'Pork is the Best Vegetable'
Culinary Adventures in Romania
Photo : Wikimedia Commons
It would be very difficult for anyone travelling to different country and culture to not find oneself immersed in traditional foods. What I have learnt from my brief time spent living in Brasov is that Romania offers some incredible foods that anybody in the world would enjoy (providing you don’t miss your vegetables too much), and even only arriving in the country last week, I have experienced an abundance of exposure to these foods. Like many other cultures, food and cuisine is a massive part of Romanian culture and also part of what makes Romania such an extraordinary country.
As the title of this article would suggest, meat is a very big part of Romanian cuisine. After my initial few days living in Brasov I was introduced to the phrase ‘pork is the best vegetable’, which confirmed my expectations of traditional Romanian cuisine being based around meat and potatoes. I was however proven slightly wrong.
My first exposure to traditional Romanian cuisine was introduced to me moments after entering my accommodation and meeting my host family. Being quite a fussy eater I was a little bit apprehensive about venturing out of my eating comfort zone. What was plated up to me was however a very pleasant surprise: Ardei Umpluti (stuffed peppers). The ingredients (to serve 3 or more) include: 1.5 pounds of ground meat (combine lean and pork), 3 tablespoons of rice, 2 onions, 6-8 medium red or orange peppers, 1 teaspoon finely chopped dill, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 4 cups of water, salt, ground black pepper, 3-4 tablespoons tomato paste and sour cream. Although quite a simple dish, it is a very popular dish in Romania, and I have been able to eat it quite regularly to which I would have no complaints, as it has quickly turned into one of my favourite Romanian dishes.
During the first week of my journalism internship I attended a traditional Romanian cuisine cooking workshop where I was able to sample supa de pui cu galuste de gris, chicken soup with semolina dumplings (and vegetables). Romanian meals traditionally begin with a soup and this particular one comprised of: 2 litres of chicken stock, a carrot, an onion, a piece of parsnip, parsley, salt and pepper; for the dumplings: 2 eggs, 3 tablespoons of oil, 6 tablespoons of semolina, and a pinch of salt. Watching the soup being prepared I found it very refreshing how no parts of the ingredients went to waste, for example, the whole chicken and remaining meat (which was stripped from the carcass) were all incorporated. The soup was cooked long and slow to develop the taste and richness, and it was definitely worth the wait. The soft, fluffy egg and semolina dumplings, rich chicken flavour and tasty vegetables complemented one another, making it a very refreshing and tasty dish.
My most recent exposure to traditional Romanian cuisine, and most probably my favourite meal, was Moussaka. Although mostly associated with Greek cuisine, historically, Moussaka was found in mostly all countries that were part or influenced by the Ottoman Empire. Even though Romania was never part of this all-encompassing empire, there are many ottoman influences in Romanian traditional cuisine. There are many versions of Moussaka but the ingredients for the dish I ate included: 2 pounds of potatoes, 1 onion, 1 can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz), salt, pepper, chili pepper, thyme and cooking oil. For the British reader, the dish is not too far away from of a Shepherd’s/Cottage pie. This dish was abundant with a variety of flavours; getting the kick from the chili pepper, fragrance from the thyme and sweetness from the tomatoes. My flatmate and I enjoyed the dish so much so that when our host plated it up to us we had three portions each. Fully recommend.
I believe that Romanian cuisine is a good reflection of the country’s agrarian and multi-cultural social and political history, as dishes have been borrowed from neighbouring (and occasionally occupying) cultures, for example Turkish, Hungarian, Germanic and Slavic. Despite all this, the cuisine maintains its own distinct character.
In summary, Romanian cuisine (similar to British) is relatively simple food, but usually made from healthy, local produce (arguably unlike British cuisine). Due to the organic nature of Romanian cuisine, the E numbers and preservatives prominent in foods back home were temporarily removed from my diet. In addition, having a relatively small appetitive, after most dinners my host had prepared for me I had to have a short lie down which I can only see as being a positive.