15+ traditional Romanian food: You’ll be surprised

Romanian food

When I visited Romania, I had no idea what traditional Romanian food was or if I’d even like it. But now I know that:

  1. despite various vampire myths, garlic is a main ingredient in many local dishes
  2. pork is king, and..
  3. they have some bizarre dishes for the adventurous souls only – I’ll tell you more about that in a minute

Bon appétit… or poftă bună as they say in Romania.

Let’s dive in!

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So, what is traditional Romanian food?

Just like in Hungary and Slovakia, many Romanian dishes are influenced by neighbouring cultures, especially Turkish, Hungarian, German and Slavic. 

But despite these influences, Romanian cuisine has kept its traditional taste through recipes that have been passed from generation to generation.

Above all, home-cooked peasant food is the norm. While sour soup usually acts as the starter, mămăligă (polenta) with sarmale (cabbage rolls) is a typical main course. Romanians also like smoked bacon, known as slănina afumată.

Join a food tour in Bucharest

The best way to get to know Romanian cuisine is on a food tour.

On a food tour you get to taste Romanian food, get the history behind it and you’ll visit gastronomic hot spots.

Check rates and availability on this food tour where you can try traditional Romanian peasant food like cheeses, cured meats, sausages and more.

Romanian food you should try

Soups – the first one is interesting

Let’s begin with the starters, which in Romania often is a soup.

Ciorba de Burta (tripe soup) is one of the most popular soups in Romania and considered the ultimate hangover remedy. The soup is made with the stomach of a cow (tripe), lots of garlic, sour cream, vinegar and served with hot chilli peppers.

Another popular Romanian soup is Ciorba de Perisoare (meatball sour soup). If you’re a vegetarian, I recommend the Ciorbă Tărănească, a vegetable soup that comes with or without meat. And then of course there’s the Goulash Soup, which is always a good idea. (check out the traditional Hungarian goulash)

Romanian food
Romanian goulash soup

Main dishes

You will come across chicken, beef and fish in Romanian cuisine, but there’s no doubt who is king: Pork – and it comes in many forms. Don’t be surprised to see all parts of the pig on the menu card, like tongue, liver, feet, ears, stomach and brain.

Pork stew

Often served with potatoes

Romanian food
Pork stew with potatoes
Romanian food
A selection of pork specialities. We got this dish at Gaura Dulce in Brasov
Romanian food
Pork with gravy at Gaura Dulce in Brasov

Sarmale

Cabbage rolls made of minced meat, rice and spices, rolled into sour cabbage leaves and boiled for hours.

Romanian food
Sarmale (Cabbage Rolls) Made of minced meat, rice and spices, rolled into sour cabbage leaves and boiled for hours

Mămăligă (Polenta)

Polenta is a common side dish in the Balkans. It’s made from boiled corn flour  and can be served as hot porridge, or baked, fried, or grilled.

Mici (Mititei)  

Another traditional Balkan dish is mici; the closest thing you’ll find to Romanian street food. They’re small grilled minced meat rolls made from beef, lamb and pork mixed with lots of spices. They’re VERY tasty.

Romanian food

Modern Romanian Food

Traditional Romanian food is known not to be the healthiest and lightest of cuisines. However, I found contemporary meals to be more simplistic and also served with lighter side dishes rather than polenta, pickled vegetables or potatoes.

I found the best modern food in Brasov at a restaurant called Prato Restaurant. It’s a great place and the food was amazing!

Romanian food
Marinated pork
Romanian food
Grilled veal fillet, mushrooms, truffle cream
Romanian food
Chicken fillet with potatoes

Deliciously good desserts

The desserts in Romania stole my heart right away. The more traditional ones include papanasi, which is cottage cheese rolled into a donut-like shape, filled with sweet cream and topped with jam or berries.

Another national treasure is the cozonac, a sweetbread filled with walnut paste or poppy seeds paste. One of the most well-known desserts is the fried dough pie, filled with sweet cow cheese and raisins.

Romanian food
Chocolate sphere, ice cream, baileys zabaione at Prato Restaurant, Brasov

Bizarre Romanian food (for the adventurous)

Romania has an interesting cuisine, but some of the dishes are quite bizarre. Here are the most unusual foods I came across:

  • Fried Brain (Creier Pane)
  • Tongue with Olives (Limba cu masline)
  • Liver Sausage (Caltabos)
  • Pork Rind (Soric)
  • Cow Stomach Soup (Ciorba de Burta)
  • Lamb Haggis (Drob de Miel)
Haggis
Lamb haggis (In Romania it often comes with an egg inside)

Romanian Street Food

The most common Romania street food is covrigi, hot pretzels covered in sesame or poppy seeds, and gogosi, which are similar to doughnuts and served dusted with sugar or stuffed with fruit. My favorite is still Kürtőskalács, a delicious chimney cake with cinnamon and sugar.

More food-like dishes include mici, which is grilled meat rolls served with bread and mustard, and shoarma, a Romanian version of shawarma.

As you can see, I’m sticking to the snacky foods ↓

Romanian food
Deliciouso!
Romanian food
Kürtőskalács (chimney cake) – they’re larger here than in Hungary
Romanian food
Boiled sweet corn

And International Food

As much as I like to try local food, I sometimes prefer a familiar meal. So I’m always happy to see International restaurants when I travel.

I saw a fair share of Italian restaurants in both Brasov and Sibiu, but Bucharest seemed to have it all when it came to International food. Especially around the Old Town, which is a great place to stay, I saw loads of options. There’s also a variety of vegetarian & vegan restaurants, like Simbio, Arome and Barca.

Romanian food
My favorite meal: Sushi!
Romanian food
Greasy cheese burger in Bucharest
Romanian food
Pizza with pork and pickles
Romanian food
Spaghetti Carbonara

So, what do you think? Is Romanian food something you’d try?

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19 Comments

  1. Romanian kitchen is very similar to Bulgarian, in Bulgaria, we have the same soup Ciorba de Burta, called ”shkembe chorba”. I didn’t know that Romanians have that kind of soup either, so it was interesting for me to find out.

    1. Pasta, or Italian food in general, is always a life-saver! Did you try Pizza company in Thailand? It’s not Italian, but they serve some really great pizzas and pasta dishes.

  2. If you’re looking for fast food and yet want to try something traditional, I highly recommend La Ceaun (Iute) in Brașov. They have daily menus and you just might find one of the ciorbas you mentioned 🙂 Indeed vegetarians don’t have many options in Romanian cuisine 🙂 but there are some appetizers/spreads that are meatless: aubergine salad (salată de vinete, which is made either with mayo or just with onions) and zacusă (veggie spread).

  3. I love Romanian food, I visited Bucharest last year and tried as much as I could in the 5 days I was there. Since then I try to cook something Romanian at home once a month. If you try three things in Romania it would have to be ciorbă de văcuţă ţărănească (country style beef sour soup with vegetables, the more sour the better), sarmale cu mămăligă și brânză (i love cheese mixed in with the polenta, but I prefer my sarmale with vine leaves instead of cabbage leaves, which is more common in the north of Romania) and of course as many papanași as you can eat… Mămăligă is also delicious in the morning if you have any left over, you can fry it in bacon fat so that it is slightly crispy on the outside, and serve it with a soft fried egg on top (not the healthiest option, but so delicious). It really is a shame Romanian food isn’t better known outside of Romania, it’s well worth trying.

  4. This article was amazing! In 2018, I made a trip to Romania with a group of close friends. We made a nice trip and we decided to visit Bucharest and Brasov in a rented car. It was sooo beautiful in Brasov and we had nice weather. I swear I’m in love with this country! We had such a pleasant time and we found great places to eat. You must try salata de vinete, sarmale, covrigi and papansi! Everything was so delicious!

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