Romanian food: how to cook like a local
From cheese-filled dumplings to layered celebration pies, savour Romania’s sweet and savoury bakes with the help of Irina Georgescu's guide
Want to learn about Romanian food? Looking for Romanian recipes? Read Irina Georgescu's guide below, then check out our olive podcast where Irina takes us through the 10 things you need to know about Romania. For more cook like a local guides, read our guides to Sardinia, Greece, Crete and Oman.
One of the things that Romanians do well is baking. The repertoire is hugely diverse, from recipes considered to be quintessentially Romanian to those fiercely ethnic, all influenced by centuries of Habsburg and Ottoman rule, and by culinary fashions from France and Italy.
Traditional baking relies on local and seasonal ingredients such as fresh fruit, curd cheese, jams, honey, walnuts, poppy seeds, wheat and cornmeal. The thriving commercial routes of the past spanning between the Middle East, Black Sea, River Danube and Western Europe added their own foreign ingredients. In previous centuries, cinnamon, ginger, saffron, pistachios, almonds, chocolate and sugar used to be a measure of prestige in urban households. These constant culinary and cultural exchanges have created an edible mosaic of glorious pies, cakes and desserts.
Baking in Romania starts with pies called plăcinte, of which two are the most popular: cu mere, with apples, and cu brânză, with curd cheese. They are baked in rectangular trays, with two layers of dough sandwiching the filling while the sides remain open. Others are round, folded, griddled or fried, drizzled with honey or dusted with icing sugar. It’s a whole way of baking and eating a pie: they are served as a snack, cold, already sliced, and piled up on a plate in the middle of the table. They are also a street-food staple – people eat them on their way home while waiting for the bus to arrive or for lunch between errands. The realm of baking continues with strudels, filled with cherries or pumpkin, and syrupy baclavas and cataifs. Other beloved homemade desserts are plum dumplings, poppy seed noodles, vanilla doughnuts, fruit fritters and pearl barley puddings. Celebrations come with prăjituri, rectangular layered cakes, topped with chocolate glaze, and with torturi, round layered cakes, usually covered in a luscious buttercream. Baking in Romania is rich in influences, flavours and traditions that reflect centuries of diversity.
Extracted from Irina Georgescu's book, Tava (£27, Hardie Grant).
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This pie is traditionally made on Christmas Eve in Moldovia. It's made of layers of flatbread soaked in a honey syrup and spread with a pumpkin seed filling.
These Romanian soft cheese dumplings, coated in toasted breadcrumbs mixed with cinnamon, are best served with bilberry jam – but strawberry or blackcurrant work wonderfully too.
These blistered, honey-drizzled flatbread pies are traditionally stuffed with Romanian brânză de vaci, but they work just as well with set cottage cheese.
Find more Romanian recipes below
Extracted from Irina Georgescu's book, Carpathia: Food From the Heart of Romania (£22, Frances Lincoln).
Often made with basmati rice, this easy, filling meal is one of the most popular weeknight dinners in Romania.
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