30 traditional romanian foods to try

Chalkboard sign on a Romanian restaurant with the daily specials, hung on a pale pink concrete building.

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There’s no way I could move to Romania and not write anything about the food! I had no idea what to expect for my first time trying traditional Romanian foods. I was not disappointed! There are strong influences from outside regions, especially Hungary. Wipe the drool from your mouth as you journey through these traditional Romanian foods to try – poftă bună!

Table Of Contents


soups & snacks

ciorbă de burtă – tripe soup

Ciorba de Burta, a traditional Romanian soup

Ciorbă de Burtă (aka tripe or belly soup) is one of Romania’s most popular traditional dishes. This is without a doubt the most popular soup on any restaurant’s menu and a beloved favorite of Romanians. The starring ingredient is tripe, or, cow belly. I have not tried it – everyone raves about it, but…. I haven’t been brave enough yet. One day soon, though.


transylvanian pork soup – ciorbă ardeleneasca de porc

Ardeal‘ is the region of Transylvania in Romanian. When you see the word ‘Ardeleneasca‘ on a menu, it simply means ‘Transylvanian. Obviously any food with the word ‘Ardeal‘ in it must be a traditional Transylvanian food! This is a traditional Transylvanian pork soup. Enjoy with slices of warm bread and pickled hot peppers.

Soups are insanely popular in Romania, and if you’re visiting on a budget, it’s a filling option at a restaurant for lunch (plus, there’s bread!).


ciorbă de cartofi cu ciolan afumat – potato soup with smoked meat

Potato soup with a side of red onion salad, sliced bread, red chili pepper, and glass of water shot from above.

Really, any soup with ciolan afumat is popular in Romania, and the red onion salad that accompanies it is also very traditional. Enjoy the onions as a separate salad.


meatball soup – ciorbă de perișoare

Meatball soup is another of Romania’s famous ciorbe. It’s a staple on many restaurant menus. This is a traditional Romanian sour soup. The meatballs often made of ground pork mixed with some rice and spices, then boiled in the ciorbă.

It’s one of the most popular homemade staples of Romanian families. Soups are fairly simple to make, and can be done in large portions, making them a convenient dish.


ciorbă radauteana – radauteana soup

Sour soup from Transylvania region of Romania with green onions laid out as part of the place setting.

Ciorbă Radauteana was first introduced in 1979 in a restaurant in Radauti. Created by chef Cornelia Dumitrescu, she was trying to find an alternative for those who were not fans of Ciorbă de Burtă. She managed to create a lighter, cheaper (but very tasty) soup.

Turkey meat was the main ingredient in the original recipe. However, for economic reasons, Cornelia switched to the more inexpensive chicken.


murături – pickles

Jars of different pickles, pickled vegetables.

I absolutely love pickles. I don’t think I need to go any further, except to say, the pickles here are house-made, crunchy, and mouth-wateringly delicious.

The small assorted pickle salads you’ll find at restaurants are good, but nothing compares to the stuff you’ll find in a Transylvanian home – my mother-in-law’s pickles are TO-DIE-FOR!


zacuscă

Jar of zacusca, alongside slices of bread, with one slice of bread topped with the orange zacusca.

Zacuscă is an eggplant dip. It’s a great option for vegetarians or a cool summer appetizer. Its main ingredients are eggplant, onions, tomato paste, spices, and ‘paprika peppers’ (gogoșari in Romanian).

Many Transylvanian families will make this in the fall in large batches to last throughout the winter months.


salata de vinete – eggplant salad

Salata de Vinete is a traditional Romanian eggplant dip or salad. It’s delicious in the summer, with fresh bread, tomatoes and telemea cheese. Traditionally made with sunflower oil, diced onions, salt and lemon juice or vinegar. Lemons weren’t quite as popular in the past, so the original recipe called for vinegar. This is a must-have if you’re on a quest to sample traditional Romanian foods.


pită cu unsoare și ceapă – bread with lard and onion

This dish is a common appetizer on Transylvanian menus and one of the most old-school traditional Romanian foods. And simple, too – simply smear bread with pork fat and a sprinkle of chopped green onions. The richness of the bread and lard pairs quite nicely with the crispy, sharp bite of the onions.


covrigi

Covrigi, Romania's pretzels.

Covrigi are Romanian baked goods, similar to a pretzel. They come with a variety of toppings, and are easy to find at a walk-up window or bakery.

Visit the main tourist street of any major Transylvanian city, and you’re sure to find plenty of storefronts selling covrigi.


slănină

Slănină is essentially just a cured slab of fatback. It is most similar to Italian lardo, aside from the thickness. Slănină is very thick, whereas lardo is cut super-thin to pair with charcuterie.

The best way to try Slănină is to cut it into little batonnets (pictured above, far right) alongside freshly chopped (and salted) veggies, and torn pieces of crusty bread.

In restaurants, you’ll find Slănină on appetizer platters with other cured meats, local cheeses, and fresh produce. Slănină is among the most simple traditional Romanian foods.


main dishes

sarmale

Plate of sarmale with polenta and pork, outside dining in Sibiu, Romania.

Sarmale is without a doubt the unofficial ‘official dish’ of Romania. Virtually every restaurant you visit that serves traditional Romanian food will have this staple on their menu. I had my first sarmale at La Turn, one of my favorite restaurants in Sibiu (pictured above).

Essentially stuffed cabbage rolls, sarmale can be stuffed with a variety of fillings, though a ground pork-rice mixture is often used. Served with polenta, cabbage, pickled hot pepper (and a few extra pieces of pork meat for good measure), sarmale is the ultimate Romanian comfort food.


varză a la cluj – cluj-style cabbage

Varza a la Cluj, a traditional cabbage dish with minced meat and sour cream from the capital city of Transylvania, Cluj Napoca.

Cabbage is a staple in Romanian cuisine, and the city of Cluj-Napoca has its very own preparation. This traditional Transylvanian dish is made using minced meat, onion, cabbage, and rice and topped with a sour cream and milk mixture. As with any traditional Romanian fare, the specific recipe will vary greatly among families and restaurants alike.


papricaș de pui – chicken paprikash

Although this dish is of Hungarian origin, it’s typical to see on Romanian menus. This is particularly true in the region of Transylvania, where there is a large Hungarian population. The in-depth history is beyond the scope of this post, but you can read more about the connections between Hungary and Romania here.

Expect tender chicken simmered with vegetables, broth, and paprika with sour cream gradually folded in throughout the cooking process.


tocăniță

Tocăniță simply translates to ‘stew’ in Romanian, and is a very common preparation. Typically made with chicken or pork, other meats such as lamb can also be substituted. A common variation to the recipe is the addition of mushrooms. Pictured above is tocăniță with chicken and mushrooms – delicious! A great option for a cold or rainy day.


mititei (mici)

Two mici, little Romanian un-cased sausages.

Affectionately known as ‘littles,’ you’ll find these guys everywhere, usually sold in portions of three. They are tiny, grilled ground meat rolls, usually a combination of different types of meat. It’s essentially a little sausage without casing.

Romanians love to have barbecues – as soon as warm weather arrives, your local friends will be inviting you to their backyard barbecues left and right. And ‘littles‘ are synonymous with outdoor grilling. Definitely in the top five of traditional Romanian foods to try.


coaste de porc – pork ribs

Pork is probably the most popular meat consumed in Romania. So, of course, menus all over the country have pork ribs. Different restaurants and families will prepare them differently, similar to ribs you’d eat elsewhere around the world. Still, who doesn’t love a good rack of ribs?


mămăligă – polenta

Mămăligă is the Romanian word for polenta, a cheap and easy dish found worldwide. It’s a common side dish in Romania, accompanying tocănița or sarmale, among others.

There is a saying here: Mămăliga nu explodează,” which conveys the message:  Romanians are like polenta.  Polenta doesn’t explode.  It is amorphous, without guts, always adapting to whatever form is required.


bulz

Want to up your mămăligă game and have it as a main dish? Bulz is roasted polenta with cheese, sometimes with sour cream or an egg. It’s super-rich, definitely not even one bit healthy, and three bites will be too much. But if you’re a starving vegetarian, it might be a good choice for you.


tochitură ţărănească

Tochitura on traditional Romanian table in Sibiu, a traditional Romanian food to try.

Tochitură is a traditional Romanian pork stew. It’s simmered over a low fire in its own fat and juices, most often in a cast-iron pot. It’s traditionally served with over-easy eggs and mămăligă.

Tochitură Țărănească means Peasant Tochitură, although you may often find a Moldavian version (Tochitură Moldovenească) and a Transylvanian version (Tochitură Ardelenească).


pizdulici la grătar

In all honesty, I’m not sure that pizdulici la grătar could be considered a traditional Romanian food (not many places have it because the cut of meat is rare), but it translates to ‘grilled pussies,’ so I had to at least mention it.


cașcaval pane – fried cheese

The Romanian mozzarella stick! Cașcaval pane is simply breaded, fried cașcaval cheese. It’s usually cut into triangles alongside fries or polenta. This one isn’t a personal favorite, but it’s on virtually every Transylvanian menu.


gulaş – goulash

Gulyas in ceaun

Another dish Hungarian in origin, but one that you will find on virtually every traditional Romanian restaurant’s menu. While it may not be made this way in a restaurant, if you’re eating at someone’s home, there’s a good chance it will be cooked in a ceaun (pictured above). A hearty meat and vegetable ‘soup,’ it is seasoned with paprika, among other spices.

The name gulyás is the Hungarian word for ‘herdsman,’ stemming from the dish’s history. The history of gulyás goes all the way back to the 9th century, when Hungarian shepherds would dry meat in the sun, pack into bags made of sheep’s stomach, and then add water to make it a meal.

The earliest versions of gulyás did not contain paprika, as this spice wasn’t present in the region until the 16th century. That’s right – the peppers used to make paprika are actually native to North America (Mexico, to be precise).


holiday staples

drob

Drob is a traditional Romanian food that is served at Easter. It’s essentially a meatloaf consisting of lamb organs (liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, heart), eggs, green onion, and soaked bread. Some spices are incorporated, and then the membrane that contains the lamb’s organs gets placed over a pan and filled with the mixture.


red eggs

The red eggs of Orthodox Easter have many purposes during this holiday season. On the Thursday before Easter (aka Holy Thursday), people gather to boil and dye the eggs. They are traditionally dyed red to symbolize Jesus’ blood when he was crucified. Usually, particularly in villages, the dye consists of natural agents such as red onion skin or beetroot.

Before eating the eggs, it is customary for two people to knock their eggs together. While knocking them together, one person says “Christ is risen” while the other replies with “Indeed is risen“. The person who cracks the other person’s egg wins.

And then, of course, everyone eats the boiled eggs on Easter Sunday.


desserts

plăcintă – pie

Box of four assorted Romanian pies.

A Romanian pastry most similar to a pie, that consists of different fillings. They are usually round in shape, and many variations of them exist within the Balkans. Pictured above are apple, chocolate, soft cheese, and sour plum.


papanași

Large round donuts (papanasi) covered in red fruit and sour cream sauce on traditional painted Romanian plate.

I’m not normally a dessert person, but these things are delicious. Papanași are traditional fried or boiled pastries shaped into a doughnut. They are usually filled with a soft cheese (usually urdă). Papanași generally have sour cream and a sour fruit jam on top.


clătite – crepes

Clătite are the Romanian version of crepes. Just like in France, they come with a variety of toppings. One of my recent favorites has been strawberry and kiwi with whipped mascarpone – excellent!


cozonac

Cozonac is a sweet leavened bread, traditional in many Balkan countries. Made with eggs, milk and butter, it is usually served at major holidays in Romania.

The exact recipes vary between different regions. While the dough is generally similar throughout the country, different regions may add raisins, grated orange or lemon, vanilla, rum, walnuts, hazelnuts, or lokum.

Don’t order cozonac at a bar – you’ll get something quite different.


kürtőskalács (chimney cakes)

Chimney Cakes from Transylvania, Romania

Kürtőskalács is a Transylvanian staple whose origin is of some dispute. Some claim it originated from a Romanian cookbook, others say it was a Hungarian cookbook. Regardless, it’s a popular sweet snack in Transylvania.

Kürtőskalács is a spit cake. Spin a strip of sweet dough around a spit, and then coat it in granulated sugar, basting with butter. Watch as the sugar slowly browns and melts, creating a crispy sugar crust.


vegetarian / vegan food in romania

Vegetarian bowl of veggies, tofu, and jalapenos on a black and white table cloth.

Romania has a surprising amount of vegetarian and vegan food offerings at restaurants. If you’re unsure, or if you need to tell your server, the phrase ‘de post‘ is all you’ll need to know. In the weeks before Easter you’ll have especially good luck, as virtually every restaurant offers vegan dishes for the period of fasting.

You will usually be able to find vegetarian or vegan pastas, pizzas, and salads pretty easily. In terms of traditional Romanian foods, you’ll be safe with zacuscă, salata de vinete, and mămăligă for sure. Often times, Romanian restaurants will offer vegetarian versions of sarmale, tocăniță, and papricaș (usually with mushrooms). These may or may not be vegan friendly, be sure to check with your server.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan and make it to Cluj, be sure to check out Samsara Foodhouse.


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