“What I like about Romania is its timeless character found in childhood fairy tales. It feeds the soul and heart. This is what Romania does to you after all.” – Charles, Prince of Wales
Why is Prince Charles buying old, traditional houses in Transylvania, Romania so that he can frequently visit this time-forgotten place? What is so special about it? Would anyone even be able to find it easily on a map?
A country in Eastern Europe bordering Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia and Bulgaria, the largely rural makeup of this nation comes as an unexpected and pleasant surprise to many in search of authenticity and old traditions. Prince Charles, who claims distant kinship with Vlad “the Impaler” Tepes, comes to Transylvania to unwind in a place seen to be refreshingly relieved of unnecessary embellishment and distraction. Many regions in rural Romania are among the most beautifully bucolic and fascinating in Europe.
UNBROKEN TIES TO THE PAST
Despite enormous political changes—in the past century sovereignty has transferred from Habsburg emperors to Romanian kings to communist dictators to elected politicians— Transylvania has somehow retained a link to a way of life not so prevalent in Britain or other Western countries since the advent of intensive, industrial farming.
The Telegraph, a well known British publication, writes in its Travel section about Transylvania and how British royalty perceive its beauty:
For the Prince of Wales, the region represented a dream come true: a living example of the possibility of a more harmonious relationship between man and nature; a community that, rather than destroying its traditions in the race to modernity, seemed to have preserved and adapted them.
He decided to add his voice to those calling for the protection of what is so special here and to lend it material substance by getting involved in a project that embraced the principles of sustainable tourism, and provided much-needed local employment.
It is easy to criticise. Who is he, a man born into the lap of luxury, to idealise a simplicity (and poverty) that he can leave behind at will? But coming and seeing it for yourself, it is hard not to feel that perhaps he has a point.
RURAL ROMANIAN SCENES
Despite supermarket shopping trends and the toxic, chaotic, hyperactive mode of modern life prevalent in the big cities, traditional customs and gastronomy are still alive in Romania, especially in the countryside.
A growing number of ecological, traditional farmers, traditional farmers markets, organizations and associations, such as Ecoruralis, ASAT (the Association for Supporting Small Agriculture) and ReGeneration, which fight to bring back old traditions and ecological farming, are getting stronger each year. Since the dishonest, toxic practices of the industrial processed food industry have been openly and repeatedly exposed on national television and in online media, educated people are increasingly looking for healthy alternatives and sources of traditional food─something that still resonates well with their origins and recent memories.
There are many opportunities here for farming; the soil is still very rich and clean compared to other countries. In contrast to most of the rest of the developed world, younger and highly educated people are moving from the cities to the countryside to start small organic farming ventures, and their numbers are growing.
Romanian gastronomy is a diverse blend of different dishes from several traditions with which it has come into contact, but it also maintains its own character. The Romanians share many foods with the Balkan area (in which Turkey was the principal cultural influence), with Central Europe (mostly in the form of German-Austrian dishes introduced through Hungary or by the Saxons in Transylvania) and Eastern Europe. Some others are original or can be traced to the Romans and Dacians and other ancient civilizations.
Quite different types of dishes are sometimes included under a generic term; for example, the category ciorba, which is a staple, includes a wide range of soups with a characteristic sour taste. These may be meat, bones and vegetable soups, or fish soups, all of which are soured by sauerkraut juice, or traditional bors, a fermented sour drink made from wheat bran.
One of the most common meals is the mamaliga, a type of polenta made with cornmeal, served on its own, with a variety of raw cheeses and sour cream, or as a side dish.
Before Christmas, on December 20 (Ignat’s Day or Ignatul in Romanian), most rural families traditionally slaughter a pig. A variety of foods are prepared for Christmas from the slaughtered pig cured in a unique, old fashioned way. They include:
• Carnati: raw sausages that may be smoked and/or dry-cured;
• Caltabos: sausage based on liver with consistency from fine (pâté) to coarse;
• Sangerete: (black pudding) a sausage prepared from a mixture of pig’s blood and fat and meat, grain or bread crumbs, and spices;
• Toba: (headcheese) based on pig’s feet, ears and meat from the head suspended in gelatin and stuffed in pig stomach;
• Tochitura: pan-fried cubed pork served with mamaliga and wine;
• Piftie: inferior parts of the pig, mainly the tail, feet, and ears, spiced with garlic and served in bone gelatin;
• Jumari: dried pork remaining from rendering of the fat and imbued with various spices;
• Slanina: smoked raw pork fat. The shepherds’ traditional “sandwich” consists of a paste made from raw slanina mixed with onion and parsley;
• Lebervurst: chicken or pork liver pâté.
The Christmas meal is sweetened with the traditional cozonac, a sweet bread enriched with nuts and poppy seeds. The common bread eaten daily is traditionally a round, two-pound sourdough loaf. Sometimes potatoes are added to the dough, and baked in stone ovens.
At Easter, lamb is served. The main dishes are bors de miel (lamb sour soup), roast lamb and drob de miel, a Romanian-style lamb haggis made of minced offal (heart, liver, lungs) with spices and then roasted.
Many people eat a variety of fermented vegetables during fall and winter, such as sauerkraut, green tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, carrots, celery, cauliflower, small watermelons and red cabbage. In the summertime, tomatoes, eggplants, onions, spinach and stinging nettle (in late spring), squash, corn, bell peppers, and a variety of fruits are commonly consumed.
Wine is the preferred alcoholic drink. The Romanian wine industry has a long tradition of over three millennia and the country is the ninth largest wine producer in the world (2009) with an export market that is constantly growing.
A perhaps surprising fact is that Romania is the world’s second largest producer of plums; seventy-five percent of the plums harvested in Romania are transformed into the famous tuica (plum brandy). An internationally sought-after plum jam or plum butter called magiun de prune Topoloveni is a delicious product made in the traditional way with no sugar added slow cooked for a long time.
The amazing biodiversity of the Danube Delta adds the benefit of specific, traditional dishes to the Romanian gastronomy, such as roe salad made from carp, pike or various marine fish; carp in brine; and sour fish soup with fermented bors.
Romania is both a big raw dairy consumer and producer, through small, rural, traditional farms. Most of the cheeses are made of cow’s or sheep’s milk, but also from goat’s milk. One of the most common varieties is branza de burduf, a kneaded cheese prepared from sheep’s milk and traditionally stuffed into a sheep’s stomach. It has a strong taste and semi-soft texture. Some producers also sell it stuffed in pine bark.
Cas is a semi-soft fresh white cheese, unsalted or lightly salted, stored in whey, and eaten fresh. Telemea is a cow’s or sheep’s milk white cheese, similar to feta. Urda is made by boiling the whey drained from cow’s or ewe’s milk until the remaining proteins precipitate and can be collected.
Although everyone in the countryside enjoys raw dairy foods, many people in the city, unfortunately, rely on the pasteurized industrial variety found in supermarkets. The ecological, pro-peasant movement advocates traditional methods and small farming. The result is that real, non-industrial raw dairy can be found in more farmers’ markets in the urban areas now. There is also a growing number of raw milk vending machines.
On Romania’s small scale, traditional farms the animals are grass-fed. Hay and a mix of local grains are given during winter time.
Many shepherds lead their flocks to pasture high up on the mountains where the grass is best, especially during spring and summer. In more remote rural areas many people still follow the ancient tradition of moving along with their animals to the best feed available, which is called transhumance. Vertical transhumance (moving livestock between higher pastures in summer and lower valleys in winter) is often of high importance to pastoralist peoples. The dairy products of transhumance flocks and herds (milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese) often form much of the diet in these populations.
RAW BEE PRODUCTS
Many traditional beekeepers follow this same practice of moving the hives to different regions during summer, offering high-quality, raw, chemical-free bee products, which are sought after internationally.
I’m personally fond of a unique and beneficial bee product found in Romania, which I use sometimes in my practice and recommend to clients with certain ailments: real bee bread. The bees produce this in their hive by mixing the pollen with honey and their own salivary enzymes, after which they coat the honeycomb with propolis. After this, the bees “seal” it with wax and beat their wings to increase temperature and let it ferment. Pretty smart, isn’t it? After three months you have real bee bread, a product which is much more nutritive and powerful than pollen. It is especially recommended for liver and digestive problems.
Romania’s best antioxidant plant is sea buckthorn. Its berries are often mixed with high quality raw honey and sold by traditional beekeepers as a tonic and immune booster.
Although around thirty percent of the Romanian population is rural (five times more than the average in the European Union), almost sixty percent of agricultural landowners are between sixty and seventy years of age, and this aging population is one of the major problems of Romanian agricultural politics.
Some other problems include the lack of vision regarding agricultural politics, poor implementation of laws, lack of political stability, big differences in the treatment of small and large farmers, poverty, bureaucracy, and lack of access to funds. Some policies favor food bioengineering companies, and inequalities exist in the imports and exports between Romania and other European countries. Environmental problems also exist.
The Common Agricultural Policy Reform. which will be finalized in 2013, represents an opportunity for the European Union and for the Romanian authorities to take a step forward to protect small-scale traditional farming.
Healthy, traditional Romania desires a future where peasants play an important, integral role by providing most of the food for the country. Peasants are the cornerstone of Romanian history and culture, and their importance should be honored, their agricultural sovereignty protected.
BEAUTIFUL FACIAL STRUCTURE IN ROMANIAN PEASANT GIRLS
Unlike most European countries, Romanian farmers are split in two categories: peasants and industrial farmers, without many other categories in between. Romania has 2.6 million farmers each owning under 2.5 acres of land and only ninety-six hundred farmers which own more than two hundred fifty acres. Despite this fact, those ninety-six hundred farms receive most of the agricultural subsidies.
Agriculture was for a very long time the biggest force in Romania, with an impressive number of peasant-farmers, and it will depend upon political and national decisions to ensure that the situation continues in the future. But overall, an ideal solution would be to bring the population back to the old, traditional way of eating and renew the high demand for local, unprocessed, healthy food. Educated consumers will eventually help in the process of reducing the number of fake “traditional” and “ecological” producers, who make their way into the Romanian markets these days, by choosing the real producers instead and also staying away from industrial food.
The newly opened WAPF chapter in Romania has set a goal of contributing as much as possible to the list of healthy food resources and raising awareness about traditional diets among consumers.
There are farmers markets in all urban areas, a few associations working as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to offer healthy food, and a couple of seed banks to preserve Romanian heirlooms and authentic seeds. It is very important to increase the number of these in order to establish good direct connections between small rural growers and the urban population.
SARMALE: A TRADITIONAL ROMANIAN RECIPE
The smell of sarmale over the Carpathian Mountains is an aroma to die for! The sarma (plural: sarmale), a word
of Arabic-Turkish origin, refers to a Balkan dish of grape leaves stuffed with rice and raisins. In the Carpathians the
sarma is transformed by magnificent and heavy Daco-Roman meanings. At Christmas it is a major component of the
Romanian Orthodox Christian ritual, which makes it strange and distant from its original formula.
2 pickled whole white cabbages (sauerkraut)
2 pounds pastured ground pork (or a mix of pork and beef)
3 organic carrots
2-3 tablespoons organic tomato paste
1 chili pepper (optional)
1 cup of organic brown rice (preferably sprouted)
1/2 glass organic wine
1 large onion
a mix of fresh herbs like dill, thyme and parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 glass organic white wine
3 tomatoes in sauce
1 cup tomato paste
thyme, dill, bay leaves, paprika, pepper, salt (optional, since the sauerkraut is salty already)
Step 1: Tend to the cabbage: loosen and carefully separate the leaves, rinse, remove the hard and thick veins. Whatever is unsuitable for filling, chop fine.
Step 2: Rinse the rice well. Chop the onion and herbs (and the chili pepper if your guests can stomach it!), grate the carrots. Mix everything together: rinsed rice, ground meat, onion, carrots, herbs, rice, tomato paste, half glass wine, herbs, salt (not too much, the sauerkraut is salty already) and pepper.
Step 3: Fill the leaves, roll them, and close the ends (not too tightly, because the rice will swell). You can make them larger or smaller, depending on how you like them and how skilled you are. The main thing is for them not to come undone as they boil.
Step 4: Grease a thick earthenware pot with lard. A cast iron pot or a crockpot works fine as well. Arrange cabbage leaves on the bottom, a layer of chopped cabbage and some bacon pieces. Now comes the first layer of sarmale, followed by another layer of chopped cabbage, sprinkled with tomato paste, then sarmale, until the pot is full.
Step 5: The last layer is chopped cabbage sprinkled with bay leaves, chopped thyme and dill, some pepper and paprika to taste, pieces of bacon and slices of tomato from the sauce.
Step 6: Mix the tomato sauce with the remaining wine, heat it a little, and pour it over the sarmale. Cover and cook it on low heat, but not directly over a flame, so that it will simmer and bubble for at least five hours. The juice should reduce by about half, or even two thirds.
Step 7: Serve hot with sour cream, polenta (mamaliga) and a very good wine, if desired.
For more traditional Romanian recipes please visit www.guide2health.net and download the recipe e-book from the homepage.
2. Romanian Dishes, Wines And Customs by Radu Anton Roman.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2013.