The most important tip I can give you on Romania local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Romania, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Romania
Romanian food is distinct yet familiar to most people, being a mixture of Oriental, Austrian and French flavours, but it has some unique elements.
The local dishes are the delicious sarmale, mamaliga (polenta), bulz (traditional roasted polenta, filled with at least two kinds of cheeses, bacon and sour cream), friptura (steak), salata boef (finely chopped cooked veggies and meat salad, usually topped with mayo and decorated with tomatoes and parsley), zacusca (a yummy, rich salsa-like dip produced in the fall) as well as tocana (a kind of stew), tochitura (an assortment of fried meats, and traditional sausages, in a special sauce, served with polenta and fried eggs), mici (a kind of spicy sausage, but only the meat, without the casings, always cooked on a barbecue).
Other dishes include a burger bun with a slice of ham, a slice of cheese and a layer of French fries, ciorba de burta (white sour tripe soup), ciorba taraneasca (a red sour soup, akin to bors without the beet root and using instead fermented wheat bran, with lots of vegetables), Dobrogean or Bulgarian salads (a mix of onions, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, white sauce and ham), onion salad – diced onion served in a dish, tomato salad – diced tomato with cheese, pig skin – boiled and sometimes in stew, and drob (haggies) – a casserole made from lamb or pork liver and kidneys.
Local eclectic dishes include cow tongue, sheep brain (Easter), caviar, chicken and pork liver, pickled green tomatoes and pickled watermelon. Traditional desserts include pasca (a chocolate or cheese pie produced only after Easter), saratele (salty sticks), pandispan (literally means spanish bread; a cake filled with sour cherries), and cozonac (a special cake bread baked for Christmas or Easter).
Bread (without butter) comes with almost every meal and dill is quite common as a flavoring. Garlic is omnipresent, both raw, and in special sauces (mujdei is the traditional sauce, made of garlic, olive oil and spices), as are onions.
Generally, there is good street food, including covrigi (hot pretzels), lango?i (hot dough filled with cheese), gogo?i (donut-like dough, coated with fine sugar), mici (spicy meat patties in the shape of sausages), and excellent pastries (many with names such as merdenele, dobrogene, poale-n brau, ardelenesti), thin pancakes filled with anything from chocolate and jam to bananas and ice cream. Very popular are kebab and shawarma (?aorma), served in many small shops.
Most restaurants in Romania, especially in more regional areas, only serve Romanian food, even though it is similar to Western European food. Especially in Bucharest, there is a wide variety of international food, especially merranean, Chinese or French.
There are also fairly plentiful international fast food chains. The interesting truth about these is that they are just nominally cheaper than restaurants, with the quality of the food being of an international standard but quite much lower than that served in restaurants. Therefore, my advice is to go for the restaurants when you can – they provide a much more authentic and quality experience at prices that aren’t too much higher. Vegetarian and vegan travelers can easily find a tasty dish suitable for them if they ask for mancare de post (food suitable for religious fasting).
Because Romanians are in their large majority Eastern Orthodox Christians, fasting involves removing of all the animal products from their meals (meat, dairy products or eggs). Even though Lent seasons only cover a small part of the year, you can find fasting food throughout the year. However, note that most of the Romanians are unaccustomed with vegetarianism or veganism; still, you can find fasting food “mancare de post” all year round since most of the Romanians fast also outside Lent, on Wednesdays and Fridays, as part of their orthodox faith.
What to Drink in Romania
Wine: Romania has a long tradition of making wine (more than 2000 years of wine-making are recorded), in fact Romania is the 12th (2005) world producer of wine, the best wineries being Murfatlar, Cotnari, Dragasani, Bohotin, Bucium, etc. Its quality is very good and the price is reasonably cheap: expect to pay 10-30 RON for a bottle of Romanian wine (about 3 – 8.5).
Several people in touristic areas make their own wine and sell it directly. Anywhere you want to buy it, it is sold only in bottles of about 75 cl. Some wineries sell bulk wine in proper recipients according to the amount you want to buy and the price is lower calculated per liter. Many of the monasteries produce and sell their own wine. Most of the individuals wine makers, and monasteries will allow you to taste it first, but some may not.
Beer: Like all the countries with a strong Latin background, Romania has a long and diffused tradition of brewing beer, but nowadays beer is very widespread (even more so than wine) and rather cheap compared to other countries. Avoid beers in plastic PET containers, and go for beers in glass bottles or cans. Most of the international brands are brewed in Romania under a license, so they taste quite different than in Western Europe. Some beers made under licence are still good – Heineken, Tuborg, Peroni.
You can easily realize whether a beer has been brewed in Romania or abroad and then imported simply looking at the price: imported beers are much more expensive than the Romanian ones (A Corona, for example, may be 12 RON while a Timisoreana, Ursus or Bergenbier of a full 1/2 litre size will be 2-3 RON. Some of the common lagers you may find around are quite tasteless, but there are some good brewers. Ursus produces two tasteful beers, its lager is quite good and its dark beer (bere neagra), Ursus Black, is a strong fruity sweet beer, similar to a dark Czech beer.
Silva produces bitter beers, both its Silva original pils and its Silva dark leave a bitter aftertaste in your mouth. Bergenbier and Timisoreana are quite good. All the other lager beers you may find, such as Gambrinus, Bucegi or Postavaru are tasteless (in some consumer’s opinion). Ciuc is a very decent and affordable pilsner, now owned by Heineken. Expect to pay around 2-3 RON (0.6-0.8) for a bottle of beer in the supermarket and double in a pub.
Spirits: The strongest alcohol is palinca, with roughly 60 percent pure alcohol and is traditional to Transylvania, the next is ?uica (a type of brandy made from plums – the more quality, traditional version – but also apricots, wine-making leftovers, or basically anything else – an urban legend even claims you can brew a certain kind of winter jackets (pufoaic?) to ?uic?), but this is sooner a proof of Romanian humour. Strength of tuica is approximately 40-50 percent. The best ?uic? is made from plums, and is traditional to the Pitesti area.
Strong alcohol is quite cheap, with a bottle of vodka starting off between 10 RON and 50 RON. A Transylvanian speciality is the 75 percent sour cherry palinca (palinc? întoars? de cire?e negre better known as vi?inat?) – but is usually kept by locals for celebrations, and may be hard to find.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.