Today’s culinary interview with our Dutch colleague Maarten, discovering Romania for the very first time: ‘What is this place? What should I expect?’ These were just a few of the questions running through my head on a cold and snowy December day when I first set foot in Romania. Of course, in the six months that I’ve been here (and being a bit of an explorer) I have tried to discover as many things as possible about this country and I never cease to be amazed by the experience.
So if you’re looking for some personal opinions about the local culinary trends in Bucharest (also called the “Paris of the East”), then you’ll like what I have to say.
In search of traditional Romanian cuisine…
My very first culinary experience in Romania was at Caru cu Bere, the ultimate place to sample the local cuisine and get an idea of what traditional Romanian cooking is all about. The place is impressive both for its architecture and the way they handle the hordes of tourists with minimum waiting times and folkloric entertainment. I even got up and danced here and it felt great! I’ve been back to Caru cu Bere many times, drawn there by the exceptionally tasty food, not at all pretentious and quite reasonably priced! My all-time favourites are the simple but tasty mici or mititei – a mix of minced meat flavoured with special spices, rolled and thrown on a smoking hot grill. If you are looking for a more elaborate dish, then you can choose from any of the delicious sarmale, pork leg with beans or saramura de crap.
Are you ready for molecular cuisine…
One thing that makes Bucharest so interesting is that the restaurant scene currently finds itself in a period of dynamic development. First of all, because Romanians love good food and going out, but also because they appreciate what is new, hip and trendy.
One place which represents the modern trend is The Artist, which offers a mixture of molecular gastronomy influenced by Romanian cuisine. The service and atmosphere are impeccable and the sophisticated food is accompanied by lovely Romanian wines.
…accompanied by Romanian wines?
Speaking of the local wines: I have discovered that Romania boasts many varieties of absolutely delightful wines. Sunny regions with good soil produce veritable viticultural wonders such as Feteasca neagra, Feteasca regala or Tamaioasa romaneasca – and the price of a good wine is around EUR 7 a bottle!
For all shrimp lovers and unconventional visitors
Being a fan of the unusual, I ventured to find a more unconventional restaurant – which is how I stumbled upon Taverna Racilor, the “Crawfish Tavern”. It looks very unassuming from the outside, resembling more a workers’ cabin. But I was not disappointed by the tasty menu based on crawfish, which I discovered are very popular and can compete anytime with the best shrimp from the sea.
Tasty organic burgers in the city
Lately I have noticed that the people of Bucharest are becoming more and more interested in good quality burgers – and I’m not talking about fast food here. Definitely not!
I like to try out a new burger place every week. My favourites so far include Vivo – Fusion Food Bar, which offers as many as eight different types of burgers, all made with natural ingredients and no food additives. I also have to mention Simbio, an eclectic and intimate place serving simple but delicious food.
Healthy and vegetarian dishes
I have had some of the best experiences in terms of food and atmosphere at Energiea, a chic, urban place located in an old printing house with a surprisingly fresh menu of healthy soups and mouthwatering salads.
All you need: a good, juicy steak
When I first entered The Beef Club, I was impressed by the way the owners, father and son, make everyone feel as they were a family friend. The food, with a basis of a lot of steaks, surprises with interesting ingredients and textures.
The good food trend is not confined to Bucharest, and many nice restaurants outside the city also have upgraded their menus by including quality meats and surprising forms of presentation. The restaurant at the angelo by Vienna House Bucharest also recently changed its concept by shifting towards a menu that includes grilled steaks and salads served in fancy jars. The slogan says: ‘Only the best cuts make it on our grill’ – and this is nothing but the truth.
After my firsts contact with Bucharest, I realized this is a city that is still building its own identity but which has a lot of personality. To experience it, you need to go beneath the surface and really feel it. Sometimes the best places are hidden and you need to make an effort to discover them, but this is the best thing about Bucharest. Anyone can feel like an explorer and the city will eventually reveal its most appealing side…