Europe's Bread-Basket: The Romanian Food I Still Crave

little baby Rachel in Arad, Romania, circa 2013. how has it been this long???

"For we have been there in the books and out of the books - and where we go, if we are any good, there you can go as we have been." -Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa
It seems like not that long ago since I wrote about "backward travel" and the strength of being able to see your hometown like you'd see an exotic destination. I still believe those things, but a month of watching friends and family travel Europe, seeing other friends go on-mission to Africa and Romania, seeing favorite bloggers touring Paris's so difficult to be home! All those movies like Mamma Mia and books like Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa are reminding me that places as beautiful as Greece and Kenya exist. It's like all these things have conspired to turn me into one big mass of "I miss the big, wide world."
"Today was shaorma day! We found a corner place in downtown Bucarest and got the fulfillment of our dreams of two years back and had amazing shaorma. He double-wrapped in plastic bags my shaorma and then paper and still it leaked all the lovely juices onto the table and all over my hands but it was delightful. Shaorma. Mmm."

I don't feel envious or petulant or even like I'm missing out. I just miss her, the World: traveling her, viewing her myriads of cultures...she has a personality, you know? I miss communing with the World the same way I desperately miss people who have made a huge impression on my heart and changed me in some way. "Wanderlust" is such a common phrase, thrown around in hashtags and Pinterest graphics and t-shirts. But escapism, romanticism, materialism, avoidance tactics - none of those things are at play in the great, beating innocence of wanting to go away somewhere to feel simultaneously small and held and fascinated by our planet. I have a long list of places I want to go and a long list of reasons I have been America-locked for the last three years, and a long wish to be up and away again. Soon, soon.
"We decided last minute to go to a patisserie after Alina heard I wanted to go. 'Gigi is the best,' she said, 'We'll go there.' So we went to Gigi, a little walk-up bakery...there were cinnamon buns, and fruit buns, sweet cheese cakes and apple strudel, raspberry and cherry pastries, vanilla and chocolate croissants, HUGE ones, and the covrigi, which is similar to a pretzel..."
"I don't believe there is any feeling of chic-ness to compare with buying a cheap pastry at the bakery window and eating it under the awning while wishing you'd gone for one of the lobster-sized croissants. Sarah bought an apple strudel so we shared hers and my covrigi. Oh mah goodness. That strudel was divine. The pastry crackled, the apples were lightly sweet and lightly spiced, and you felt just for a moment that this was the finest food on earth. There is still half left because we popped around to the gelataria and got gelato...'PLEASE don't eat too much!' Alina kept saying 'We have lunch in half an hour!'"

It's funny how the seeds you plant carelessly spring up to shade you later - I have always made certain that I keep a detailed travel journal when I'm abroad. It's always an inconvenience to stop and truly write about what I've seen or experienced. Even more so if I bother to keep flowers alive all day so I can press them in the pages of my journal at night, or make the trek up six flights of stairs at the chalet to grab my watercolor paints and forego a game of ping-pong with my travel buddies so I can paint the view from the courtyard or sketch the old woman we passed in a village earlier. But I always force myself down for a few moments of quiet in hopes that it will one day be worth it to me.
"Is there any place as sweet and calm and welcoming as the B home, a thoughtful meal laid out on the tables on the porch, potted flowers scenting the air, and lights blinking out here and there? Mrs. B. made excellent soup, lovely 'sarms,' and capsun (strawberries) grown in their own garden. She bustled inside and returned with cardigans to throw over the shoulders of anyone who was wearing sleeveless clothes."
Oh friends, it's worth it to me today. My sister, along with a few friends, are on a mission's trip to Romania right now so in their honor I pulled down the travel journals I kept during my three consecutive years of visiting that most beautiful of countries. I hadn't reckoned on falling all over again for that place and those people - I thought I remembered, but re-reading the journals brought back all the old, vivid details in a way that only comes when things you thought were lost are once again found.
"Dinner was a FEAST. There was delicious soup of course, and this was followed by cabbage salad, mashed golden potatoes, and whole chickens roasted to absolute perfection. Benny served as our waiter, the funny creature, and kept us well-supplied with food and drink. When we had eaten enough to make us feel quite certain we could hold nothing else, out came plates heaped with the most beautiful cake. Petit fours and rum balls, cakes layered with whipped filling and coffee and caramel, nut cake, coconut cake, and many more. Benny tried to get us to eat more and I wished to goodness I had room because, really divine...Diana had made every one. We were marveling all the way home at how long it must have taken to make eight or nine different varieties of 5-layer cakes. She is a wonder.
Those journals reawakened my memories and made it more difficult than ever to be at home instead of there. At the same time, I am so lucky to have such a hive of stored memories from which to draw. I want to refill the account, add new adventures and friendships and memories to those I currently have. But for now, I am grateful, grateful, grateful for the writers' cramp and late nights of keeping up with a travel journal I didn't know I would later need. I've sent my sister a list of all the food-related things I miss and want her to either experience over again for me, or bring me home. I may or may not have commissioned her to find a particular plum cake recipe as well as bring home a giant boule of their incomparable bread. If she manages to bring home one of those loaves that are as large as a small child, she will win all the contests for Most Devoted Family Member.
"As always, MZ's lunch was sublime. Her sarmali, her potatoes which are a mash unattained by other mortals and reaches almost shaving foam consistency, drawing from us almost cult-like appreciation. Her schnitzel is...perfect. From what I can tell she crushes cornflakes to bread the meat....her soup is also better than anyone else's and the cabbage salad was good. Anna is 'The Salad Girl' and everyone feeds her three bowls at least."

There's a lot more in those journals besides descriptions of food, of course. There's the whole journey from my narrow-minded self who first set foot on Romanian soil to the quickened, self-aware Rachel who went back for her third time and couldn't wait to experience again all the things she'd originally complained about. If my sister comes home from Romania with the desired recipes, there's a fair bet you'll be seeing them here. To tide you over, though, I'm linking to three recipes that are either inspired by (or directly from) my prior trips to Romania. Make them, enjoy them, and travel all you can. Ceau!

1 comment

  1. I often think how intimately related food and travel are, but rarely am I so satisfied with attempts to capture all that food can conjure up of travel. Thank you for sharing these memories and sparking a bit of longing for new places and tastes.