This text was prepared and written in Romania by Chef Buzu, a Romanian chef of impeccable lineage, and translated by me and so I therefore accept responsibility for any omissions or errors in translation. The original article (in Romanian) can be found here: scurta-incursiune-in-istoria-bucatariei-romanesti
Chef Buzu’s English-language website can be accessed here and I warmly recommend a visit as he has a lot of excellent recipes from his personal collection.
He has also written a number of books about Romanian cuisine in English.


A short incursion into the history of Romanian cuisine

“...after that extraordinary ‘ciorba’ and after that dreamy ‘tourta’, I would say that not only does the world in fact no nothing about Romania, but neither do you Romanians recognise miracles. When it comes to cuisine, at least, you are very, very rich in your so-called poverty.”
 - Jacques Yves Cousteau
A strikingly sorrowful quote by the great French oceanographer, who discovered Romania not only through his research expeditions under the Black Sea, but also was left astonished by the immense potential of Romanian cuisine.
And when such a remark is made by a Frenchman, particularly one who had come into contact with the richness of the cuisines of so many cultures, I don’t believe there is much point in further comment.
Therefore, in the following text, I have decided that I should attempt a brief foray (but very brief) into the history of Romanian gastronomy, to bring to your attention a few of the more important milestones that have, over time, influenced Romanian cuisine.
Archaeological evidence that has come to light in the last 50 or 60 years suggests that our ancestors, the Dacians, in the second century AD, enjoyed a somewhat frugal mealtime, during which they partook of meat dishes (veal cooked on hot embers, roasted wild pigeon, spit-roasted game meat), honey, aromatic wines, and fruits, such as grapes, apples, and pears.
It is clear that all these food sources were possible due to the geographical zone, one which allowed the raising of animals, the cultivation of crops, as well as advantages the many talents of the Dacians, hunting numbering among them.
Although they excelled at breeding cattle and were good at growing crops, the Dacians were not as adepts at preparing dairy products, preferring to consume milk (from sheep and cows) in its raw form, while the vegetables which were known to them at the time were eaten boiled (boiled millet, boiled buckwheat, as well as the celebrated boiled wheat, which, as time passed, become what we know today in Romania as ‘coliva’, a type of porridge).
The Roman occupation brought with it to our lands, among other things, the well-known pie called ‘placinta’ (placenta in Latin), a range of soups and broths, bread (flatbreads or baked breads), cold-pressed olive oil kept in amphorae, as well as the cloche (an earthenware pot with a bell-shaped lid; an ancestor of today’s pressure cooker).
Due to our geographical position, and due too to the riches our country has always had, it has been the target of various invading peoples, a fact that has left its imprint on the way in which Romanian cuisine has evolved.
Being a people always under threat, Romanians learnt to eat on the run, keeping clear of the paths of the invaders, something that lead to the consumption of raw herbs and salad vegetables such as sorrel, lettuce, rhubarb, and coltsfoot, as well as raw meat, dry cured under their saddles.
Between the 3rd century AD and the 12th century AD, vegetable borsch with meat entered into the diet of the Romanians by way of the Slavs from south of the Danube, as did the two-pronged fork, brought in by Venetian merchants and used in the houses of local lords.
Between the 13th century and up until around 1820, there was the period of Ottoman occupation, but alongside this there were Greek, Arab, Armenian, and Byzantine influences on Romanian cuisine.
It was in this period that Romanians began to devour pilaf, ciulama (meat in white sauce), tocanita (stew), tuslama (tripe stew), moussaka, ghiveci (stew), zacusca (eggplant chutney), sis kebabs, baklava and sarayli pastries. They also brought us eggplants (a vegetable still used a lot in Turkish food), tomatoes, onions, peppers, okra, quinces, melons, and sweetcorn.
At the same time coffee was introduced, as was tobacco and the hubble-bubble pipe.
As a result of the Ottoman occupation and the considerable victories which the Sublime Porte inflicted on us, Romanians were forced to adapt to the situation and cultivate more corn (which the Turks didn’t want, something that lead to our wel-known form of polenta; mamaliga), and also to raise more pigs (which, similarly, due to their Islamic religion, the Turks did not care for either, preferring lamb and beef), which in turn lead to the Romanian custom of ‘pomana porcului’, in which a person who slaughters a pig will invite those around him – friends, family, neighbours – to come and share the first meal prepared from the meat and offal of the pig.
Also in this period of history, the influence of the Greek Orthodox patriarchy on the majority of the land owners pushed the church towards a more rural environment, where the majority of the monasteries were to be found; an action that lead to the birth of the gastronomic calendar of religious vegan fasting periods (called ‘post’ in Romanian). This meant that various foods were assimilated into the Romanian diet, such as; sarmale (stuffed cabbage leaves) with walnuts or raisins, baked celeriac with olives, ‘caviar’ for post (usually made with semolina flour), vinegary dock leaves, mashed nettles with garlic sauce and mamaliga, monastery-style mushroom stew, mashed beans, eggplant croquettes, and others.
The westernization of Romanian food began in the 1700s. The Austro-Hungarian Empire began to influence the Transylvanian regions of Ardeal and Banat; the Russians made culinary inroads into Moldova; France, Greece, and Italy influenced Muntenia in the south; while Turkey continued to influence the eastern region of Dobrogea.
The greatest period of change occurred in the 1800s when an entire generation of children, born of the 1848 revolution and period of national revival and the children of the wealthy and influential boyar families who had studied in the great universities of Vienna, Paris, and Berlin, now came home with new revolutionary ideals and an intense thirst for the modernization of our country. The first cookery books written in Romanian also began to appear in this period, and amongst these pioneers appeared the writers M. Kogalniceanu and C. Negruzzi with their already celebrated collection entitled “200 tried and tested recipes, pastries and other household things”. So it was that these two renowned Moldavians, just as they had made their mark in the literary and political history of the country, also influenced the revolution of Romanian food, which Negruzzi had described as ‘a primitive cuisine’, and which Kogalniceanu declared that in Romania was  eaten carelessly, 'as-it-comes', and that ‘choice dishes’ did not exist.
The truly modern period in Romania cuisine started, however, after the Great Unification of 1918, when, in Bucharest and other major cities around the country, luxurious restaurants began to open, into whose kitchens chefs would be brought in from the west, in particular from France or Germany, as well as the numerous local eateries that opened up around city neighbourhoods providing popular music to their clients.
Of overwhelming importance to the revolution in Romania cuisine was the opening by one Grigore Capsa of a complete dining complex – cafeteria, restaurant, and hotel: The Casa Capsa.
This renowned venue soon began to impress its influence on the culinary world through recipes which proved to be far beyond any kind of imitation. The recipes, which demonstrated much creativity, were the result of diligent work on the part of Grigore Capsa, who had spent much time travelling around Europe (Paris, Vienna, London, Leipzig, Petersburg, Budapest), not only because he would secure the freshest of locally-sourced supplies, but also due to a taste and refinement second to none. One of the most famous creations to come out of the Capsa Hotel is the Joffre Cake, created through the modification of original recipes, especially for the dinner offered in Bucharest in honour of the French Marshal, Joseph Joffre.
With the arrival of Communism in 1947, Romanian gastronomy suffered some new modifications, starting with the censorship and eventually the elimination, as far as possible, of signs of westernization (they being maintained more or less exclusively for the social elite of that period) and eventually arriving at a more scientific and practical form of provisioning.
This period, I believe, left a long-lasting impression on the ‘culinary’ attitude of Romanians, who, once they had escaped from the bonds of those times, made a beeline straight for anything imported and beautifully packaged, without taking into account how healthy it was or was not, quickly getting used to purchasing fast food and junk food to the detriment of traditional Romanian dishes, which, are quite unfairly ignored by the majority of the population.
And now, in brief, here is a gastronomic map of Romania:
- Dobrogea is influenced by Turkish, Aromanian, Greek, Tartar, and Lipovan cuisines, and also by its geographical position bordering both the Black Sea and the Danube, resulting in the widest variety of fish dishes found in the entire country. We find here the famous fish borsch, fish sausages, sarmale stuffed with fish, moussaka, doughnuts, sorbets, Dobrogean sheep’s cheese pie, fish sauces and spreads, garlic paste, baklava, and other sweet pastries, and much more.
- The cuisine of Moldova is somewhat more refined and is influenced mostly by Russian cuisine. This is the homeland of the cheese and egg soufflĂ©, the sweet cheese pasty, and the meatball, of many famous borsches and poultry soups garnished with lovage, stews with mamaliga, and lamb’s offal pie, of sausages made of chopped pork, of sweet loafs, and plaited pastries.
- Ardeal and Banat have been heavily influenced by Austro-Hungary. The Ardeleni are the most Germanic of the Romanians, eating well and working hard. Pork fat, smoked or boiled, but well prepared, is consumed all year round, be it in its purest state or as an addition to various dishes in the form of ‘chisaturii’ (smoked fat, finely chopped and mixed with onion, which is added to soups, stews, and other dishes); pork sausages, fresh or smoked, prepared according to Saxon or Hungarian recipes, adapted to the tastes of the locals; black puddings and offal sausages; pork scratching cold of hot; ‘chisca’ pork and rice sausages; the mixture of dripping and onion called ‘rantas’ which is used to thicken most of the soups in the Ardeal and Banat regions; soups flavoured with tarragon and soured with vinegar or cabbage brine and enriched with egg yolk, flour, and sour cream. Moreover we find broths with semolina-flour dumplings or homemade noodles. It is here that we encounter the Viennese schnitzels, as well as Hungarian goulash soups, paprika dishes, lettuce soup garnished with fried egg and smoked ribs, and not forgetting the cakes covered with cream and walnuts, and the omnipresent pork dripping (as in this region pork is the star ingredient) that turns up in so many recipes, from the soups right through to the pastries.
- Muntenia is a region which has come under many spheres of influence: French, Italian, Bulgarian, as well as from the East through the Greek, Turkish, Jewish (stuffed pike, for example) or Russian (many soups come to us from them), and thus Muntenians are amongst the most renowned soup-makers in Romania.
Well my friends, hopefully I didn’t bore you and everything presented to you to read proved to be not only interesting but also useful. I now encourage you to set off around the country to experience for yourself some ‘gastronomic tourism’ and you’ll soon see that I was right when I convinced you to do this because you’ll discover a taste for the cuisine of Romania, of dishes both varied and flavoursome, food which you will surely not find anywhere else in the world in an atmosphere so good, because I forget to mention one more important thing, quite intentionally this time, and that is the particular drinks of each of the regions, which accompany every meal, to accentuate them all with the special aromas.
Chef Buzu
This material was realised with the help of “Ghidul gastronomic al Romaniei” by the House of Guides publishing house, 2004 edition.