Romania: Paradise for Sour Cream Fans

(Alternative title: Rumänien, das Schmandsland)

I’ve been visiting Romania for almost six years, several times per year, for about a week at a time. I don’t get much exposure to the language (though I find it exceedingly interesting) because these are all work trips and we work in English or German (depending on who is visiting with me). Basic conversation, travel-related vocabulary, and all the other first-year language lesson topics have mostly remained a mystery to me. But there’s one area in which I am starting to feel more comfortable: food.

I confound waiters. I walk in, ask apologetically “Vorbiți englezește?” and bewilder them by rejecting the English-language menu they offer me. They are so happy to have it ready and I am grateful for the gesture, but that doesn’t help me. At this point, I need to see the native names for the food items in order to know what they are.

Still, I am surprised it took me this long to recognize the linguistic link between my wife’s favorite food — Schmand — and Romania’s: smântână.

Chopped roasted chicken, drowning in smântână and soaking into a mound of mămăligă (polenta)
Papanași: freshly made doughnuts, sweetened with jam or fruit sauce, drizzled with smântână and chocolate syrup and garnished with fresh mint leaves
It’s in chicken dishes. It’s in soups. It’s even in desserts. Bottom line: if you love sour cream, have a stent put in before you visit Romania.

I’m sure these guys are singing its praises!

6 thoughts on “Romania: Paradise for Sour Cream Fans”

  1. Steven

    Good lord, that looks delicious.

    1. cliff1976

      Boy, was it ever!

  2. ian in hamburg

    I spent three days in Bucharest’s Ceaucescu monstrosity about 5-6 years ago. The place is so huge, it took more than 10 minutes to walk from our workstations to where they were serving buffet lunch. Unfortunately, the walk was only good for the exercise, because I’ve never come across worse food than in Romania. Mind you, I haven’t been around much, but still: there basic tactic seems to be: stick stuff together in a bowl, pour goop over it, let it settle to a gel-like mass. Serve.

    1. cliff1976

      Sounds like you didn’t have someone taking care of you there like I do when I’m visiting!

      I try to get them to take me out to restaurants featuring traditional cuisine. It has never let me down:

      • Mămăligă (polenta)
      • Brînza de burduf (sheep’s cheese)
      • sour, salty appetizers like olives, pickled paprika and cucumbers
      • Ciorbă Rădăuţeana (chicken soup soured with Sauerkraut juice, served with a fresh jalapeño pepper and a bowl of — you guessed it — smântână! — to cool the capsaicin burn if necessary).

      To be fair, I’ve never been down to Bucharest (sorry Adi, someday for sure!), so maybe their food does suck compared to Moldavian (Iași), Transylvanian (Sibiu), or Hungarian-influenced (Timișoara) cuisine.

  3. ian in hamburg


    I do that all the time lately.

  4. Frau Dietz

    I loved the food I ate in Romania, basically because everywhere I went, it seemed to consist almost exclusively of pig. In fact, in Bucharest I ate a pork dish that had been translated in the English menu as “Pig-killing feast”. What more could a Frau Dietz want?

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