When you think about Romanian food, you might not know what to expect. Like other eastern European nations, it has some amazing cuisine. These are 8 foods you must try in Romania…’
Varza a la Cluj
Varza (cabbage) a la Cluj is a dish made famous in Romania’s second city of Cluj-Napoca. It’s a traditional Romanian food and, although it may not sound that appetising, it’s surprisingly tasty. A mixture of beef and pork mince, cabbage, onions, rice, and passata is layered and baked in the oven to produce something that looks like lasagne but doesn’t have the artery-clogging cheesiness of the Italian classic. It doesn’t sound good but it’s SO good.
You can find Varza all over Cluj and many other parts of Romania and it’s a really filling main course. I had my Varza at the beautiful Zama Bistro in Old Town Cluj and would highly recommend it. The average cost of food in Romania is very cheap (compared to UK prices), so eating out is reasonable.
Zacusca is another traditional Romanian food, often eaten as a starter with thick slabs of white bread. It comes in several different variations and the best way I can describe it is by saying it’s a kind of savory dip. The most popular flavours are pepper and eggplant and pepper and mushroom. The former is pureed and has a really smooth, buttery taste. The latter is not pureed, so the mushrooms still have plenty of texture. They’re both fantastic and I’d happily have eaten them as a main meal.
Transylvanian Veal Gulyas
This is a rich, slow-cooked veal dish that reminded me of goulash. It was served with roasted potatoes and parsley and was deliciously moreish. I was pretty hesitant about the veal to start with, but it was beautifully cooked. It’s often served with bread so you can soak up the sauce once you’ve run out of potatoes.
Boiled Dumplings with Jam
So, stick with me here. This dessert was my first foray into the odd world of traditional Romanian puddings. These dumplings are filled with sweet cottage cheese and sour cream before being boiled. When cooled, they’re rolled in breadcrumbs and what I *think* may have been sugar. The dumplings are then served with a side of jam.
I have to admit that I found the whole thing more than a little bizarre and initially hated it. Without the jam, the dumplings really aren’t that tasty, but with it, they seem to completely change flavour. It’s an odd thing but, trust me. Just dunk them in jam and the sweetness seems to complement the sourness of the dumpling filling perfectly.
It’s kinda hard to describe this without making it sound absolutely rank, so bear with me. Floating Island is egg white, which is boiled to make it fluffy. It’s then placed in a bowl with a sauce of boiled egg yolk, vanilla flavouring, and milk. Sounds awful, right?
Well, it’s actually quite pleasant. Les described it as ‘soggy meringues’ which kinda put me off a little. It has a really foamy texture but the vanilla in the sauce helps make it pretty palatable. We had it in a traditional Romanian Bistro and watched as bowl after bowl of Floating Islands were marched out of the kitchen. Suffice to say it’s obviously pretty popular with the locals.
Palanet (savoury bread)
Romanians love their bread and pastries. When you’re wandering the streets, you’ll never be too far from a traditional Romanian bakery. We tried a few variations of palanet and enjoyed them all. They’re served warm and often have filling inside. My preference was for cheese and onion, while Les was a fan of the sweet cottage cheese version. Neither of us was brave enough to try the cabbage palanet. I’m not entirely sure I’m even sorry about that. I often wonder if I seriously missed out.
Sarmale are cabbage rolls, which are widely considered to be the traditional national dish of Romania. As my national dish is haggis, I’m not really qualified to be judging other people’s choice of foodstuffs. I’m absolutely certain the Romanian staple can at least be classified as actual food, so that gives them an advantage straight away. Haggis is amazing, but slightly on the dodgy side, provenance-wise. Aaaaanyway, Romanian cabbage rolls are stuffed with spiced pork and rice and eaten as a main meal. Romanians have an uncanny knack for making cabbage taste, well…un-cabbage like, so it doesn’t actually feel like that’s what you’re eating. It’s a very odd skill; like some sort of Romanian witch-craft.
Covrigi are large, soft pretzels sold in bakeries across Romania. There are kiosks and stores entirely dedicated to them. They come in a variety of flavour combinations; both sweet and savoury. They’re an extremely popular Romanian street food and you’ll pass people constantly munching them from paper bags as you wander the streets. They’re inexpensive and really tasty, which makes them the perfect food to grab as a quick lunch when you’re in between activities. Some kiosks have them ready-made with toppings on, while others have them plainly baked and allow you to choose your own. Get the lemon. Always get the lemon.
Have you tried any amazing food in Romania that isn’t on the list?