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Little Bucharest: All the Meat That’s Fit to Eat!

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Romania.  A linguistic anomaly in Eastern Europe along with mostly being known for gypsies and the Prince of the Night, Dracula.  However, a trip to Romania back when I was studying in Spain left me with a different impression of the nation.  It was a bit off the beaten path in terms of the tourist trails of Europe, but it had plenty of character, friendly people, and great food.  So, when my girlfriend said that she had a Groupon for a Romanian eatery in Chicago called Little Bucharest, I was more than excited.

It was a cold and rainy night, similar to the weather I experienced while traveling between Bucharest and Sighisoara, so I was having a serious case of deja vu minus the feral dogs running around in the street and the airport.  It had a charming exterior with a patio that obviously wasn’t being used that night along with a fountain.  IMG_4589IMG_4570IMG_4569Upon setting foot in the establishment, we were warmly welcomed by the staff and led quickly to a table.  IMG_4571The cheerful music and clean interior put me at ease since other Eastern European restaurants are a bit more rustic in terms of their setup.  To drink, Janice got a sweet red Romanian wine, and I got a beer from Timisoara.  It seems the alcohol content was a bit much for her along with its sugary aftertaste, but it was still enjoyable.  As for my beer, it was a light lager that could be comparable to Heineken.IMG_4574  We also destroyed a basket of fresh baked bread that wasn’t warm, but they said they baked it in the morning.  IMG_4573This definitely showed in the overall quality of the sliced loaf.  It was chewy but slightly crispy on the outside while the inside was fluffy and white.  We demolished it so fast that the owner came over to say that our healthy appetites for his bread were quite the compliment.  For our appetizer, we got an order of the Mititei ($10).  These little sausages were served with a side of salad, fried polenta, and mustard.IMG_4577  These chubby meat nuggets were quite heavenly and juicy with a heavy emphasis on the garlic, and it seemed to have more beef than pork in the meat blend that jived well with the sour mustard.    The fried polenta (corn meal) was warm but not piping hot.  It also had an enjoyable butter flavor that had overtones of French fries.  As for our entrees, Janice got the sarmale ($18) and I got the chicken paprikash ($20).  The sarmale are similar to Poland’s golabki or stuffed cabbage rolls.IMG_4580  These wee bundles were stewed in tomato sauce which led the cabbage to be extra soft but firm enough to keep all of the pork, ground beef, and rice from bursting forth.  It was a bit more sour than the Polish version of the dish, but it still had the Slavic heartiness common to both meals.  As for my meal, the chicken paprikash was essentially half a chicken in a paprika infused gravy along with green beans and pearl onions. IMG_4581 The sauce was the boss for this dish, and the chicken was falling off the bone.  Beware of the small bones in the chicken though!  For both the sarmale and chicken paprikash, there was mamaliga or soft polenta served on the side.  This was my favorite food I tried in Romania, and it was like going into a culinary time machine for me from the first bite.  IMG_4582From the smooth, golden polenta to the cool sour cream and strong Feta cheese, I was in heaven.  The only differences between Little Bucharest and the real Bucharest was that the mamaliga in the Motherland was served in a bowl and with a fried egg on top.  Aside from that, it was the perfect comfort food to combat the terrible weather outside.  I couldn’t finish my meal since my stomach was about to burst from all of the polenta and grilled meats, but I didn’t feel bloated like I did with other meals where I ate a lot.  At the end of the meal, we were walking out, and the owner wished us well and told us to check them out on Facebook.  I then told him that I write a food blog, and he was so overjoyed that he hugged me and gave me a bottle of Romanian dry red wine on the spot.IMG_4587  I’ve never experienced such generosity from a restaurant in Chicago or perhaps anywhere else in the world.  Thanks, Branko!

So in closing, we walked away from Little Bucharest greatly satisfied with the friendly service, great prices for huge portions of delicious Romanian fare, and a memory of one of my many distant travels around the world.  This is the real deal if you want to try Romanian food, and they even run their own limo service if you want to experience it in style.  IMG_4590
Little Bucharest Bistro on Urbanspoon

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Throwback Post: Mămăligă in Romania

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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.

We all approve of our new house.

We all approve of our new house.

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.  n1949958_46935972_9877The 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.800px-MamaligaBranza  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.HPIM2109  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!

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