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The Taste of Transylvania – A Gastronomic Experience

Transylvanian gastronomy is meant to satisfy your tastebuds, and never leave you hungry. Romanians have a “diet” based on meat and cheese that are at their peak in Transylvania, so you’d better come hungry!

In a country where, after the fall of communism, many have turned to fancy restaurants and fine dining in the city, villagers will tempt you with mouth-watering produce right from their orchard. In contrast to the city, Transylvanian villages provide authenticity, an opportunity not to be missed! This is the real unaltered taste of finely crafted products….and genuine hospitality! The only thing you have to do is venture off the beaten path!

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Transylvanian delicacies in Viscri

A pinch of Transylvania on your plate
Ladies and gentlemen, here comes the soup!
Its majesty, the meat!
Must taste sweets
Food to warm your soul
Something to drink?

A pinch of Transylvania on your plate

Transylvania means multiculturalism: it was part of the Hungarian Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, and Austria-Hungary, which all left their fingerprint on its gastronomic heritage. Moreover, Transylvania was home for Saxons, a Germanic ethnic group; not to mention the Hungarian influences that shaped their gastronomic legacy.

So, imagine a plate with various influences, flavours and tastes together with high integrity products on the scale of natural. This results in delicacies that have even been compared to an alternative to the Mediterranean cuisine, says Paul Bloomfield, an Oxford professor.

Not impeccable look, but impeccable taste; photo Gabriela Cuzepan
Cheese – a Romanian trademark

To make a foreigner understand what someone from Transylvania loves eating, they should imagine a piece of slab of pork fatback, called slănină with onion, freshly baked bread and a glass of pălincă. Romanian food is not for the faint-hearted, nor is it for diet! Instead, it is so heart-warming that it can melt anyone’s soul willing to explore it!

The people who live inside the Carpathian mountains are gourmet people, although rather moderate in their behaviour. Famous for their tidy and neat houses, Transylvanian people developed some traditional dishes they are proud of.

Langoș with cheese and sour cream from Rimetea, a must if you get in the area

Ladies and gentlemen, here comes the soup!

In this part of the country, the inhabitants prefer soup over broth (as in Wallachia or Moldavia) that contains vegetables, meat, sour cream and egg yolk, but also homemade flour dumplings. Most common clear soups are based on chicken: dumpling chicken soup or noodle chicken soup, while the beef tripe soup is one of the most loved sour soups. The Hungarian influence is present in the goulash, a dense soup with meat and vegetables seasoned with spices, but also in the cumin seeds soup that my family loves. It is a cheap, very simple and honest soup that tastes delicious.

The same inspiration can be found in the egg soup or the summer soups, that is, sour cherry, apple or gooseberry soup that can be eaten cold in hot days. If you want to taste a chilling soup, it is best if you find yourself in a Transylvanian household or an authentic guesthouse.

Transylvanian pea soup
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There are some spices Transylvanian cuisine is fond of: tarragon, thyme or red pepper. Borsch, a mandatory ingredient for broth, is not so popular in Transylvania, where soups get sour by adding vinegar and tarragon, and tastier by adding smoked ham.

Its majesty, the meat!

Transylvanian people are known to use meat in their dishes, as they raise poultry, cows, or pigs around the house. Pork is the favourite meat, Romanians have the habit of honoring the pig in the beginning of winter to fill their pantries with meat for the upcoming season (some time ago, the fortified church towers fulfilled this role). Mutton and veal are just as popular, while fish doesn’t compete with meat; villagers don’t go fishing too much as rivers are very fast.

Pomana porcului, Honoring the pig
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Stews are common for the main course, and the good old paprikash always does its job. It is a sort of stew, only somewhat different and better (!). The traditional Hungarian one relies on meat, lots of crème fraîche and is served with small dumplings. The name and colour come from paprika, the seasoning that spices up the taste.

The meat that boiled in the chicken soup is sometimes served with sauces, like sour cherry sauce or maybe plum sauce, easy to make and a successful pairing.

Transylvania is famous for an “alternative” to sarmale, the leading Romanian dish, called varza a la Cluj (cabbage made in Cluj style).

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Cabbage made in Cluj style, a Transylvanian delicious lasagna

The dish contains several layers of finely shredded cabbage and minced meat mixed with rice and bacon or sausages and baked in the oven topped with sour cream. Best place to eat it is of course in Cluj, try the eatery with an inspiring name Varzarie.

Must taste sweets

Deserts have always been the beautiful ending of a meal, carefully crafted from a long list of sweets. Gomboții cu prune (plum dumplings) have been so famous in this part of the country, inherited from our Hungarian neighbours, that they gained a well-deserved place in the entire Romanian kitchen. They are balls made of mashed potato dough covered in breadcrumbs and a pinch of cinnamon, featuring a ripe plum inside. You can try them at Conacul Secuiesc.

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The famous plum dumplings are a treat not only to the eye

For me, Criț was the first place where I tasted lichiu săsesc/henklesch, a type of desert with cream and eggs, a traditional sweet that Saxons used to eat every Christmas and Easter. Delicious!  Rhubarb pie is another heritage; if you are in the area you can also try rhubarb soup or jam.

Henklesch, or lichiu, a typical desert from Sibiu area
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Food to warm your soul

Here are some examples of comfort food that can instantly boost your mood (and weight, but why bother during vacation), and in Romania, some can be easily procured as street food.

Found basically at every corner next to a bus stop, you should give langoși a chance. This deep fried flatbread can be served in various ways: with cheese and dill, with cheese and garlic, ham and cheese or even sweet. If you pass through Rimetea Alba, there is a stall next to the school that deserves your attention. Kürtöskalács/cozonac secuiesc (chimney cake) is another food of Hungarian inspiration that is found at every street manifestation. Children’s favourite, it is a sweet dish made from dough wrapped around a cone-shaped baking spit, served hot right on the spot.

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The chimney cake is delicious also due to the various toppings, such as ground walnut.

Salata de vinete (eggplant spread) exists in many countries and many shapes, but I have never heard a foreigner taste our version and be insensitive to it. I hope I made you curious enough!

Zacusca is another comfort food worth trying, a vegetable spread made of eggplant, pepper, tomatoes, sometimes mushrooms or beans that is stored in jars. It is usually prepared in large quantities to be stored and eaten throughout the cold season. You can buy some here.

Something to drink?

Lately, Romania has become a serious competitor on the international market, many wines having obtained important medals. When in Transylvania you can visit some wine cellars and taste their precious drinks. Here are some worth mentioning: ISSA wines from La Salina (situated in Turda, very close to the salt mine), Villa Vinea cellars situated in a fantastic scenery in Tarnavelor Valley; Liliac winery carries forward the tradition of Transylvanian wines, or Jidvei.  The last one is the largest vineyard in Transylvania and has won numerous medals thanks to its premium wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Feteasca Alba.

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ISSA wine tasting (La Salina wine cellar)

Afinata, caisata and vișinata are some homemade brandies “for the ladies”, based on fruit (blueberries, apricots, sour cherries or many more), served as appetizers.

Still, the most typical and famous drink is pălinca, the universal cure-all. Usually made of ripe and sweet plums, but also apricots or pears, the palinca is a local pride for the inhabitants of the area who boast with homemade versions and well-hidden secrets concerning the preparation.

The strength of these Hungarian origin spirits revolves around 50 degrees in Transylvania, although in other parts of the country palinca is much weaker.

A joke says that a person from Oltenia (another region) tells his Transylvanian friend that he made a very good palinca of 38 degrees, and the latter laughs at him telling that only fever is 38. A serious palinca is stronger.

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Homemade visinata, a sweet appetizer made from sour cherries

I couldn’t conclude better than putting forward this fact: in 2019, Sibiu was awarded the title of European Region of Gastronomy by the International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Arts and Tourism with the support of European institutions. The entire region is famous for ingredients sourced from local farms and tries to promote traditional foods.

Should you be a traveller in these lands, make a stop at a genuine guesthouse to experience Transylvanian hospitality and taste!

Bon appetit!

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for the helpful tips! I would never have gotten this on my own! Is it alright to reference part of this on my website basically include a backlink to this webpage?

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