Food writer Irina Georgescu on the culinary culture of Romania

Baked goods, grains and curd cheese are central to the country's culinary culture

Irina Georgescu is a UK-based Romanian food writer and the author of Tava 

Photograph by Matt Russell
By Irina Georgescu
Published 11 Nov 2022, 06:03 GMT

Romania’s landscape is dominated by the Carpathian Mountains and the mighty River Danube, with many smaller rivers carving their way through forests and hills to nourish fertile plains. This is a country of dairy, where creme fraiche is so thick you can slice it with a knife; of plums, which are turned into magiun fruit butter or baked into pies; and of walnuts, used in many age-old dishes. It’s also a country of overlapping cultures. Culinary exchanges happened over centuries of tumultuous history, from the honey-sweetened cheese pies of the ancient Greeks and Romans, to the nutty halvas of the Ottomans and the rolled filo pastry strudel of the Habsburgs.

A tava (baking tray) taken out of the oven might carry a plăcintă (savoury cheese pie), cornulețe crescents (pastries) filled with scented rose petal jam, or delicate cookies used to sandwich a lush chocolate cream. It might carry Armenian kurabia(butter biscuits) or Jewish biscuits, since both communities have been influential in Romanian cuisine. There’s a love for fried breads and doughnuts all over the country, too. Across the Transylvanian mountains, Romanian-Hungarian families fry langoși potato bread, topped with sour cream. The Saxon villages welcome guests with doughnuts served with zesty curd cheese or simmered dumplings rolled in buttery bread crumbs.

Grains are often used in sweet dishes, whether it’s rice, cracked wheat or pearl barley, while noodles are tossed with butter and poppy seeds, cooked in a vanilla soup with walnuts, or wrapped in filo pastry and baked. Pancakes made with semolina and yoghurt are specific to the Swabian communities in the Banat region. Corncakes are enriched with curd cheese and eggs.

Coffee is a dearly loved flavour in creams and buttercreams, and the tradition of drinking ‘Turkish’ coffee at the end of a meal is an essential part of the ritual at the table. But wherever you are and whatever you’re eating, a small glass of plum brandy is never far away.Tava, by Irina Georgescu, is published by Hardie Grant, £27.

Poale-n brau, a Romanian sweet cheese pie

Poale-n brau, a Romanian sweet cheese pie 

Photograph by Matt Russell

Must - Try - Dishes 

Poale-N Brau - There are many variations of sweet cheese pies in Romania. Poale-n brâu, or brânzoaice, are leavened with yeast, scented with lemon zest and delightfully soft. Roughly translating to ‘hem into the waistband’, the name of the dishcomes from the custom of women tucking the corners of their aprons under their belts, similar to how these pies are folded.

Strudel cu dovleac - Although pumpkin strudels or pies are most abundant during autumn, they can be found in bakeries all year round. The filling can be as simple as grated pumpkin, sugar or honey and cinnamon, or more elaborate with golden raisins, chopped walnuts and a dash of rum.

Sunflower seed Halva - Usually a Lent treat and rarely made at home, halva is served on its own or with bread. With hundreds of sunflowers fields, Romania is partial to sunflower oil and seeds, hence this unusual recipe. Served with coffee, it makes for an energising snack.

The ingredient- Curd cheese is used in many desserts, adding tanginess and light saltiness to balance out the sweetness

Published in the December 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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