Romanian food


Picture of the set of 'toiuri' with the flask. They are decorated with a oicture of a couple in national costume.

Țoiuri and flaska

I’ve almost never bought ‘souvenirs of’ places I visited, either for myself or as gifts for others, but I’m quite pleased with something I brought back from Romania this time. I always bring some ‘palinka’ – the very alcoholic drink made from plums – not that found in commerce but that distilled by friends, or friends of friends. It always comes in a plastic bottle previously holding mineral water – so not very impressive, even if it’s held my favourite, Borsec, when serving to friends back in UK.

The drink, and the slightly less alcoholic version usually referred to as ‘țuică’, was traditionally served in a tiny ‘tankard’ called a țoi (pronounced ‘tsoy’) and served from a small flask so I wanted to find a set of ‘țoiuri’ (plural – ‘tsoy-oorr’). I really wanted a set in glass, or rustic pottery, but I didn’t find either so settled for a ‘tourist’ set in porcelain. At least it’s made in Romania, from one of the two factories in Alba Iulia, not from China as so much ‘traditional’ ware now is.

Bilberries – afine

Having missed the bilberry season in UK, we brought back the Romanian version, afine, in the largest glass jar we could find. We didn’t collect them but bought them in the market, 2.5kg for honorary grandmother, 2.5kg for mother in law and 2.5kg for us. You can buy them, apparently cheaper, by the roadside, but the weighing scale can have been doctored and they can have been diluted with something similar in appearance like elderberries so at about £4/kilo it’s better in the market.

2.5kg of afine, less those already eaten for breakfast, behind the set of țoiuri

2.5kg of afine, less those already eaten for breakfast, behind the set of țoiuri

Afine are the same as the British bilberry but tend to be just a little smaller and more intense in taste. Either are far superior to the cultivated American ‘blueberry’ found in supermarkets here, usually imported from South America but can be from, eg, Spain.

To preserve them all you do is pour sugar on top, which eventually forms a fine syrup. I put them on my usual breakfast of raw oats and milk. They can be used to make ‘afinată’ by letting the sugared berries soak in țuica, but I prefer them just as they are. Having had them for breakfast every day since returning home I’d soon finish them if I continued so starting this morning with grapes I’ll now add other fruit most days and give myself a treat on just one or two days a week.

Raw oats and milk with afine

Breakfast

Other culinary items brought back were ‘zarzavat’, finely chopped herbs and vegetables (preserved with salt), a better addition than the vegetable stock cube resorted to here, ‘ardei iute’ – hot peppers usually accompanying borsch (not for me) and tomato juice made from the intensely tasting tomatoes grown in the countryside, not those from the glasshouses which have little more taste than those sold in UK. All of these prepared by mother in law. Also brought were 5 litres of ‘salcăm’ (acacia) honey from a local beekeeper; we were lucky, the bees didn’t make much of this, my favourite, this year and most available was polyflora. Several bottles were added: a few of one of our favourite reds, from the Murfatlar region – Trei Hectare; newly appeared in Romania, cider, for Petronela; and a couple of the renowned sweet whites from the Cotnar region of north Moldova – Grasă de Cotnar – for friends ; neither P nor I like sweet wines.

That completed the haul; the long drive back, very hot for the first days, made bringing other ‘fresh’ foods back impossible so there’ll be an early visit to Marinela’s Romanian shop in Harehills, Leeds.

At one time posts about food and cooking formed a substantial proportion of my posts on this blog but there are now so many I usually settle for reading some of, to me, the more interesting food blogs or the posts about food from bloggers I follow more generally. I almost never follow recipes anyway except for classic French cooking though I often get inspiration from them.

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We’re not likely to do much today as it will be so hot but this evening we will meet up with the former ‘county inspector of history’ who had and has a high regard for Petronela as a teacher and has now become a friend. She wanted to meet in an excellent restaurant “to eat fish”; we agreed to the location but will settle for an icecream or sweet of some kind. As I said on my Facebook ‘diary’ yesterday, I did nothing of note so it seemed a good idea to write another post on grumpytyke after about a week here in Iași.

A picture of some small carp in a bowl, prepared for cooking

Small carp

Today many Romanians will eat fish. A high proportion of the Romanian population are practising Orthodox Christians so follow rules of ‘post’ (ie , fast) laid down by the church and today is a day on which they can eat fish but not meat.

Post (fast) in Orthodox Romania

When I first came to Romania I lived for six months with a Romanian family and although something different would have been cooked for me I preferred to go along with whatever they were eating so became used to not eating meat on Wednesdays and Fridays and for longer periods at certain times of the year (eg pre Easter, and now). As it seemed a good idea, for health reasons, not to eat meat for a couple of days a week, and for longer periods a couple of times a year or so, I’ve followed this ever since and having a ‘schedule’ makes it easier though I don’t do it for religious reasons. In fact, according to the rules of  ‘post’ it’s not a matter of not eating meat but of not eating animal products, so ‘vegan’. We don’t do this; we often eat eggs, cheese etc on ‘post’ days but sometimes ‘vegan’ meals, eg a kind of ‘baked beans’, ‘borș cu fasole’ – bean borsch, or ‘tocănița cu cartofi’ – potato stew, which are three favourites of mine.

Pește, fish

There’s not a day each week when it’s ‘allowed’ to eat fish but in periods of post there are days where eating fish is allowed and today is such a day. So, as Petronela’s mother follows post pretty strictly today we have fish on the menu. However, because most Romanians (at least in this part of the country) will eat fish today it was difficult to acquire it unless you’re an angler. So Petronela’s father stood in a queue for 1.1/2 hours in the market yesterday to buy the preferred fish – carp.

The carp bought yesterday are extraordinarily small (see picture). I’m more used to them weighing several kg but none larger were available.

(As an aside, I was amused when UK anglers were horrified when east europeans expected to eat the carp they caught. Equally, the east Europeans  were perplexed by UK anglers putting back the carp and other fish they caught; it seemed a pointless activity).

In the UK we usually eat fish on Tuesdays. There’s no link with the church in that, it comes from my ‘honorary grandmother’ in the Bucovina, but that’s another story. Again, having a schedule ensures we eat fish at least once a week.

Mujedei (garlic ‘sauce’)

Obligatory with fried carp is a raw garlic sauce, ‘mujedei’ (pron mooj-day’). This can be simple crushed garlic with water, with sunflower oil, with milk, with a combination of the latter two, or other variations. I prefer it simple with oil, particularly as carp, like tuna, is more like a beef steak with little fat.

To accompany the carp we’ll have ‘mămăliga’ – a kind of cornmeal hash similar to ‘polenta’ but far better if made with the cornmeal from the countryside here; I think this is because a proportion of ‘tăriță’ (chaff) is left in it and probably also because it it is grown on the smallholders’ lots so truly ‘organic’ – a ridiculous term but you know what I mean. (Big Romanian food producers or Western invaders have invented a new one, applied to many packaged, branded foods which, of course, have preservatives, etc: ‘Bio’ is now plastered over packets of such products – more crap!)

Crap

Crap in Romanian is, of course, carp in English, a source of great amusement to Petronela’s students in the UK and to my fishmonger in Leeds Kirkgate market where I buy it, particularly for New Year when it is a traditional Romanian dish. His come from France so not as good as those from Romania, but OK.

WordPress app “beautiful new editor”

I’ve always ignored the WordPress suggestions to use the “improved” editor or the WordPress app. They have always been crap (in the English sense) compared to the traditional desktop version so I use that on both the Macbook and the iPad (as now). Most recently there was a notification that the app had a “beautiful new editor” (or was it “lovely”?) so I had a quick look.

Again complete crap!

In my experience, apps are almost always rubbish compared with the desktop versions, including Facebook, with the exception of Messenger which works very well. The Twitter app is also good. Of course many of the small specialised apps, for which there is no desktop equivalent, are very good. An example is a thermometer app which I’m using to report temperatures on my daily Facebook ‘diary’ – Dusty2Romania.

If the day ever comes when WordPress withdraw the traditional editor interface, as they once threatened to do but relented after a scream of protest from long-term bloggers, I will look for another platform or cease blogging altogether.

Why so many developers insist on fixing things which ‘ain’t broke’ I don’t know; maybe they have scores of programmers sitting around with nothing to do.

I’ve been waiting for the Romanian scenery for a year. I’ve been waiting for the Romanian people and their hospitality for a year.  But, OMG, I was waiting for the food! Of course we cook Romanian at home but we don’t have the ingredients from the smallholdings in the countryside, either brought into market by the elderly ladies or brought by friends of the family. They’ve never seen a pesticide nor fertiliser other than natural from the animal. Tomatoes, carrots, peppers, etc, etc, which taste as they should;  my first experience of the taste of these three in 1993 I have never forgotten.

Left to right, mutton, urdă, cașcaval and caș

Left to right, mutton, urdă, cașcaval and caș

Six cozonacs, one cut showing a slice marbled with a chocolate cream

Cozonac – typical Romanian: mama does not make one, but six.

I was too tired to eat last night after the journey, just drinking about a litre of milk, proper milk, ie direct from the cow. Unfortunately it just reminds me what rubbish we have to drink bought from the supermarket in Britain. But this lunchtime I was ready for some proper food. Of course we ate in a restaurant yesterday but I’ve never found a Romanian restaurant which serves food comparable with Romanian home cooking. So, I ate three types of sheep’s ‘cheese’ with slices of a giant tomato: caș, simple sheep’s cheese; cașcaval (a harder cheese more usually made from cows’ milk); urdă – not sure whether this is classed as cheese or not, it’s made from heated sheep milk.

Mutton

This was followed by long, slow cooked mutton, marinated in wine, with a variety of vegetables. The mutton is superb but British style ‘lamb’ – ie sheep about six months old – is not generally available, just suckling lamb at Easter. There’s nothing like the taste of Romanian pork in UK, not even free range rare breed; I reckon it’s because most of the fat has been bred out of it. I’ll have pork tomorrow 😃 . Beef in Romania is best avoided.

Cozonac

Finally, a slice of cozonac baked by mama ‘to order’; it’s a kind of leavened (ie with yeast) cake which has a chocolate and walnut cream running through it like the Victorian marbled cake. Other ‘fillings’ are possible – most usually rahat, that’s turkish delight in Romanian, but it’s also a word for sh-t, appropriate I think so as it was my order, no rahat … Wonderful with milk, proper milk!

I’ve been documenting the journey from home to here in Iași on a Facebook closed group, so if you’re interested in our ‘adventures’ so far, or in the future, go to (click) Dusty2Romania

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Happy New Year to you all!

La Mulți Ani tuturori!

Picture of the goat's milk and geranium soap in its cellophane packaging

Pure soap from Gosia’s Soaps in Poland

My experiences with hospitals over the past couple of years (mostly good) would make several episodes for a hospital ‘soap’ tv series but it’s the pre-tv soap I’m referring to here: pure soap from my internet friend in Poland, which arrived yesterday – goat’s milk and geranium. The physiotherapy and my ‘organic foods’ soapbox come later.

I’ve become good internet friends with Eddy though we’ve never met despite two abortive attempts. It began a few years ago when I had dreams of building a strawbale house in Romania and found his site ‘Winkos: a strawbale building adventure in Poland‘ and found he was from Yorkshire. His wife, Gosia, makes a range of pure soaps and I’ve been waiting for about a week for one to arrive. This morning I washed my face with it – wonderfully creamy with lots of long-lasting colourful bubbles reminding me of soaps in my childhood. Whatever has been done to them? Well now Gosia is making a range of them; you can see the range (20 in all I think, including a shaving bar) and order them – for great Christmas presents? Details of the range, prices, etc are on the above site under the ‘Soaps for autumn 2016‘ menu.

Pumpkin seeds and ‘organic’ foods

Accompanying the soap were pumpkin seeds from what Eddy says has been a bumper crop. Some will be going into the bread I’ll be making later today as they are of course truly ‘organic’. You know what I mean despite the stupidity of the term – they’re hardly mineral or abstract.

One of the things urging me to return to Romania, to live, is that such food is still the norm in the countryside there and I am sure this was a big factor in feeling better than for years after six weeks there this summer. Add to that the taste and living amid extraordinary natural beauty and I might even desert the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales if I can.

Though I have my suspicions about much labelled ‘organic’ here in UK supermarkets, and the higher prices, I was fascinated by a video clip shared by Eddy on Facebook showing a study of a Swedish family, members of which were full of insecticides, fungicides and plant growth inhibitors on their normal diet. After two weeks eating only ‘organic’ food, these had almost completely disappeared. Worth watching.

Physiotherapy

Right leg with 1.5kg weight strapped on with a scarf One of the most frustrating aspects of my recent ailments is the inability to walk any distance. I used to walk 25 – 30 miles in a day without a problem, the only ‘sport’ I’ve ever indulged in. In fact the inability to do this was a major factor in electing to have two hernias fixed last year. I was just getting into my stride, managing eg 6 miles, when after a relatively short walk in May something happened with my right knee and apart from hobbling about the house, with some pain, I rarely managed a mile. I managed at last to see a physiotherapist on Monday and was given a series of twice daily exercises which I began on Tuesday. I managed most in the morning but they triggered another problem so I passed on the second set. However, feeling good this morning I managed almost all and now, several hours later, I’m not having the bad effects of yesterday so reckon I’ll do the second session this evening.

1.5kg 'dumbell' weight

The only one I haven’t done properly is one with one of Petronela’s 1.5kg weights tied to my leg, ie I did only one or two lifts before giving up. But I’m confident I’ll soon be able to do the full set and that I’ll be able to say I’ve been doing that when I next see the physio in a couple of weeks. He did seem to me to know his stuff and made someone who has never done exercises as such in their life before, reckoning I was active enough, optimistic that I’ll be out again on Ilkla’ Moor, wi’ or bah’t ‘at, before long.

 

New Year vies with Easter as the most important celebration in the Romanian calendar, the latter being the most important religious celebration of course. New Year’s Eve, Revelion, is an important date in our home as it is Petronela’s birthday – so ‘open house’ in accord with Romanian tradition. All are an ‘excuse’ for a magnificent feast which would please any Yorkshireman. Our tiny flat was stuffed, as were our bellies, with traditional Romanian New Year dance and celebration music as a background (see video clips links at the end of this post).

Carp skeleton

Eaten – crap remains 😉 !

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Christmas shopping in Leeds yesterday; it’s a great city to shop in. I find shopping on line no fun at all.

Carp for New Year (Revelion)

A handsome 1.5kg carp bought in Leeds Kirkgate market for New Year's eve dinner

A handsome 1.5kg carp bought in Leeds Kirkgate market for New Year’s eve dinner

Although I did a bit of Christmas shopping it was mainly to begin to provision for New Year as it is Petronela’s birthday (so ‘open house’ in accord with Romanian tradition) on New Year’s Eve (Revelion for Romanians, and as big a celebration as for the Scots)  and we have Romanian friends coming to stay. (more…)

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