10 Local Products to Try on Your Trip to Transylvania
Transylvania is one of the most important centers for Romania’s gastronomic heritage. The region’s food history bears the marks of different conquering kingdoms, from the Hungarian Kingdom to the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungary, bringing together flavors from Eastern Europe’s crossroads into Asia.
These waves of civilization all shaped its gastronomic heritage; however, Transylvania’s core culture was inherited from the Saxons, a Germanic ethnic group that settled in the region in the mid-12th Century. Even though almost all Saxons have left the region, this civilization left a strong imprint on the local culture and their dishes are still famous in Romania.
While Romania has become considerably urbanized in the 21st century, many Romanians still feel a strong connection to the Central foothills of the country, in Transylvania, marking this area as a stronghold of Romanian culture and cuisine. The traditional methods of agriculture, which protect the area’s wildlife, also produce incredible cuisine that every visitor should try on their trip to Romania. Don’t leave Transylvania without trying these ten dishes.
1. Zacuscă (Vegetable Chutney)
A treasure hidden in a dusty jar, “zacuscă,” is an eggplant chutney that locals prepare at the end of the summer to save produce for the wintertime. The unique and rich flavor of this vegetable spread is obtained from a process of roasting and boiling eggplants, onions, and peppers, and mushrooms (often foraged from the nearby woods) and is a must-have with breakfast while in Transylvania. Many restaurants will serve zacuscă and you can also buy it from Grandmother’s Cellar, in the Saxon village of Saschiz. You can also try it at a summer feast at the Angofa Wildlife Centre.
2. Sarmale (Stuffed Cabbage)
Sarmale, meaning stuffed cabbage leaves, is another traditional and extremely popular dish in Transylvania. The mixture consists of minced meat, rice, onions, and spices that is rolled up in cabbage leaves (fermented in winter or fresh in summer). The rolls are left to boil in water and tomato juice with smoked ham for many hours. Sarmale is served hot with cold sour cream and is one of the most traditional foods to try in Romania.
3. Găluște Cu Prune (Plum Dumplings)
Găluște cu prune, or sweet dumplings with plums, is one of the popular deserts in Transylvania; everyone has their own recipe passed through generations. Whole pitted plums are wrapped in a potato-based dough to form a ball. These dumplings are then boiled and rolled in breadcrumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Do not miss this treat, especially if you are visiting in the summer when plums are fresh!
4. Lichiu (Romanian Pie)
Lichiu is similar to a pie, baked with a sweet leavened dough. The dough is topped with a mix of sour cream, eggs, sugar, and butter, sprinkled with raisins or plums. Traditionally, Lichiu is baked in large bread ovens over a wood fire, usually requiring a lot of work from women in the household. This dessert is usually prepared for special occasions and is a local favorite. While you might find Lichiu at restaurants in Sighisoara, this dessert is best when prepared by local families who take the time to prepare it over the traditional wood fire.
Soup might not sound novel, but these dishes characterize the region like nothing else. Romania differentiates between sweet (clear) soups and sour soups. The most common sweet and clear soups are Supă de găluște (Dumpling Chicken Soup) or Supă de tăiței (Noodle Chicken Soup); the thin noodles are often made in-house.
The favorite sour soups are Beef Tripe Soup, Bean Soup, Ciorbă de lobodă (French spinach sour soup), Ciorbă ardelenească de cartofi (Transylvanian potato soup) and Ciorba de Perișoare (Meatball soup). Almost every restaurant in Transylvania will have a soup specialty that you should try – make sure to order some local bread on the side!
6. Homemade Bread
When visiting a new place, always make sure to try the bread. The local favorite is potato bread, loved and appreciated for its rich sweet taste and fluffy texture. To make the dough, mashed potato replaces a part of the wheat flour, creating a unique texture that shouldn’t be missed on your trip. The loaf takes a lot of work as the dough is mixed by hand and cooked over a wood fire. All this effort makes it taste even more fantastic and you can’t stop eating it. Stop by the local bakery near your hotel in the morning to buy a fresh loaf before heading out on the day’s adventures.
7. Mămăligă (Polenta)
Made from corn flour boiled in water with a pinch of salt, Mămăligă is usually served as a side dish for sarmale or served plain with sour cream and Romanian cheese. It’s very healthy and also pairs well with stews. Shepherds like to mix it up with salty sheep cheese and make a specialty called “bulz.” This dish is at the heart of Transylvanian cuisine; drop by one of the traditional feasts at Angofa Wildlife Centre to try it for yourself.
8. Jumări (Greaves)
Made from frying bits of bacon and pig fat, jumări is a crunchy, salty starter best served warm with homemade bread. Jumări is always accompanied with raw onions and a shot of țuică, the traditional homemade drink, as a digestive before starting a meal.
9. Cozonac (Sweet Bread)
This Romanian dessert is a sweet bread filled with walnut paste and poppy seed paste and it is a staple at Christmas and Easter. The pride of every home cook, Cozonac can be a real challenge for a household because it has to be done right. Kneading the dough is demanding work and the whole process takes a while, but the result is truly rewarding, especially when you get the perfect swirl. Walnut trees are abundant in Romania and most families gather baskets of nuts every autumn in preparation for the holidays. Even though it may not be a holiday season when you visit Transylvania, try to stop by a local bakery to taste cozonac.
10. Drob de miel (Lamb Drob)
Lamb Drob is a festive Easter dish that looks like a meatloaf with boiled eggs inside. This tasty appetizer is made of minced lamb offal, green onions, eggs, and bread dipped in milk, which are baked together along with fresh-cut herbs, such as dill, parsley, and garlic. Lamb Drob is served cold and goes well with a local wine or beer after a long walk in the meadows of Transylvania.
Transylvania sits at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and represents the best of its cuisine. Many Romanians might consider this region, which has fiercely maintained its traditions for hundreds of years, to be the “real Romania” with some of the best, and freshest, food in the country. Don’t leave without tasting the best the area has to offer.
Want to taste traditional Romanian food in a beautiful, romantic setting? Join us for a secluded feast at the Angofa Wildlife Centre.