appetizers all year round. Amongst these: carnati – sausages which may be smoked or dry-cured, caltabos – an emulsified sausage based on liver with consistency from pate to coarse, sangerete – black pudding – an emulsified sausage obtained from a mixture of pig’s blood with fat and meat, breadcrumbs or other grains, and spices, toba – based on pig’s feet, ears and meat from the head suspended in aspic and stuffed in pig’s stomach.
Romanians love to entertain and almost any celebration would include a spread of salami, sausages and cheeses. The most famous are salam de Sibiu (Sibiu salami) – a Romanian deli made with pork’s meat, pork’s fat, salt and condiments; carnati de Plescoi (Plescoi sausages) – a Romanian sausage made from mutton spiced with chili peppers and garlic traditionally made in and around the Plescoi village, in the Buzau County of Romania; pastrama (pastrami) – a popular delicatessen meat traditionally made from lamb, pork or mutton. Pastrami was originally created as a way to preserve meat before modern refrigeration. For pastrami, the raw meat is brined, partly dried, seasoned with various herbs and spices, then smoked and steamed, slaninuta afumata (smoked bacon).
Romanian wine has a tradition of over three millennia, the country being currently the world’s ninth largest wine producer. Romania produces a wide selection of domestic varieties (Feteasca, Grasa, Tamaioasa and Busuioaca), as well as varieties from across the world (Italian Riesling, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabrnet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Muscat Ottonel).
Fetească Albă – Semi-dry white wine, well balanced, with a distinct aroma reminiscient of the first flowering of the vineyard.
Tămâioasă Romanească – A naturally sweet or semi-sweet white wine with subtle honey and basil aromas, an exquisite amber colour and a persistent rich taste. Its sweet taste may also suggest a blend of rose petals and wild berries.
Grasă de Cotnari – A naturally sweet white wine with a delicate fragrance and a smooth interplay of fruitiness and acidity.
Galbenă de Odobeşti – A light white wine with a delicate bouquet that preserves the fragrance of the mellow grape.
Fetească Neagră – Semi-sweet, medium bodied, light red wine, with original aromas.
Băbească Neagră – Traditional full bodied red wine with a delicate bouquet and a slight taste of clove.
Beer is also highly regarded, generally blonde pilsener beer, made with German influences. There are also Romanian breweries with a long tradition.
Romania is the world’s second largest plum producer (after the United States) and as much as 75% of Romania’s plum production is processed into the famous tuica and palinca, two types of strong brandy obtained through one or more distillation steps.
Wild Game Meat
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What Are the Health Benefits of Wild Game?
Wild game meats have health benefits when compared to meats from domesticated or farm-raised animals. Examples of wild game include venison, bison, rabbit and elk. The fact that wild game animals eat their natural diet and are very active in the wild contributes to the lower fat content of the meat. Additionally, eating greens in the wild contributes to a lower content of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and a higher content of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, wild game meat is a good source of protein and minerals such as iron and zinc.
Low Fat Content
Wild game meats tend to have a lower fat content, as animals tend to be more active in the wild. Additionally, wild game eat a natural diet as opposed to grain or corn, which is often fed to domesticated animals, contributing to an increased fat content of non-game meat.
Lower Omega-6 Fatty Acids
The feeding of corn and grain to farm animals not only increases the total fat content but also the omega-6 fatty acid content. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, omega-6 fatty acids increase markers of inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is associated with health conditions including obesity, diabetes, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Wild animals eat more grass, green leaves and plants than their domesticated counterparts, which leads to leaner meat with lower omega-6 fatty acid content.
Higher Omega-3 Fatty Acids
According to the “Encyclopedia of Healing Foods,” wild game meat, such as venison, has a higher omega-3 fatty acids content as compared to corn- or grain-fed beef. Grass-fed beef or bison has similar increased omega-3 fatty acid content.
Wild game meats are good sources of lean protein. For example, a 3-oz. serving of venison provides 22 g of protein, while a 3-oz. serving of bison has 24 g of protein.
Iron and Zinc Benefits
Similar to meat from animals raised on a farm, wild game meats are good sources of the minerals iron and zinc. Iron is necessary to prevent iron-deficiency anemia. Menstruating women have an increased risk for iron deficiency. Zinc functions as an antioxidant and is important for immune system function and digestion.