I have already written a lot about eating in Romania, but there is a lot more to tell. As I said, even if there is nothing in the stores, the Romanians will eat, and they will eat well. Now a days, there is food in the stores. When I was there initially, there was no food, but with time, food came to the stores, but it didn’t matter if there was food there or not. The Romanians made wonderful food from nothing. They also made homemade liquor. Here are some more great dishes that were served to me, and then I will explain the situation with liquor.
Have you heard of vinette? That is the Romanian name, and if you look it up in English cookbooks, they call it “egg plant caviar.” Almost everyone I knew was eating egg plant caviar, and my family still eats it today because it is so good. You don’t even need a stove to make it, but you can cook it on the stove. If all you have is an open fire, you can cook it. You don’t even have to have a pan. The only time I have used a pan to make it is if I decided to put the egg plant on a cookie sheet or in a cake pan and put it in the oven, but you can do it without the pan. I have seen them just take egg plant and lay it on the top of the burner with the burner on with no pan. I have seen them take the egg plant and lay it in the fire in their terracotta stoves. You don’t cut the egg plant, but cook the whole egg plant at once. The egg plant is a shinny purplish black. When you cook it like this, the outside looks burnt, but the inside gets soft and good. You end up with a smoky flavor in the egg plant that is wonderful. After the egg plant is soft inside, they take it off the fire. They next use a cutting board. They cut the top off the egg plant and split it open. Next, they scrape off the insides off the the skin and throw the skin away. The next step, it they begin chopping it with a butcher’s knife into a pulp. They chop it so much it looks like a dip when they are done. They add a few miniature pieces of chopped onion and perhaps chopped garlic. Everyone adds something a bit different, but usually, there are small pieces of onion and garlic in it. They also add either a little cooking oil or mayonnaise to the egg plant. They mix it all up and use it as a bread spread. It is wonderful!! Another kind of caviar I ate was fish eggs. A friend of mine used to make it, and it was delectable!! It was not the red caviar you see, but it was white.
There is another vegetable bread spread that they made, put in jars, and saved in their pantries that is just as wonderful. To make this bread spread, they first head for the open vegetable market. They buy a big bunch of tomatoes and a big bunch of gogoshar (I don’t know what these are called in English. They are big rounded red, yellow, and orange sweet peppers with a unique, good taste. They aren’t spicy at all.) They also buy perhaps onions or egg plant. They just buy lots of vegetables, and the tomatoes and the gogoshar are the basis. They cut all the vegetables up into small pieces and boil them together, and they turn into a wonderful bread spread. Someone made this spread with me, but I can’t remember exactly everything we put into it. As I said, they made a spread, kept it in the pantry, and used it on bread. Their sandwiches never had two pieces of bread, and the bread was their wonderful bakery bread that I often stood in line to buy. The bread came unsliced, and the slices were as thin or as thick as you wanted them. Before they began slicing bread, many of ten began by making the sign of the cross on the bottom of the bread with their knife. Many of them had this vegetable spread in their pantries, and my kids loved it. There was no peanut butter, not even any peanuts to make it. However, it didn’t matter because this was a very healthy, tasty substitute.
When we made the vegetable spread, they taught me how to can Romanian style. There were no mason jars with lids that sealed like we have in America to can. You had to save your jars. After you made the spread or whatever it was you wanted in your jars, you sterilized your jars with hot water, then put the spread in them. After that, they put aspirin in the top of each jar to preserve the food inside. Next, you used cellophane and covered each jar and tied a string around the top of the jar and the cellophane, then put them in a big pot in a water bath on the stop of the stove and boiled them until the cellophane formed a seal on the jar so you could store it. If you pulled one of these jars out of your pantry, and the seal hadn’t taken very well, and there was mold on top of the spread, they just cleaned the mold off and ad the spread that was under it, and it was still okay. It was kind of hard for me to see in the beginning, and I was afraid people would get sick, but no one got sick. The pantries were usually a cool place, and in the winter, they could be as cold as a fridge because you left your pantry window open, and it was really cold outside.
Another good thing they served me, they called “pancakes” in English, but they weren’t pancakes. The Romanian name was caltite. They were like French crepes, very thin pancakes, and there was no butter and maple syrup on them. They would make a big batch of clatite, spread each one with homemade jam, and then roll them up. They used to bring me whole plates of clatite done line this. They made a wonderful snack and made my kids extremely happy!!
As we are talking about all the wonderful food, it takes the women a lot of time and effort to make all this food, You might wonder how they could go to work or go to the garden and work all day and do all this. One friend of mine who was a pharmacist, worked all day Saturdays cooking for the whole week so all they had to do was to heat things up everyday. There were no microwaves, so they would make a lot of soup because it was easy to heat up. My neighbor in the village made a big pot of soup and in the winter time, just left it on her front porch with the lid on it to stay cold, and then brought the pan in and heated it up when they got hungry.
Sometimes, the Romanians would invite us for a cookout. There were not hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill like in America. They were excited about mici (pronounced: meech). Mici was ground beef and ground pork mixed with certain spices that made the taste unique, and you could buy it at the butcher’s shop already mixed with the spices in it. They took the mici meat and shaped it into hot dog shapes to cook outside. There were not barbecue pits. The people we ate with made a fire outside, then they took a big slab of metal and put it on the top of the fire, and they cooked the mici on the slab of metal. One family we ate mici with took us out into the woods behind the village to make the fire and brought a radio to the cook out. They then turned on gypsy music. Another family took us up into the mountains over Sibiu, the Carpathians. They had what they called a “cabana” there, a small cabin for vacations. It was one room that had tables and chairs, then a ladder that took you upstairs where there were lots of beds, and the kitchen was outside attached to the front of the cabana on the porch, and they had a door that just covered the stove, sink, and fridge when they weren’t using it. They cooked outside, but on a stove. There was also another door on the front of the cabana that had a toilet inside of it. The Romanians know how to have a good time. We went on a picnic with another family, and the dad was giving his fourteen year old son hard liquor to drink, and I was shocked!! The dad explained to me that he was just doing for his son what his dad had done for him. The philosophy was that the liquor was there, and someone was going to give it to his son. He decided that it was best to give it to his son while he was around and teach him how to drink without getting drunk. He didn’t want his son going out with his friends, being offered liquor, and then not knowing how to handle it and getting himself in trouble, so he was teaching his son. Yes, Romania is a lot about liquor. He was doing the right thing as a Romanian father.
There was lots of lunch meat in Romania, especially after the imports began coming. They ate lots of salami, Polish sausage, and many other kinds that I can’t name. The salami was much better than any salami we can get in America, and the Polish sausage often had pieces of gristle in it. They made open faced sandwiches. they also had lots of wonderful cheese. They called the hard cheese we usually ate Cașcaval. It was a stip away from Mozarella, and there was no Mozarella, so we used the Cașcaval on our pizzas. They also had another kind of cheese they sold at the open market that the people made at home called telemea. Telemea is basically “farmer’s cheese” like I had made when we lived in Nigeria except they soaked it in salt water. There were two kinds of telemea, one made of cow’s milk, and the other made with goats milk. Telemea is really tasty. When they made pizza, they didn’t always use cheese, but if they did, it was Cașcaval. They made pizza by starting with a piece of bread and putting the salami and perhaps cheese on the bread, and then they toasted the bread. After they took it out of the oven, they added catsup. They thought they were making something really good, but I made and make much better homemade pizza than they do, and I really didnțt care for their pizza.
Almost everyone in Romania not only made homemade food, but they also made homemade liquor. Every yard had grape arbors. When you went to visit someone, they would probably offer you some of their homemade wine. They used their homemade wine also for communion at church. One old man used to bring the church a thing called “must” (pronounced: moost). It was somewhere between grape juice and wine. It wasn’t either, but he would stop it in the process of changing, and it was delicious. My Romanian teacher used to make a thing called țuica (pronounced: tsu-eeka). Țuika is plum brandy. It is extremely strong. I never tried any of it, but they said that țuica was the national drink of Romania. I don’t drink, so sometimes it got a bit difficult for me not to offend people, and I worked at not offending them. I used to go to parties at the university as a professor. When the American embassy came to our parties, I was in good shape because they always brought Coca-Cola. However, when they didn’t come, there was nothing but liquor to drink. There was an American Baptist missionary at the university for a short time, and she encouraged me just to take a glass when they handed me one and hold it, even sip it a little, and then they would stop offering me something to drink. I tried hard. Once, I was at a party at the university, and the American embassy didn’t come. I was extremely thirsty, but all I could see was bottles of liquor on the table. I spotted a pitcher of water in the middle of the table. I got me a glass, filled it to the brim, and turned the glass up taking a huge drink. It wasn’t water!! It just flat burned all the way down!! Come to find out, it was vodka. I got a really big shock!!
Some of them knew how to handle their liquor, and some of them didn’t. The first year we were there, a German/Romanian lady we got to know in the first year tried to convince me that Americans couldn’t live in Romania. One of the things she did was show me a man who was passed out drunk laying in the middle of the street. Yes, there were some whose dads hadn’t taught them like our friend who was giving liquor to his fourteen year old son trying to teach him how to handle it. Once, a woman showed up at our house with a huge black eye. She and her husband had been on a train traveling home to the village where we lived. He kept asking her for money so he could buy liquor and drink. At one point, she said “no” because she could see he had gotten drunk and really shouldn’t drink any more. He got angry, and they fought, and they separated on the train. She thought he had gotten off the train. When she got home, it was late at night, and he was waiting in the shadows. He was still angry and drunk, and he jumped on her and beat her up. One Sibiu man we met drank so much that it became his life and no one thought he could ever stop. The neighbors told us not to talk to the old man, and they were all afraid of him. He would charge up his bill at the bar across the street, and then go demand more liquor. If the bar tender didn’t give him more even though he couldn’t pay, he would beat the bar tender up and take the liquor anyway. We went into a Bible study one time at a couple’s house, and the husband was gone, and the wife was drunk and crying. They had four small kids, two of which were twin babies. One baby was asleep on the couch without a diaper and had wet all over the couch. The other was naked and playing in the ashes of the fire. The husband couldn’t handle it all and had gone to the bar. This is how many of them were when we first got to know them, but Christ came into their lives. These alcoholics stopped drinking and became Christians. They cleaned their lives up and you couldn’t even recognize them after they became Christians. The man who used to beat the bar tender up gained a reputation for being the kindest, most patient man you ever met after he became a Christian. The woman with the babies and her husband went up financially, had a beautiful clean house, and taught Bible classes after they became Christians. You could really see the work of Christ in these people’s lives when they became Christians.
Before the stores opened up and began bringing more food into Romania, there was always kioșks (pronounced: kee-yoshks). Kioșks were small stands. At the kioșks, you could always find liquor, cigarettes, and chocolate bars. The chocolate bars were downright wonderful!! Initially, they only sold Pioana bars (pronounced: po-eeyana). They came from Poiana Brașov (pronounced: Brashov). Brașov was a town two hours away from Sibiu, where we lived. Poiana Brașov was the snowy mountains above Brașov. The chocolate bars are some of the best chocolate you ever wanted to taste. Swiss chocolate, Cadbury’s chocolate from England, and Nestle’s and Hershey’s chocolate from America all have reputations as being extremely good chocolate, and Poiana bars are easily right up there as some of the best chocolate in the world. There were all different kinds, just plain milk chocolate, dark chocolate, chocolate with almonds, chocolate with fruit, white chocolate, etc. After the imports began, we began finding other kinds of chocolate bars at the kioșks from other countries. They were all good, but not many could compete with Poiana bars.
One of the sad things about the kioșks was that under Communism, there was no pornography being sold at the kioșks, but when they began letting literature come in from other countries, magazines with pictures of naked women began showing up at the kioșks, and the Romanians were shocked!! Freedom and opening the borders brought them good things and bad things. The same thing happened to the TV. Before the revolution, the only thing they ever saw on TV was Ceausescu. It was always “Ceausescu goes horse back riding,” or “Ceausescu inspects store,” etc. The TV was full of documentaries about Ceausescu, but there were no cartoons, no ball games, no comedies, no dramas, etc. Just before the revolution, Ceausescu allowed them to watch the TV show “Dallas” thinking that they would see the indulgence in the west and be offended by it. However, it had the opposite effect. They were upset because the rest of the world was living so much better than they were, and this was another reason for the revolution. After the revolution, besides the new kinds of chocolate and dirty magazines showing up at the kioșks, dirty movies showed up on TV. The dirty movies were cheaper than the better quality ones, and the Romanians were doing everything as cheap as they could. The people were shocked again!! I remember talking to a group of young women who were downright ready to protest what they were finding on their TVs. They didn’t want the dirty shows. When freedom came, they got more than they bargained for. However, something good came to their TVs that they all loved. On every holiday, there were movies about Bible stories on Romanian TV.
Many people like to eat popcorn while they watch TV, and the Romanians are no different. They grew popcorn in their gardens. I got to see popcorn while it was still on the cob. It is a special species of corn, and you just cut the kernels off the cob and pop them like you do with the popcorn from the stores. There were no potato chips in the stores either, and I used to make homemade potato chips for my kids, and they are better than what you can buy in the stores. After a while, you could buy a kind of potato chips in the Romanian stores that you had to take home and deep fat fry before you could eat them, and they were a bit different from any kind of chips I had eaten. Something else that began showing up in the stores after the revolution was oranges. I may have had something to do with this. I had a friend who opened a store, and he stocked liquor, cigarettes, and chocolate bars. I talk to him and told him that people needed more than those things, and that if he wanted to truly help his people, he would stock things they needed like flour, sugar, fruit, etc. I told him about the benefits of oranges and that they had vitamin C. He listened, and he put those things in his store, and the people flocked in to buy those oranges because oranges didn’t grow in Romania. After he stocked oranges, lots of stores began stocking oranges.
Things were changing because freedom and open borders had come. The people had always eaten good food, but now they were able to sample food from other places. The people had always believed in God even though they didn’t practice it openly because of Communism, but now they practiced it openly. They even had a time when the Orthodox priests went into the schools to teach Bible stories, and if the student wasn’t Orthodox, they gave them permission to find a teacher from their religion and go and learn Bible stories from that teacher during that time. People were buying their homes from the government, either that or being thrown out of their homes because they didn’t have the money to buy them. When I was in Romania, initially, it was Communism, and I was seeing the great change begin. Now a days, Romania has changed so much that they are one of the leaders in the European Union. However, when I was in Korea, I ate at a Romanian restaurant and went to Romanian parties put on by the Romanian embassy, and they were still serving wonderful dishes like sarmale and mamaliga, the cabbage rolls with corn meal mush on the side. Things have changed, but they still have all the wonderful dishes they were eating all along.