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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

Throwback Post: Rooster Comb Fake Out and Goulash in Hungary

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What better place for I, a traveling gourmand, to travel to than Hungary.  Not only is the name fitting for my perpetual state of being, but this land of the Mighty Magyars and a tongue twisting language proved to be quite interesting when Kevin and I explored Budapest during Spring Break in 2009.  2819_1239033173024_5272662_n2819_1239032813015_5002839_n 2819_1239032012995_3465861_nIt was one of a couple stops during our trek throughout Eastern Europe, but it started off with a bang  the first night Kevin and I went out for dinner at For Sale Pub and Restaurant.

While the outside seemed relatively normal, that concept was quickly thrown out the window as soon as we waltzed in. tumblr_lm3gccir8A1qcdq9m The inside seemed like a peasant’s house complete with hay on the floor and a rustic wooden interior.  We scaled the staircase to find a room whose walls seemed to be decorated by Office Max with all of the random pieces of white paper.  imageUpon closer inspection, each leaf had a message on it.  They ranged from the basic salutation to fellow diners to letters to loved ones to random curse words in various languages.  Oh freedom of speech!  We got menus and a free basket of peanuts from our waiter while Tupac’s “California Love” bumped over the speakers.  Thankfully the For Sale doesn’t put on any airs since we could throw the peanut shells on the floor.  Looking over the menu, they served numerous types of Hungarian specialties including the signature goulash along with some other more mysterious selections that caught my eye like the gipsy roast.  I asked our waiter what exactly the roast consisted of, and he just said “meat”…goody.

When it came out, along with our goulash, it looked not too bad.  I didn’t take a picture of it, but I found an adequate representative of it online. 8120147582_1fd8ed6fe7_z It seemed like a few slices of steak that were rubbed with some salt, pepper, and garlic.  The meat itself was quite succulent and juicy.  These wandering social outcasts do know good food.  As for the potatoes, they were just boiled.  However, the parsley gave them an herbal scent that enticed my nose and palate.  The final piece of the plate I couldn’t really tell what it was.  I asked our friendly waiter what exactly it was, and he said, “Rooster” while pointing to his head.  I took it to meant that it was a fried rooster comb, a.k.a. the red junk on top of the rooster’s head.  It was crispy yet slightly chewy with a definite bacon flavor.  After doing a bit of research, turns out our English impaired waiter took me for a ride.  After doing a bit of research and seeing this gipsy roast preparation video, I discovered what I ate was actually bacon, not rooster a rooster comb.  What he meant to say was it was bacon cut in rooster comb style.  The goulash, however, was the highlight of the meal.  103317937_goulash_271334cApparently, the name goulash comes from the Hungarian for “gulyás” or “herd of cattle” since the Hungarian plain was a huge cattle raising area.  Therefore, the herdsmen would always have some cattle to slaughter along the way in order to make their goulash.  The For Sale Pub’s soup was filled with plenty of slightly spicy and hellishly red paprika which originally came from the Turks who invaded Buda in 1529.  As for the contents, it was simple yet hearty fare with bobbing beef chunks, potatoes, onions, and peppers.

While I was crestfallen to find out that I didn’t unknowingly eat a bizarre food, the national dish of Hungary, goulash, definitely made up for it.  It was one of many memorable moments as I traveled through Budapest with Kevin and his girlfriend.  If you can’t find anything else to eat, Budapest has plenty of delicious, handmade pretzels in their public parks and blood orange, or as they put it “Spanish flavor”, flavored Fanta. 2819_1239033413030_6268170_n 2819_1239032333003_7335081_n I guarantee satisfaction!

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