Who else can suggest the best traditional Romanian dishes to try out than the locals? If you plan to visit Romania any time soon, you might want to know what can you eat during your visit.
That’s why I asked the locals which are the best traditional Romanian dishes you must try when visiting the country.
Romanian cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighbours. The best traditional Romanian dishes consist mainly of pork meat and local vegetables (cabbage, aubergine, onion, potatoes etc.) and have Turkish, Greek, Hungarian, Ukrainian and Balkan influences.
Interesting to know! Romanians are so fond of their pork meat that one of their favourite sayings is: pork meat is the best vegetable.
Romanians also love soups (ciorba). You will notice this as every restaurant serves ciorba as a starter. Nevertheless, if you are not a fan of soups, you can skip them because the portions for main courses served in restaurants are big enough.
A traditional 3-meal course will consist of a starter (usually soup or spread served with homemade bread), a main course (meat & vegetables) and a dessert (apple pie, pancakes and papanasi- Romanian doughnuts served with sour cream and local jam).
Romanians also consume alcohol when having large meals. Their go-to options are fruit-based liqueur (tuica, rachiu, palinca) and wine. Beer is also popular, as well as coffee and to a certain extent, fizzy drinks and tea.
As you try some of the best traditional Romanian dishes, you might want to know that these foods are not consumed daily.
As you will find out in this blog post, most traditional Romanian dishes are heavy, so Romanians consume them on special occasions such as Christmas, Easter, birthdays, weddings and even funerals etc.
On a regular day, Romanians will eat either vegetarian options of these dishes (I have mentioned them below) or seasonal vegetables and fruits.
Most Romanians are lucky to have vegetable gardens and grow their food. Romanians also have a strong tradition of preserving and preparing vegetables and fruits for winter. Most Romanian women prepare vegetable spreads (zacusca), Romanian bouillion, jams and compotes which are then consumed over the winter months. Other people even make home-made sausages and cheese.
It is safe to say that Romanians love eating traditional Romanian dishes as much as Italians and French enjoy their traditional cuisine.
Now that I provided a short introspection into Romanian cuisine and Romanians’ eating habits, let’s discover together which are the best traditional Romanian dishes.
The dishes have been separated into 3 main categories: starters, main dishes and desserts.
Traditional Romanian Starters
It is common to eat starters in Romania. The most common starters are ciorba (the Romanian soup), zacusca, iahnie de fasole (commonly translated into English as vegetable spreads) and pork fat accompanied by onion, homemade bread and alcohol.
Pork fat might not sound appealing. Actually, it is a delicious starter usually consmued by Romanians during the cold months of winter. The pork fat is smoked and prepared with spices and contains a small amount of pork meat as well. It is delicious if consumed with onion, bread, some salt and a shot of Romanian liquer-tipycally tuica, as you can see in the picture below.
The traditional Romanian soup (aka ciorba)
Some of the most popular Romanian soups are meatball soup, tripe soup, chicken soup, lamb soup, pork soup and fish soup.
Vegetable soup, beans soup and spinach soup are some of the vegetarian soups you can eat in Romania.
Romania is the perfect place to be if you are a soup fan.
Romanians love soups and can prepare a soup out of anything. As a fan of soup myself (since I am Romanian too, I am biased this time and confirm that Romanian soups taste incredibly good).
As you might have noticed, traditional Romanian soups are mostly meat-based. However, the spreads are usually vegetarian (except for the fish roe salad). Therefore, if you are vegetarian, you are better off trying some Romanian spreads instead of soup.
Romanian cuisine offers a great variety when it comes to main courses. Depending on the region, you have local dishes which are not common elsewhere in the country. Nevertheless, there are a few dishes you can find anywhere in Romania, and this is what I will focus on next.
Traditional Romanian Main courses
The main course is predominantly composed of meat and a selection of vegetables. Although some of the best Romanian traditional dishes are meat-based, there are vegetarian options too.
Cabbage rolls and polenta
Although Romanians love eating bread, they also enjoy polenta which they can have with meat, cheese, fish and a few other foods.
The dish Romanians consume the most on Christmas and Easter is Cabbage rolls and Polenta (Sarmale cu mamaliga).
Cabbage rolls are made of pork meat, onion, rice and spices. The mix is then rolled in a pickled cabbage leaf and cooked for several hours.
Sarmale is usually served with polenta (a porridge-like mass made of cornflower) and sour cream.
*Interesting fact. The cornflower used to make mamaliga (polenta) is called malai. Essentially, it’s cornflower, just thicker. If you want to make Romanian polenta yourself, make sure you buy malai and not regular cornflower because you won’t get the same result.
Make sure you do not mix up Romanian malai (or mălai in Romanian) with Indian malai. They mean 2 different things.
While Romanian malai is cornflower, Indian malai is clotted cream.
Polenta is also consumed with fish, traditional Romanian cheese and sour cream.
Skinless sausage (Mici/Mititei)
Another typical dish is mici or mititei. Mici are hard to translate into another language, so we will call them skinless sausages.
As I briefly mentioned above, mici are thicker, skinless sausages that Romanians simply adore. There is no barbeque gathering in Romania without mici. Romanians usually have them with mustard and bread.
Mici are also commonly served at local fairs. Romanians enjoy them in winter as well as in summer.
Interesting fact: In the past century, mici were commonly referred to as the poor’s food because the meat used for the sausages was of poor quality.
Nowadays, the old recipe has been refined and contains good-quality minced meat and spices. And everyone, whether poor or better off, enjoys them the same.
Beuf salad is the Romanian version of the Russian salad. It’s made with plenty of vegetables like carrots, gherkins, bell peppers, peas, parsnips, chicken meat and homemade mayo.
Some Romanians make the vegetarian version of the salad, which does not include chicken meat.
Like most traditional Romanian dishes, beuf salad is consumed around Christmas and Easter. Some people have the salad on its own. Others have it with meat.
Some Romanians would serve beuf salad as a starter. It’s a flexible dish which is why it is so popular.
Romanians are big fans of stews.
The most popular stews are potato, tomato, and vegetables based stews.
Stews almost always contain some type of meat. The most popular type of meats in Romania are pork, beef, lamb, and chicken, but also turkey and fish.
Romanians do not consume horse meat. It is illegal in Romania to have a horse butchered for human consummation.
Local seafood and fish are consumed in larger quantities in the Black sea and the Danube regions.
Interesting to know: Most meat-based stews and the main dishes listed above are adapted during lent and become excellent vegetarian dishes.
The meat in sarmale is replaced with soya, the beuf salad is made without chicken and the stews are made without any meat. There is no vegetarian version for mici though, but pretty much everything else has a vegetarian version.
Unfortunately, the vegetarian versions of these dishes are not served in restaurants. Or if they are, they are quite hard to find.
Most of the vegetarian adaptations of Romanian dishes are cooked by Romanian women, so make sure you befriend a local to increase your chances of having more vegetarian Romanian food while visiting the country.
Traditional Romanian Deserts
Romanians have a sweet tooth. And this gets reflected in the traditional cuisine.
Having dessert after a meal is almost a must in Romania. It is as important as having soup at lunch (another habit Romanians follow religiously).
Funny fact: Children growing up in Romania are told they need to finish their soup first so they can have dessert after.
With such a great appetite for deserts, let’s find out which are the best traditional Romanian desserts.
Sweet Bread (Cozonac)
The name translation of cozonac into English is unfortunate because this Romanian dessert is so much more than just some sweet bread.
Indeed, the dough is similar to regular bread dough, but the mix used to stuff the bread makes all the difference.
Romanian women spend hours preparing this dessert. Preparing the dough so that it has the right size and texture takes hours. Women give special attention to room temperature as this can influence how big the cozonac will grow.
Cozonac is one of the top favourite foods Romanians indulge in on special occasions like Christmas and Easter.
As you can see in the picture below, cozonac looks like a big, fluffy bread. However, inside, the dough is stuffed with crushed walnuts, cocoa powder, Turkish delights and raisins.
There are more modern variants of cozonac, and some of them even include orange peel. However, when in Romania, make sure you try the traditional cozonac as it has the best authentic taste.
Traditional Romanian doughnuts (Papanasi)
Almost every cuisine has doughnuts, and Romanian cuisine is no exception to this rule.
Yet, the Romanian doughnuts are different as they are served with home make jam and sour cream.
They really taste good, so I invite you to try them out while in Romania.
Papanasi is one of the most popular and loved desserts in Romania. Almost every Romanian would have ordered papanasi when dining out. Because they are so popular, papanasi are served in every Romanian restaurant, so it is easy to try them while in the country.
Traditional Romanian pies (apple pie, cheese pie)
Romania is a pie-loving nation.
The most popular ones are the apple pie and the cheese pie.
Perhaps not exactly the most traditional Romanian dessert, Romanian pies are delicious and worth trying out if you have the chance. Try to have homemade pie if you can. I can assure you they are much tastier than the ones you can purchase in the supermarket.
Romanian pancakes are similar in size to French crepes, although they tend to be thicker.
Romanians were not used to American pancakes before, although, in recent years, more and more people now prefer smaller and fluffier pancakes.
Usually, Romanian pancakes are served with homemade jam, but also Nutella and even sweet cheese.
Pancakes are very popular, and you can easily enjoy them at Christmas markets, but also in restaurants.
Out of the varieties available, the most traditional ones are Pancakes with plum jam and sweet cheese. I recommend trying either of the 2 options as they are equally good.
One cannot deny that Romanians have a sweet tooth. And this gets reflected in the variety of desserts available. What I have listed above is just a summary of the most loved Romanian desserts.
However, the list is much longer and includes cakes, pastries and regional pies etc.
Before ordering dessert, make sure you’ve asked if the restaurant has any regional desserts they can recommend, as some regions have deserts you won’t find easily in other parts of the country.
The best traditional Romanian snacks
There are snack brands Romanians have known for generations now.
These brands are so embedded into the local culture that people still consume them today at the same rate their parents did years ago.
To get a flavour of the local culture and understand Romanians’ eating habits make sure you try at least one of the items listed below:
Pufuleti (Corn based snack. It’s salty, but light)
Eugenia (Romanian biscuit. The original version is filled with cocoa, although nowadays the brand launched other flavour variants too)
Pufarine (Romanian cereals people actually eat without milk)
Rom chocolate (If you fancy trying some local chocolate, go for this one. The rum flavour gives it a special taste).
Where to eat the best Traditional Romanian dishes?
To eat the best traditional Romanian dishes, make sure you go to a traditional Romanian restaurant. There are plenty of them all over the country, however you want to make sure you choose the best ones. Some places I ate at and recommend are:
–Hanul lui Manuc (Bucharest)
–Caru cu Bere (Bucharest)
–Popasul Craiului (Brasov)
–Coliba Haiducilor (Brasov)
–Stâna Turistică Sergiana (Brasov)
Note that some of these restaurants are in Bucharest and some in Brasov. As they are popular, make sure you make a reservation beforehand as they can ran out of tables quite quickly (as I recently experienced).
Romanian cuisine is tasty and has a good variety of dishes.
The only inconvenience is that traditional Romanian dishes are mostly meat-based, so vegetarians and vegans might struggle.
Nevertheless, during lent, Romanians do not consume meat, eggs, milk and cheese, so there is quite a large variety of vegetarian/vegan dishes within Romanian cuisine too.
The issue is that restaurants rarely serve these dishes. Only if you end up staying with a local, you might get to try these dishes.
The foods I presented in this blog post are some of the best traditional Romanian dishes according to locals. Hopefully, those who read this blog post will be able to try some of them next time they visit Romania.