Based on our experience of Romanian food and drink during our trip, Giles and I agreed on a couple of resolutions. On day 10, we agreed that we were not going to eat pork for at least a couple of weeks. Before that, on day 5, we agreed we would never again drink Palinca (plum brandy) in our lifetime. The pork one went out the window the very next day, but I’m decidedly more confident that the other one will be stuck to. More on that shortly…
Eating out in Romania over the past couple of weeks has led to the observations that, somewhat unsurprisingly, the less tourists the much better the food, but the better the food, the more unfriendly the service. This may be a little generalised, but I’m not talking about a lack of a smile – you need to go to quite some lengths to ensure your existence is even recognised in some places we have been to. But when the food has been good, we tend to forgive this.
Before coming here, I had the assumption that Romanian cuisine was going to be similar to neighbouring countries in Central Eastern Europe – ie. a lot of pork. We definitely have had a lot of pork, but there is a lot more going on. Lots of grilled meats. Lots of polenta. Lots (and I mean lots) of soup. Lots of baked stuff.
Based on everything we tried during our trip, here is our top five favourite in Romanian cuisine:
5. Tochitora (aka Peasant’s Stew)
Pork belly, pork shoulder, pork sausage served in a rich paprika spiked sauce, served with a tower of polenta, which is then topped with a soft fried egg and then lots of grated cheese.
4. Mici (skinless grilled sausages)
These are like little grilled meatballs made of a mix of pork, veal, spices. Usually served with a lot of mustard and fresh bread.
3. Samale (pork stuffed cabbage leaves)
Every Romanian restaurant seemed to have its own version of these, but frankly the quality was extremely varied (the burnt ones in Bucharest being the roughest dinners I’ve had in a while). When done well they were really good. Usually served with polenta, sour cream and a side of pork belly (just in case you fancied a bit more pork…).
Soups sounds a little boring? Not in Romania – everyone seems to have soup for lunch and for dinner, and there is everything from sour soup and tripe soup, to soup served in a loaf of bread and dumpling soup. In fact, we visited a couple of places where people were actually ordering soup as their night-time takeaway with the restaurant giving them a little bucket of goodness to take home.
By quite a distance this was the best thing about Romanian cuisine that we tried. Freshly fried little doughnut balls smothered in sour cream and then topped with sharp and sweet hot berries. Someone should open a papanasi shop back home…
So moving onto Palinca (aka plum brandy, aka loopy juice). We’ve had a couple of experiences of palinca in our travels, like in Hungary. But in Romania, they seem to like their palinca just a little more stronger. Whether or not they were trying to mess up a couple of unsuspecting tourists by convincing us having a pre-dinner shot is the “Romanian way” I’m not sure, but one shot and one beer later, our planned evening out in Brasov ended unusually prematurely as the loopy juice took effect. I can honestly say we won’t we drinking that stuff again, ever.