Want to learn about Romanian food? Looking for Romanian recipes? Read Irina Georgescu’s guide.
Irina Georgescu is a food writer who was born in Bucharest and now lives in the UK. Her book, Carpathia: Food From the Heart of Romania, is available now (£22, Frances Lincoln).
The southern reaches of the Carpathian Mountains and the Danube Delta are imposing presences in Romania’s landscape and also in the country’s history. Once within the Ottoman Empire, they mark the intersection of many cultures – notably Slavic to the south and east of the mountains, and the Austro-Hungarian to the north and west – all of which have had an impact on the region’s cuisine. This is why the familiar fragrances of dishes remind visitors that Romanian cooking is part of a collective European heritage.
Eat your way around the country and you will find generous arrangements of small plates for starters, in the Greek or Turkish style, from aubergine and butterbean dips to roast pepper salads, charcuterie and cheeses. Then there are the tangy broths, bors. Maize grows well in the climate, so polenta dominates traditional menus, from breakfast dishes to desserts, while pork is the meat of choice, enjoyed in myriad ways, from simple slanina (lardo) to hearty pork stews served with dumplings and sauerkraut in the German and Hungarian style.
Soured cream is ubiquitous, used not only as a topping to polenta, broths and stews but also as an ingredient in pastries and cakes. Apples, apricots, quince and plums are eaten fresh, or cold-smoked to be added to savoury casseroles, while caraway, paprika, garlic, winter savory and lovage are commonly used. It is in baking and cake-making that the country’s kitchens really excel, though. Here, old Byzantium’s baklavas, cataifs and filo pastries coexist happily with the layered desserts of Vienna and Budapest.
Eating out in Romania isn’t just about food. It is fashionable to enjoy traditional music played by performers in regional costumes alongside a meal at a restaurant – an immersive experience that gives the visitor a taste of the country’s true identity.
Romanian recipe: Oven-baked pearl barley pilaf with chicken and mushrooms
What to eat in Romania
Meaning ‘littles’ these meaty, garlicky, juicy, melt-in-the-mouth meat rolls are a Romanian street-food staple.
The magnificent Hungarian layered cake, made with luscious chocolate ganache and caramel, is perennially popular in Romanian patisseries.
This cheesecake, encased in a rich, braided brioche bread, is made only at Easter.
Made from fermented wheat, cornmeal and herbs, this tangy ingredient is added to meat or vegetable broths for its sweet and sour flavour.
Delicious laced with red onion and fennel seeds, this is always served with a side dish of chargrilled pepper salad drizzled with garlic vinaigrette.
Find recipes for the above dishes in Irena’s cookbook, Carpathia: Food From the Heart of Romania (£22, Frances Lincoln). Photographs by Jamie Orlando Smith