The Story Of Romanian Gastronomy

excerpt With this, we can consider that the era of medieval, traditional cuisine was over and the modern Romanian cuisine begins. In the same year the young Miclescu couple went on their honeymoon – 1880, the first Romanian cookbook with Latin characters was printed. Entitled The Good Housewife. A Practical Cookbook, it was written by Mrs. Col. Ecaterina Steriad (nee Malaxa). We don't know too much about the author, other than she was quite young (her husband, Director of the Royal Residence, was born in 1849). In the preface, she writes:"With less means and more pleasure, you will see the most exquisite food preparations for your lunches and dinners. I think The Good Housewife manages to take recipes 'monopolized' by a couple of privileged families who understand home economics and know hoe to appreciate the value of better organized housekeeping."Printing cookbooks is the most important vehicle of "democratizing" Romanian gastronomy and cuisine. New and larger editions are published, as cookbooks add more and more Romanian and foreign recipes.A new idea – that of a unique Romanian cuisine – is put forth in the preface to an anonymous book entitled The Three Main Types of Cuisine: Romanian, French and German. "Good housewives, you do speak Romanian, you did start dressing Romanian here and there, it is time for you to cook Romanian! Using the following recipes, we promise you will soon forget all foreign cuisine styles."At a closer look, we find this naïve nationalism that comes as a populist reaction to the aristocratic cosmopolitism to be quite erroneous. The 257 recipes supposed to present the true Romanian cuisine contain many foreign dishes: Greek (noodles, moussaka, preserves, beef gelatin, fish ragout, salads including Greek names of vegetables and fruits); Turkish (baklava, chiftele – meat patties, ciulama – meat cooked in special roux sauce, iahnie – white bean paste, pilaf, sherbet, let alone ciorba – sour soup and vegetables with Turkish names); German (fleica – beef flank steak, jumări – fried bacon, caltaboş – special cold cut); Russian, Polish or Ukrainian (borsch, dumplings, caviar, giblets); South Slavic-Bulgarian (braised beef and numerous vegetables); French (soup); Hungarian (arpacaş, potato casserole). The common name of some dishes and the similar recipes for others emphasize once more that cooking has no clear frontiers. In our case, it confirms an idea stated at the beginning of this anthology that Romanian cuisine is a synthesis of various other types of cuisine adapted to the local taste. Traditional Romanian sarmale, stuffed sour cabbage, are very different from the Turkish stuffed vine leaves with rice and raisins; so is the Romanian borş (souring liquid) compared to the Russian or Polish ones. Similarly, tschorba in Turkish and Arabic means any kind of soup, while in Romanian it means only the sour soups (mostly made with borş). From the Arabic word pronounced shorba we have the Italian sorbetto and the French sorbet. From another Arabic word, sharab (drink), we obtain the Italian sciroppo, the French sirop, and the Romanian şerbet. The word, as well as the drink made with sherbet, exist in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbo-Croatia. Another interesting case is the evolution of the Romanian words for appetizers – antreuri or aperitive from the French words or gustări. In Moldavia, the Russian term zacusca was used, while Wallachians preferred mizilicuri or mezeluri, from the Turkish meze. In time, mezeluri represented only the (meat) cold cuts, while zacusca is used for the preserve of eggplant with peppers and tomato.Vodka makes an interesting case as well. At the beginning of the 17th century, the word vutka was used for a fruit liqueur similar rather to rossolis than a cereal brandy. Constantin Cantacuzino's book written in the 17th century gives us ten vutki recipes: from juniper seeds, cinnamon, lemon, orange peels, roses, etc., but none of them made of cereal grains.All these examples, including the analysis of Romanian jams, preserves or cakes, lead to the same conclusion: starting from foreign recipes, Romanians developed their own cuisine which showed its best for a century ending around 1940-1948. after five centuries of limiting or abandoning traditional recipes and cooking styles (except for monasteries and the Orthodox church), we find a new interest in rediscovering the traditional Romanian gastronomy. We can but hope the efforts will be rewarded. Excerpted from The Story of Romanian Gastronomy, The Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, Bucharest, 1999English version by Laura BELDIMAN

by Matei Cazacu