Mention the name Transylvania and chances are you will think of a made up land somewhere far, far away....with vampires. Transylvania is in fact very real, and the food is hearty and varied.
It's the largest region of Romania which is now officially part of the European Union. We all know Dracula came from Transylvania and was on a diet of human blood, but what do real Romanians eat?
Romanian cooking is hearty and varied thanks to the influence of its neighbours. You'll find hints of Hungarian, German, Russian and Turkish cuisines in the following traditional dishes, commonly found in restaurants and homes.
No meal is complete without soup and the most famous is the distinctive sour soup called ciorba. The Romanians use vinegar, sauerkraut juice or lemon to sour the stock and it can be served with vegetables, tripe or pork. Many people baulk at the idea of eating stomach lining but in this soup it’s thinly sliced and tender and I promise, delicious!
This is the Romanian answer to polenta; boiled cornmeal that is the very cornerstone of Romanian meals. It is served in a steaming mound with layers of cheese melted within, or with sour cream. Don’t make the mistake I did and order it with a main though. It is a main!
Cabbage rolls are a staple of many European cuisines. The Croatians have a version with pork and veal mince while the Greeks douse theirs in an avgolemono (egg and lemon) sauce. In Romanian cooking, sarmale are made with sour cabbage rather than fresh cabbage, smoked meat, and are covered in a tomato sauce. The end result is a heady mix of sour and smoky flavours. In addition to eating this in restaurants, I also tried the supermarket version which was so good (and cheap) it became my snack of choice.
The Turkish influence is unmistakable when you see the breadth of baklava on offer throughout the region. This popular dessert of filo pastry layered with nuts and drenched in honey syrup can be found in bakeries, supermarkets and on restaurant menus. You may even encounter some unorthodox versions such as chocolate baklava which features a rich chocolate filling and chocolate syrup.
Every cuisine seems to have a variation on fried sweet dough (loukoumades, beignets, churros…) and I’m yet to find a variation I haven’t loved. Papanasi are Romanian doughnuts made from a mixture of sweet cheese, eggs and semolina, fried and served with sour cream and fruit syrup or jam. They are a popular dessert in restaurants but I would not recommend eating this in conjunction with mamaliga unless you have been fasting for three days!
These distinctive ‘chimney cakes’ are a popular street food snack. Sweet dough is coiled around a cylindrical mould and cooked on a rotisserie over charcoal. They develop a beautifully caramelised crust which can have additional flavours added to it after cooking such as cinnamon, coconut or crushed nuts. Each one is handmade and takes at least ten minutes from start to finish so it’s just as delightful to watch the process as it is to sink your teeth into a fresh one!
Are you still left wondering what else Dracula includes in his diet? Why Draquila of course!