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Monday, April 13, 2009

Transylvanian Cuisine

Transylvanian cuisine is full of flavours and fattening and I guess Eskimos would be envious of these meals if they knew them. But there is a logical explanation for these rich meals and we should think this region is a mountain and hill area, with cold winters.
The well known bacon, onion and bread (slanina cu ceapa si paine) is only a scrap of the barrel and the local recipes book has many pages with very diverse recipes, mixing up influences from Austro-Hungarians and various German populations who settled there during centuries. That was how entered the recipes book the Austrian snitzel, the German (actually “sasesc” – "sasii" are a German population who migrated to Transylvania between the 12th and 13th centuries) kaiser ( a sort of fat bacon) or the “secuiesc” (apparently people known as “secui” have Hungarian origins) papricas (a kind of dumplings made of flour, eggs, butter and optionally cheese served with boiled veal meat and paprika).
The widespread “Borsch” from Moldova is not very much used in Transylvania. People around here prefer pork, beef or lamb soups seasoned with vinegar and spiced with all kind of herbs and roots but tarragon is by far the most frequently used herb. It is also traditional in this area to put sour cream in soups – so, if it happens to you to see somewhere “ciorba/ supa ardeleneasca” (which translates “Transylvanian soup” ) on a Romanian restaurant menu then you should expect to find sour cream in it.
An interesting feature of the Transylvanian cuisine is represented by its… fruit soups: next to the well – known tomatoes soup or kohlrabi & fennel (gulii & chimen) you might be surprised to find apple soup, quince soup, raisins soup or morello cherry soup seasoned with sour cream. Transylvanian housewives give them a sour taste by using a large variety of herbs and spices. Pork is very much eaten at the main meals, especially during the cold season. Transylvanians do not usually eat fish, since the region is crossed by quick rivers where fishing is not possible or very difficult.
Lard and roux (“rantas” in Romanian) are also largely used for preparing main meals. “Rantas” is obtained from stewed onion which is then fried with some flour in a sauce pan. Transylvanians cooks would use traditionally white dressing but sometimes they are not afraid to make use of red ones, with lots of paprika! You should not be surprised if you taste a salad and it is a bit sweet – it is common in this region to add some sugar to salads and dressings.
Cabbage a la Cluj is a dish as famous as the sarmale or the Oltenian sausages. Chopped cabbage (actually it has to be sauerkraut) is mixed up with minced meat and rice in a pan and baked in the oven, when ready it is served with sour cream and it is indeed very tasty. If you go to a local restaurant and want to order a portion of sarmale you should be careful how many of them you order: Transylvanian sarmale are giant and it can easily happen that 2 or 3 of them weigh the same as 8 – 9 Moldavian ones! But Transylvanian meals would always end with a cake or something sweet picked up from an impressive list of desserts.
There are many types of fruit and cheese pies, cozonaci (panettone), langosi and gogosi (different kinds of doughnuts), pancakes and the delicious “gomboti cu prune ” ( a kind of dumplings made of potatoes, eggs and flour, filled with plums and sprinkled with cinnamon, sugar and “pesmet” - a kind of crushed dried bread).

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