Drawing from various cultures and traditions, Romanian cuisine can be described as homely and diverse. Influenced by the ancient Greeks, to the Saxons who called Transylvania home to the Turks that dominated its landscape for many centuries, there’s no shortfall of eclecticism in Romanian cuisine. As for travelers, one fact holds true – that one hasn’t really travelled till they’ve spent time sampling the local fare. So without further adieu here’s our take on the absolute must local food and culture, culinary essentials that you can enjoy on your alternative Romanian tour.

Alternative European Tours Guide: Local food culture in Romania

Food tends to be heavy but comforting in Romania with a strong emphasis on meats. Mainly pork, chicken and lamb and polenta (mamaliga) or potatoes (cartofi) but with the welcome addition of vegetables. Served either in a salad or soaked in vinegar for a sharp kick. Smoked meats and sausages are a national favourite, and Romanians love their sour cream (smantana). As well as their pungent garlic based sauces, so you’ll have no problem fending off any unwanted vampires. Romanian meals typically kick off with a bowl of ciorba, soup soured with lemon juice or vinegar. It comes in plenty of varieties including ciorba de burta (tripe soup) served with a hot pepper to nibble on.

Sarmale

Sarmale (Romanian’s national dish consisting of pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with mince and rice, usually served with a good dollop of sour cream). Mici (little sausage-shaped meatballs dipped in sweet mustard) is another delicacy along with Mamaliga (a cornmeal mush served as a side dish and often referred to as ‘polenta’ on menus). Another popular dish is Tochitura (pork stew in a rich tomato or wine sauce served with polenta, sour cream, and a fried egg on top for good measure.

Sweets

Romanians like their cakes and desserts tooth-achingly sweet. Papanasi – fried doughnuts topped with sweetened cheese, jam and cream – are the country’s national treasure, and crepes (clatite) are a firm favourite dripping with chocolate, jam and fruits. Another favourite is gogosi sold all over the place with street windows dedicated specifically to dolling out these donught-like snacks dusted with sugar or stuffed with fruit. During the festive season, cozonac (sweet bread jeweled with dried fruits and walnuts) and kurtoskalacs (cylinder of dough baked over a spit and coated with cinnamon sugar) take centre stage. So make sure you get a fix if you’re lucky enough to be visiting at that time.

Romanian Wine

Romania is one of the biggest producers of wine in Europe. From dry, sparkling whites to rich, aromatic reds, a wide variety of wines is produced here. The most popular domestic grapes include feteasca alba (semi-dry and balanced white) and feteasca neagra (semi-sweet, medium bodied, and light red). For top notch wines, look out for bottles originating from the Tarnave plateau (white), Cotnari (white), Dealu (red), Murfatlar, and Odobesti.

Planning a trip to Romania? Take a look at these alternative European Winter holidays

Tuica and palinca

Outranking wine and beer, the most popular and traditional tipple amongst locals is tuica and palinca – a type of plum brandy. Plums, and even apples or pears, are aged in mulberry tree barrels then double distilled to produce a seriously fiery liquor that Romanians knock back with startling ease. If you want a real challenge, down a shot of tuica or palinca without reacting. The most potent batches are home brewed, colourless, and stored in unassuming plastic bottles. These could easily be mistaken for water so make sure you sniff the liquid before you take a large swig.

Places to dine in Romania

Bella Muzica

Occupying the catacombs of the Black Church, this low-ceilinged cellar located in the hotel of the same name is perfect for a cosy evening meal. Complete with exposed brickwork and candlelight, the menu offers a combination of Hungarian and Mexican dishes at very reasonable prices. Go for the fajitas or the bean soup in bread, and beware of the handmade tortilla chips, they are delicious and very moreish. You can even order the soundtrack to your meal on the music menu. The cosiest place to dine is in the smoking section.

La Ceaun

What could be cosier than tucking into a hearty Romanian ciorba (soup) on a cold winter’s day.? This charming rustic eatery offers three different soups and stews each day, all of which you’ll see (and sniff) bubbling away in a large metal cauldron (ceaun). At just a couple of pounds for a bowl of soup, La Ceaun is perfect for a warming, wallet-friendly lunch.  If you’d prefer a more leisurely meal with a greater variety of menu options, head to their sit-down restaurant through the left-hand door.

Dei Frati

Dei Frati is a top quality Italian restaurant serving up the freshest, homemade pasta in town. This little gem is tucked away on an atmospheric Brasov backstreet boasting a cool, contemporary interior that always seems to be buzzing. Grab yourself a lovely bowl of perfectly cooked pasta and a glass of wine. You won’t regret it.

Doctor Jekelius

You could well be fooled into thinking that this cafe is an old-fashioned chemist with its worn exterior façade, pharmaceutical name and murky glass windows. Head inside, however, and you’ll be in for a surprise. The pharmacy-style decor dates back to 1905 and features rows of medicinal bottles on white-washed shelves, framed old prescriptions, and furniture from a 1910 Saxon pharmacy. The cafe is named after Dr. Ferdinand Jekelius, a chemist who set up Brasov’s first pharmacy and was famous for prescribing natural remedies. Choose from a long list of medical infusions aimed to treat particular ailments like the common cold or even a hangover. Iif you’re feeling brave enough you could order an ‘anaesthetic’ which contains pure alcohol and is served in a long test tube. In fact, most of the drinks here are served in test tubes, glass beakers or measuring jugs which adds to the pharmaceutical flavour.

Hof Café

Located right on the main square but hidden from the tourist furore, Hof Café is technically a café and a bar making it the perfect place to chill out. The Nordic design creates a contemporary atmosphere and the board games add a touch of fun. Expect excellent coffee from far-flung places around the globe, exceptionally prepared cocktails, and a lovely selection of good quality lemonades. Café Hof plays host to a number of special events including art exhibitions, movie screenings and concerts, so keep an eye out for something exciting when you’re in town.

Simone

Located off the main strip, Simone is a favourite Brasov hangout. Chilled, minimalist and cool, there’s coffee during the day and cocktails, music at night when a local DJ gets the atmosphere going in the evenings.

Hungry already? Why not visit the medieval citadel of Sighisoara for lunch on a guided tour by Untravelled Paths.