When asked what the biggest food capitals of Europe are, people say Paris, London, Barcelona, Copenhagen, etc. Granted, all of these places have amazing food. Two of the best (if not the best) and most innovative chefs in the world have restaurants in Copenhagen and Barcelona (Rene Redzepi's Noma and Ferran and Albert Adria's restaurants, respectively.) Additionally, Paris has long been seen as a culinary center of the world. Most of the leading chefs worldwide studied and trained in the art of French food in Lyon or Paris. It's obvious that these cities epitomize food culture on the continent. Now, however, there's a new contender in the competition for food fame.

Eastern Europe has long been known to serve decent, hearty foods. After World War II, however, food culture on the other side of the Iron Curtain was decimated. So, for the most part, the tastes of the glorious and rich pasts of many of these countries were forgotten... until 1989 with the fall of the Wall and rise of Eastern Europe as active participants in the world again.  Budapest, Prague, Tallinn, and Berlin have seen revivals of their food culture in the past two decades. More recently, however,  Romania has been making great strides in the food world.


Jesse Fox

Bucharest is the largest and capital city of Romania. If I'm going to be completely honest here, I never really cared about seeing Romania's food scene, I just wanted to go to see Dracula's Castle. But, upon landing, I received one of the most amazing surprises of my life: the chance to interact with the Romanian food scene.

The Drinks

Having arrived in Romania at 4 PM, my family and I went to the hotel to check in.  When we got to there, we were greeted with glasses of Romanian sparkling wine. After having three glasses of this sweet, effervescent, delicious wine, I can attest to the uncanny resemblance it has to Cava. It was so good that my family drank this instead of champagne on New Year's Eve.  Additionally, the hotel gave us a bottle of Romanian red wine to try (this, however, was not something I need to have again).

You also cannot forget about the beer. Walking around, it's not uncommon to find men, women, and even some children sitting and holding a huge liter of beer. I'd recommend trying the house beers of a lot of restaurants (usually a pale lager.)  If they don't have a house brew, try a glass of Ursus, the most popular beer in the country. Finally, something that you must try in Romania is Palinka, a fruit brandy that is meant to be an aperitif.  After having a shot of Distillery Bran's Palinca de Prune before dinner, I was ready to eat copious amounts of food with a smile that didn't leave my face. 

The Food

Jesse Fox

Having done preliminary research on where the best spots in the city are, I kept coming across the restaurant Caru Cu Bere. I figured this would be a very interesting place to start my epicurean Romania experience. I was not disappointed. As we walked into this historic restaurant (built in 1879,) the decor still captured the zeitgeist of a golden era in Romania's history. The dollar, compared to the Romanian Lei, was quite strong. So, we decided we were going to eat well.  

Romanian food is quite diverse; so, I'll just mention the musts. You must have Sarmale when you are there. Sarmale (pronounced sar-mal-ā) is cabbage stuffed with a mixture of ground beef and pork with spices. Additionally, you must try the mici (pronounced mi-chi) which are delicious skinless sausages. I would also recommend trying Tochitura (Moldovan stew) and Transylvanian Goulash (which is much thicker than classic Hungarian Goulash).

Jesse Fox

For dessert, chocolate cake and apple pie are great options that every restaurant has. You should, however, try the Papanas (pronounced papa-naash,) which are donuts that are drenched in sour cream, syrup, and jam. They are not super sweet and will definitely fill you up.

Christmas Markets

Jesse Fox

Like every major European country, Romania has Christmas markets galore.  They normally last from the end of November till New Year's Eve and sell all sorts of the goodies such as meat, cheese, desserts, vin fiert (mulled wine), and much more. I'd highly recommend trying as much as you can because it is all so good and, honestly, quite unknown to my palate. I would definitely try the nougat and gingerbread!

Final Thoughts

Jesse Fox

Overall, Romania is slowly becoming one of the biggest food destinations in Europe. Sitting on an intersection of the Ottoman Empire and Eastern Europe, Romania has a food scene that is quite distinct, filled with flavors and spices that, for the most part, are relatively unknown. Romanian food is having a meteoric rise that isn't showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. Next time you head over to the continent, instead of going somewhere mainstream where you know the food is good (i.e. Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Catalonia, etc.), go out of your comfort zone to visit this country and see what it has to offer. I know, for certain, that I'll be back.