Evidently, there is no need to announce you that the winter holidays are coming. Everyone who participates in the preparation of Christmas festivities is aware there must be some special dishes and a joyous meal involved. Romania is known for a few great cold meat delicatessens and internationally appreciated for its fresh sheep and cow cheese. But how come every time someone visits, of all the Romanian food, the focus is on sarmale and mamaligă? Well, because those have become national dishes that Romanians never stopped preparing and enjoying.

Have you ever come across a Romanian deli in your neighborhood and wondered what’s inside? We’ll tell you it’s all about zacusca, pufuleți, and an old rum chocolate recipe. However, in this article, you will find the most unusual Romanian food dishes and products. Some of them are present at a typical Christmas dinner too. Without overthinking about the fatty, yet delicious content of Romanian hot and cold meals, we will let you get enticed by this curious platter of gourmet food.

What Do Romanians Eat?

As a starter, we suggest clearing out the meaning of sarmale in Romanian culture and cuisine. Who would say the traditionally Romanian sour cabbage minced meat rolls are an offense to the Ottoman Empire? Maybe the historians who thought to add pork to a dolma recipe was Romanian revenge against the Ottomans for paying tribute to the Gate. Hence, the sarmale (plural for sarma, in Romanian) are an adaptation of a Turkish recipe of vine leaf rolls from hundreds of years ago.  That means the Romanians are the authors of the most unusual sarma. 

Every year in December before the celebration of Christmas, some Romanians have kept the tradition of pig sacrifice alive. The countryside is the place to witness such a culinary adventure. The preparation of raw meat is a domestic ritual, usually involving the whole family. Some lucky pork parts get to end up in the cozy sarmale stock pot. 

If you think that is a complicated dish to prepare, for it takes hours to roll the filling in the leaves, then piftie is another tricky thing. Also known as răcitură in some parts of the country, the piftie is essentially a pork aspic with garlic and other vegetables. The irresistible urge to eat it is comparable to the effort of bringing the meat broth to a perfect boil and then wait for it to chill. Piftie is the perfect unusual Romanian Christmas food example.

Romanian food for Christmas pork aspic with garlic
Pork aspic or Piftie 

A Typical Romanian Christmas Dinner

On a more rejoiceful note, and continuing our table d’hôte menu, a typical Romanian Christmas dinner includes all of the above and many more. The appetizers are usually made of pork cold cuts and even pork liver home-made paté, pork rind, and bacon. All are accompanied by pickles, red onion, and chili peppers.

The light version of the appetizer with a more urban soviet touch is the boeuf salad. Mayonnaise, potatoes, carrots, green beans, pickles, and pickled sweet pepper merge with boiled beef cubes. The French-sounding recipe does rarely include beef nowadays. Chicken or the vegetarian version (à la Russe) have replaced it. So the boeuf salad with chicken? Now, that is an unusual Romanian food. So far, it’s the most wildly decorated salad in Romanian gastronomy. It even has a dedicated Facebook page.

Romanian food boeuf salad
Santa Claus on a boeuf salad

Christmas in Romania has a special dessert reserved for it. Easter gets its own sweet bread, but it also has the pască. Grandmothers and mothers spend a lot of time in the kitchen to batter the heavy dough and make the best cozonaci of the season. Luckily children can endure the smell of walnuts and chocolate steaming up from the raisin-filled cake.

Romanian food the mighty cozonac
The sensational Turkish delight cozonac with cocoa and walnuts

Romanian Food and Its Perks

The perks of eating Romanian food are plenty if you know how to shop for the seasonal vegetables at the peasant market. Plus, although they have discovered the avocado, Romanians still haven’t forgotten their mouth-watering unusual donut: the papanș (pronounced papanash). You can order it at any local cuisine restaurant in Bucharest. You might even find the ball wearing empty donut on many fusion menus.

Romanian food vegetables at the peasant market
Romanian vegetables at the peasant market – Obor,  Bucharest
When it comes to street food, the most unusual food is again meat. This time we are talking about an unofficial national dish that even McDonald’s put it out there on the temporary menus. This skinless sausage, originally made to hold minced sheep and beef meat with the help of baking soda, the mic (mici/mititei in plural form) are the immortal Romanian street food. Always accompanied by mustard and white bread, the mic is best enjoyed at the market. 
Romanian food plum and potato dumplings
An strange and savory Romanian dish – plum and potato dumplings 

If the cozonac looks a lot like a babka, then you should see this piece of  Romanian pastry. The covrig, looking a lot like a Manhattan pretzel, presents itself at every street corner in Bucharest. While on it, at the same pastry shops you can find incredibly tasty bagel dog look-a-likes. It’s as if you almost forget that there’s mustard missing. The perk of this Romanian street food is it can warm you in winter, for the covrigi are always freshly baked.

Stay tuned to our tips for traveling section, where you will also find amusing Romanian superstitions, how to do wolf watching in Romania and many more. Our collection of useful things you need to know for a finely spent Romanian vacation is updating weekly.

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