The Romanian cuisine, though often criticized for disregarding the principles of healthy nutrition, given the extensive use of fat, salt and forcemeat, is, without a shadow of a doubt, simply tasty. The heartiness characteristic of the traditional dishes reflects the hedonistic drive of the Romanian people in relation to their daily bites.
There are plenty of foreign influences which have shaped, in time, the identity of the Romanian cuisine. Thus, the Greeks, the Turks, the Russians, the Bulgarians and the Hungarians have all contributed to the formation of what one might rightfully call today the traditional dishes of Romania. However, in order to sample the genuine tastes and flavors of this strangely vigorous and mouthwatering gastronomy, visitors should definitely head for the regions where, by means of the rural tourism, they can get a delightful insight into the secrets of the Romanian cuisine and of its produces.
On the other hand, in Bucharest there are plenty of eateries where a foreigner’s culinary curiosity can be rewardingly satisfied. On top of the traditional delights one can indulge in trying, tourists, if not in the mood for gastronomic experiments, might just as well confine to the routine of their daily culinary preferences, since the city is replete with restaurants where the international cuisine is duly honored, with an emphasis on the French, Italian, Chinese, Indian and American specialties.
Chiftele (plural of chiftea) are defined as large fried meatballs generously spiced with garlic and traditional herbs (dill, parsley), salt and pepper. They can be eaten as such or marinated in tomato sauce with mashed potatoes or rice as side dish. Most of the time, they are made of pork, but variations refer to beef or chicken meatballs.
Made of a mix of minced pork, beef and lamb, mititei are the favorite grilled rolls of the Romanian people. Tourists can easily notice the popularity of this dish while strolling around in Bucharest, since ranging from low-key eateries, stalls in the open-air markets to the upmarket restaurants of Bucharest, all the eating venues feature mititei on their menus. Mititei are usually eaten generously dipped in mustard and with bread loafs. Briefly put, a simple yet rewarding specialty not to be missed out by tourists with a strong appetite.
Toba is a specialty traditionally prepared during the Christmas holiday season. It is a mix of pig’s organs, pig skin, ears, fat and aspic, wrapped in a pig’s own stomach and then simmered. The product is then left to dry and served with mustard, pickles or in sundry other combinations.
Drob is an Easter dish, best described as lamb haggis but, instead of being simmered, it is cooked in the oven. It contains a mix of pre-boiled lamb organs, onion and herbs, occasionally whole hard-boiled eggs. Sundry vegetable or dips can be used as side dish.
Tochitura is, it too, traditionally prepared for Christmas. It is, perhaps, one of the most outrageous Romanian specialties, at least from the point of view of a faddy nutritionist. It consists of the meat of a freshly slaughtered pig (occasionally, sundry organs can also be added), fried in a pan in the pig’s own fat. It is often eaten with fried eggs, grated telemea (salted cheese), fried sausages and mămăligă. Pickles are strongly recommended.
Sarmale are stuffed cabbage rolls. The filling consists of forcemeat (though vegetarian sarmale are an option too), and instead of cabbage for the rolls, one can always use grapevine leaves or even dock leaves. In order to eat sarmale by the book, tourists are advised to order mămăligă and cream.
The stuffed bell peppers are very similar to sarmale, meaning the filling is approximately the same. The only difference refers to the wrap: instead of cabbage, we speak of bell peppers.
Zacusca is a mix of eggplant, zucchini, onion, tomatoes, mushrooms and bell peppers. It is usually consumed spread on bead loaves, and it is a relief for vegetarians who look for an option into the secrets of the Romanian cuisine. Zacusca can be eaten fresh, right after cooking, or it can be canned and eaten virtually all the year round.
Ciorba is a general term which covers a large range of soups soured with lemon juice, vinegar or, more commonly, borsch (borş in Romanian). Most often, ciorba contains a mix of vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery, peppers) and herbs, and, depending on what kind of ciorba we speak of, it also contains beans, meat (pork, chicken or beef), fish, rice, and the so-called tăieţei (a sort of traditional pasta made of heavy dough). Ciorba de burtă (tripe soup) is, though pretty different in cooking from the general recipe described above, one of the locals’ favorites. It is served with garlic sauce, cream and vinegar.
Răcitura, also called piftie, is, it too, prepared as a rule during the winter holiday season. It can be made of fish, chicken, or beef, but more commonly of pork, and seasoned with vegetables and heavily spiced with garlic. The meat is boiled in water, and the produce is left to jellify while kept at a low temperature.
Saramura is a fish specialty consisting of grilled or fried fish left to marinate in a brine-based sauce. It is precisely the brine which gives the special flavor of this dish. Besides salt and water, the brine is enriched with tomato sauce and seasoned with pepper and aromatic herbs (most commonly thyme and basil). Tourists are advised to eat saramura with mămăligă, since locals too do the same.
Cozonac is a sort of sweet bread made of leavened dough. It is delicately flavored with vanilla or rum, and for some extra thrill, it is enriched with grated lemon or orange peel, raisins, Turkish delight (rahat, in Romanian), cocoa filling and nuts. Traditionally, is it prepared for Christmas and Easter.
Tourists with an inquisitive sweet tooth can always find a relief in tasting a lavish baklava dessert. It’s true this dessert is originated in the Turkish cuisine, but given its popularity to the Romanian people, it can be sampled as a local specialty. Baklava is made of filo pastry filled with nuts and sunken in a rich honey or syrup sauce.
Cooked and eaten only on March the 9th, when the Romanians celebrate the 40 Martyrs holiday, mucenici consist of leavened and cooked (or boiled) sweet dough glazed with honey and nuts. The dessert is shaped such as to resemble to figure 8, which is worth noting.
Romania is a major wine producer and, though not as reputed as the wine regions in France or Italy, for that matter, it does boast of several high quality wines. Either red or white, the Romanian wines can very well accompany a hearty meal at one of the chic restaurants of Bucharest. The so-called Fetească, Tămâioasă and Grasă are the most advisable. However, the best eateries of Bucharest always welcome clients with fine selections of internationally reputed wines.
Ţuica is best defined as a plum brandy traditionally produced in Romania for centuries. It is a liquor largely consumed by the locals who, apparently, have developed a bewildering tolerance to the high alcohol concentration of this beverage. Foreigners, however, are advised to drink in moderation. Regional versions of ţuica refer to palinca (in Transylvania), rachiu, şliboviţă and secărică. Vişinata is yet another alcoholic specialty, made of rachiu, cherries and sugar. The homemade vişinata guarantees the authenticity of the traditional recipe.
Socata is a sweet soft drink made of elderberry inflorescence, water, sugar an yeast. If left too much to ferment, it can develop a significant alcohol concentration, but, all in all, it is a refreshing unique beverage one should not overlook when searching out the hidden corners of the Romanian cuisine.
There are several Romanian beer brands curious tourists can try out, though, as a rule, they do not rise to the popularity of the international brands. Reputed national brands refer to Ursus, Timişoreana, Silva and Bergenbeer, just to list a few. However, while exploring the scene of the local restaurants and bars, visitors should definitely check out the home-brewed beers of the respective venues.
There’s no shortage of eateries in Bucharest. Ranging from low-key eating venues to stylish restaurants, the eating venues in the capital of Romania cater for all sorts of culinary demands. Thus, may it be international specialties or Romanian traditional dishes, the restaurants, bistros, cafes, pizzerias and food stalls in Bucharest are up to satisfying all palates and pockets.
Caru’ cu Bere (in a strained translation, the Beer Cart) is, perhaps, one of the most stylish restaurants in Bucharest. It’s not just the food which recommends Caru’ cu Bere as a top alternative, but its location and the atmosphere it fuels too. Thus, Caru’ cu Bere is located in the historical quarter of the city and it strikes by a beautiful architectural structure and lavish interior decorations. Sundry entertainment programs are conceived on a daily basis, with dances and music performed by professionals.
A consistent part of the menu is dedicated to the Romanian traditional cuisine, thus honoring tourists’ expectation to be given the opportunity to plunge into the most delicious Romanian plates. The home-brewed beer too is also said to be worth trying out.
Poem Restaurant is one of the classiest restaurants of Bucharest. This feature reflects both on the prices and on the mouthwatering dishes served here. Clients should expect nothing but elegance and glamor if decided to dine out in style at Poem Restaurant. The cuisine focuses on Mediterranean, French and Asian specialties, but other international flavors can also be sampled. On request, the skilled chefs of the restaurant are up to the task of cooking specialties outside the featured menu, which is always reassuring for inquisitive dainty feeders.
The restaurant, with all its five stylish areas, is also available for organizing sundry private or corporate events. Reservations are advisable.
La Mandragora is yet another option for people who want to dine out in style. The ambiance, which is nothing but elegant and somewhat glitzy, is the perfect set for sipping on a cocktail or relaxing in the lounge area of La Mandragora. But when it comes to the restaurant proper, clients should expect nothing less but genuine works of art their palate will surely appreciate accordingly. By grace of the German chef who pours his skills and resourcefulness in creating the most exquisite dishes one can think of, La Mandrgora has managed to build a special reputation amongst smart diners of Bucharest.
As it is the case with most upmarket restaurants on Bucharest, making reservations is advisable. Note that the restaurant is closed on Sundays.
Uptown Restaurant is a relatively new presence on the scene of the local eateries in Bucharest. However, it did manage to become highly popular in a very short time, in part due to its location in an area where one can be anything but off the spotlight (in the locally celebrated Dorobanţi area of Bucharest). Both the ambiance and the excellent services turn the venue into an ideal set for business meetings, as well as for romantic dinners.
The cuisine is difficult to label, but Mediterranean and Asian influences and be easily discerned. However, what is certain is no plate is ever short of elegance and finesse, which is, of course, a joy not only for the craving palate, but also for the eye. Reservations are, of course, recommendable.
Bistro Ateneu is not necessarily an upmarket restaurant, and not even the classiest choice one could make. However, Bistro Ateneu remains a recommendable option, since the ambiance features a uniquely picturesque je ne sais qoi. The affectedly lapsed atmosphere is generated by the somewhat outdated interior decorative elements which, at first, might even scare away the unadvised clientele.
However, the menu, featuring dishes of Romanian traditional origin, but also with a slight focus on international specialties, is worth exploring. On top of that, the restaurant is far from being the priciest venue in Bucharest, which is, again, encouraging.