What is up, everyone out there? Welcome to the first installation of many on Mastication Monologues that is a retro series of food adventures I undertook throughout Europe while living in Barcelona. I know there are many stereotypical dishes to try throughout Europe like fish and chips in England, baguettes and pate in France, or tons of different tapas in Spain to name a few. Believe me, I’ve tried them, and they all were delicious. Instead, I’d like to highlight more unique plates and snacks that you might have never even heard of and might want to try or maybe not. Today’s post brings us to the farthest eastern point of my wanderings: Romania.
Romania is an anomaly in Eastern Europe. Not only do they speak a language that falls into the Romance category alongside French, Italian, and Spanish while being surrounded by Slavic neighbors, but their most famous celebrity is the infamous prince of the night, Dracula. I went there in December with my friends Kevin, Steph, Jesus, and Jillian, and it was probably the best trip I ever took during my time abroad.
My travel companions, the wild environs including wild dogs in the airport, and just the general randomness that seems to be more prevalent in Eastern Europe made it a journey to remember. The food was a mix of Slavic and Latin flavors with a leaning more toward the former, and one meal that really stood out to me was something called mămăligă.
Since it was the beginning of December, it was quite chilly, so we didn’t spend a lot of time sitting in parks and enjoying the local flora and fauna in Bucharest. We quickly found a folk restaurant and appreciated the warm room and comfortable places to sit. It looked like a more upscale place based on the spotless floors and walls, but it also seemed more traditional in its decor. While many restaurants in America may give you a free bread basket or tortilla chips with salsa on the side, this place supplied us with a complimentary plate of assorted pickled vegetables along with a free shot of vodka. I’m sure the pickled cucumbers and spicy peppers were used to chase the strong spirit, and the alcohol warmed us up quite quickly. We looked over the menu, and I couldn’t really decide what to get. The staff didn’t speak much English, but I saw there were terrible English translations under the Romanian items. One caught my eye called balmoş (sometimes spelled balmuş). It just said it was made of mămăligă, butter, cheese, sour cream, and eggs. The waiter seemed happy with my choice, and it really piqued my attention once it came out. it was served in a small bowl. It looked like a yellow and white porridge with bits of sausage on top. After doing some research afterward, the yellow was the mămăligă or a porridge made of yellow corn. It is normally boiled with water and can serve as a substitute for bread, but for this balmoş it was boiled in sheep milk. Along with that fun tidbit, I found out that this dish is a specialty with Romanian shepherds. So, I grabbed a spoon and dug into the bowl to find layers of sour cream, telemea (a type of feta cheese), caş (a type of fresh curdled ewe cheese), urdă (a type of curdled cheese). Thank God for Wikipedia to explain all of those cheeses to me. The cheeses were strong and pungent yet softened by the sour cream and porridge. It wasn’t a huge bowl, but it really stuck to my ribs for the rest of the day/night. I could tell that the Romanian shepherds perfected this recipe for long, lonely stretches in the wild. However, I was surrounded by friends and having the time of my life in Romania.
So if you want perhaps a Romanian vegan take on chili or are in Bucharest and looking for a fading piece of the past, try the mămăligă!