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When we went to Romania for Easter, I wanted to try as many local specialities as I could.
Romania is obsessed with pork, so majority of dishes on my list are pork-based. One of our guides made a joke : “What is the best vegetable in Romania?” I was trying to guess suggesting “Tomato, aubergine, peppers” and his answer was pork! This is a good summary of Romanian cuisine.
I want to share 11 dishes that I loved and recommend that you try in Romania.
1. Zakuska, for example salata de vinete
Zakuska includes a variety of different spreads and vegetable mixes. You cant go wrong with any of them if you like vegetables. My favourite was the one with smoked aubergine, where it is mashed and sometimes mixed with other vegetables like tomato or pepper. It goes great with bread to get your appetite going.
As I mentioned before, pork is the queen of the Romanian table. You can be sure that on any menu you will find roast pork, grilled pork, pork ribs or pork knuckle. We tried pork ribs and grilled neck, and they were both great. Romanian chefs know what they are doing when it comes to meat.
This is a pie stuffed with a variety of fillings: can be sweet or savoury. The dish origins are actually coming from Moldova, because it is used to be part of Romania at some point.
We tried a sweet version with cherrries. Our placinta was heavily dusted with icing sugar on top. Initially, I thought that the pie will be too much too handle after a full meal, but it was so tasty it disappeared within minutes.
You will find these cheese pies all over the place. Small , individual pie stuffed with cheese and it makes a perfect lunchtime snack.
In Romania bakeries are very popular and they produce all sorts of baked goods. The most popular are pretzels with seeds or cheese, called “covrigi”. You can also get pizzas, puff pastries with cheese (“merdenele”), apple or cherry jams. The cheesy varieties can be either savoury or sweet . When we were travelling by train, we often grabbed a few pastries instead of lunch.
Pork sausages without the casing, which are grilled and served with either potatoes or bread and mustard. This dish was one of my favourites, as mici were extremely moist and full of flavour. It is such a basic dish, but when meat is so perfectly grilled, it is hard to beat.
6. Bean stew and sausage
This dish has many European brothers and sisters, whether it is sausage and mash in the UK, any sort of wursts in Germany or fennel sausages in Italy.
Great comfort food for cold months, where sausages are either fried or grilled and then served with a side of beans with vegetables or tomato paste.
These are stuffed cabbage leaves with pork. The rolls are steamed, boiled or baked in the oven. This dish is also well known in Russia or Ukraine, so I was happy to try Romanian version of sarmale.
This was my favourite dessert in Romania. Sweet cheese doughnuts, which are deep fried and then served with local jams and sour cream.
It is best if these are made to order so you do not miss out on the freshness, as in some places this dish is only reheated or fried again, and the quality suffers. Portions are normally big, so I suggest you split between the two.
One of the most popular crops in Romania is corn, so it is no surprise that corn products make it to the Romanian table. Mamaliga is made out of corn flour and it is a very popular side dish for any main course.
Bulz is mamaliga cooked with butter, milk and cheese and then baked in the oven. Our version also had a home made sausage sitting on top of it.
10. Meat stew with mamaliga
Meat stew can include various cuts of meat or sausages, there are also vegetables and it is all combined with tomato sauce. Nothing complicated, but somehow comforting and filling.
11. Fried pork fat
This is one of the most popular snacks and goes fantastically well with soup. Quite big pieces of pork fat , sometimes with plenty of meat attached, are fried and served cold, normally with raw onions which cut through the grease.
We were given a portion in one of the restaurants and I could not finish it. I took the leftovers away and then finished them as a snack later. If you like pork fat, this dish is a must try, other people might find it a bit heavy.
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If you are visiting Bucharest and want to learn about traditional culture in Romania, I recommend going to “Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum. The museum has a great collection of buildings, lovingly restored and rebuilt on site from all over Romania, with a time span of nearly 300 years.
The museum is easily reachable from the city centre, as we hopped on the metro until Aviatorilor station. From there it was about 15-20 mins walk through the park or on the main road to reach one of the museum entrances.
The place is very big, so half a day would only be enough to go through some parts of the museum. If you want to see everything, you probably need to dedicate a whole day to it. Once it gets warmer , the museum puts a whole host of activities for children and adults. You would be able to experience traditional Romanian culture through performances , arts and crafts.
I have visited museum with my daughter and we loved our day out. The sun was shining, it was warm and we were able to combine a lovely day outside with learning about Romanian culture and traditions. Some of the houses were closed, but we were still able to peek through the windows or look at the displays.
The displays are very detailed. it is possible to see what rooms look like inside and there is also plenty of explanations on who would have lived in such a house and what they would do for a living. All displays are in English, which made exploring a breeze.
The rooms that we managed to see, made us think that people in the past did not have even half of the things that we have now. And they still managed to get by.
Old interiors and traditional way of life were certainly a great reminder of enjoying simpler things in life. I was also fascinated by village churches, which were decorated and painted by local craftsmen and unknown artists. Even though there were no grandeur or gold leaf decorations, which so often makes us go “wow” in well-known places of worship, there was still a lot to appreciate and admire.
The museum collection includes houses, windmills, churches, tools, and farming equipment. There is a lot to see, but if you need a break there is a restaurant inside one of the original houses, a small playground and a terrace. Alternatively, you can bring your own picnic, as there are plenty of benches and seating places.
There is also a great shop where you can buy traditional Romanian souvenirs or materials about the museum. I bought a guidebook about the museum to remind me of all the houses that I have seen.
The visit to the museum feels like a mini trip to Romanian countryside, however you do not need to to travel far. We absolutely loved our visit, as the place was tranquil and we could not believe we were in the middle of busy Bucharest.
If you have time and the weather is nice, do try and visit “Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum, as it offers a great opportunity to step back in time and learn more about Romania’s past.
Disclaimer: Our visit was hosted by the museum, but all opinions are my own.
Second part of our trip to Romania was based around the town of Sinaia. This winter I wanted to introduce my daughter to skiing. The location of Sinaia is great, as it is only 1.5 hours on the train from Bucharest and the town itself has a few sites, if you don’t want to go skiing every day.
One of the days we planned to go to the city of Brasov, which can be combined with a visit to Bran Castle as it is not very far. Our tour was organised by Visit Transilvania Travel and Nicu helpfully showed us the sights.
Visit Transilvania Travel organises a variety of tours , you can choose from a day option or an extended tour over a few days. They are conveniently located in the centre of Brasov, if you are staying in the area or everything can be arranged in advance via email.
Our day started from a short drive to Bran Castle and an extensive introduction to Romanian history from Nicu. Nicu, being an excellent story teller himself, also leads a course for local guides, passing on his wisdom and knowledge acquired over the years. He has been taking tours all over Romania for many years together with his colleagues from Visit Transilvania Travel . There is no risk that you will end up with a guide, who only brings you to places. Then you book your trip with Visit Transilvania Travel, you will be exposed to a lot of knowledge from a guide , who knows Romanian history as the back of their hand.
I enjoyed learning all about the history of Romania, starting with tribes, feaudal fights and about Vlad the Impaler himself. Nicu was very clear that there was no connection between the fictional character of Dracula and the Bran Castle. In fact, writer Bram Stoker, who invented Dracula as a character, have never even been to Romania in his lifetime. Yet thematic development of the exhibition related to torture devices and a fictional character of Dracula in the Bran Castle, over the years has created the industry around the castle, which now feeds the tourist trade.
My advice is to come to the castle as early as possible, that way you would be able to avoid the crowds. We came there around 10am and it was not very busy yet, but I imagine that in the summer months earlier arrival would be even better. Bran castle is open from 9am.
Inside the castle you will have an opportunity to see some interior rooms, but they are not particularly interesting. The main drawing point is a variety of torture devices used in throughout the human history. Some of the devices have very graphic pictures next to them, showing how the device was used. I felt slightly horrified at the whole range of things used to torture people. It is quite frightening what a human mind is capable of.
I loved the galleries circling the castle on upper floors as we had brilliant views of the surrounding countryside as well as a bird’s eye view of the inner courtyard.
Nicu also shared with us that Bran Castle was used as a summer residence for the Royal Family of Romania and Queen Marie used to spend considerable amount of time here. She asked for her heart to be buried in Bulgaria, but it was later brought to a church, which had a similar design to the church in Bulgaria, where the heart was originally located. Consequently, the heart was brough to National History Museum in Bucharest and found its final resting place at Pelisor Castle, near the town of Sinaia. You can still see the small church from one of the terraces in the Bran Castle.
Kids would love exploring the hidden staircase, small alleyways and stairs in the castle. Around the castle grounds there is plenty of room for running or walking and there is a lovely lake with a cafe in the summer months.
Our next stop was a charming town of Brasov, where we first had traditional lunch. This was our free time and Nicu recommended a great local place with lots of Romanian dishes to try.
After lunch we met up with Nicu again and he took us on a walking tour around Brasov. We saw Black Church, it is currently being cleaned and quickly becoming very white. The name came after the church burned in the 17th centtury and as the walls were covered with soot, the people of Brasov started calling it Black Church , so the name has remained. Inside the church we loved hearing about German community, the order that people would be seated in the church and how the church was built.
We walked to the main square, went to the narrowest street in Europe and listened to silence in some cute courtyards. As with all touristy places, do not hesitate to step off the main squares and main streets. You will find quieter streets, with small cafes, no queues and lots of space and quirky places to explore for yourself.
On the way back to Sinaia we stopped off and saw the local goodies. There was plenty of fruit syrups, honey, jams and home made cheese. Nicu was translating and we happily chatted about different things that a local lady was selling and how they can be used. We even had a little taste of the pine syrup, which apparently is great for the throat and general immunity.
The time has come for us to say goodbye to Nicu. We had a wonderful day, exploring Romanian history and two iconic places. I would not hesitate to recommend Visit Transilvania Travel. If you are planning to go to Romania, have a look at their website, as there is so much inspiration in the types of tours that they offer. When I asked Nicu what was his favourite area in Romania, he suggested Painted Monasteries. I think this will be where I will be heading next.
Disclaimer: We were hosted by Visit Transilvania Travel, but all opinions are my own.
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