Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Can't afford Paris? Try Bucharest!

At first glance, you might think that this is a picture of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. But if you look a bit closer you’ll realize that you are only half correct. It is the Arc de Triomphe…in Romania.

One of the things I have most been looking forward to exploring through my new blog is baking traditions from around the world. For those of you that know me personally, you might not be that surprised to see that my first foreign food foray is into Romanian cuisine. On a whim I spent my first year at the Ohio State University studying Romanian language and had the time of my life. At the time I was burnt out after 6 years of studying Spanish and was looking for something new and different. Of course, being young and stupid, I didn’t realize that Romanian is a Romance language and, thus, not really all that different from Spanish. Oops. But I met lots of great people and had possibly the sweetest old lady teacher to have ever emigrated from a communist stronghold. Also unbeknownst to me, this may have been the subconscious beginnings of my Francophilia.

I don’t expect anyone to know anything about Romania, but one thing I was surprised to find out is that they think they are French. Witness: they have an Arc de Triomphe. They also refer to their capital, Bucureşti, as “Little Paris.” They say “merci” (but, then again, so do the Iranians so I suppose I can’t fault them for that). I’ll spare you the history lesson, but suffice it to say that as early as 1853 a Romanian politician was pleading with Napoleon III to annex Romania to France. Seriously.

Thanks to the generosity of my Romanian professor, I also came to love the nation’s food. With obvious Eastern European influences, having been conquered by the Romans, and this clear French obsession, Romanian cuisine has taken on the best of many worlds. Since college I have been searching for a baked mămăligă recipe, which is basically a baked cheesy polenta. I finally found one courtesy of Galia Sperber and could only smile when I read the description she included above the recipe: “For some reason, which is still unclear to me today, this dish is called an ours (the French word for a bear).”

Mămăligă la Culptor
2 ½ cups milk
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup soft white cheese
¾ cup butter or margarine
Salt to taste
3 eggs, beaten

Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the cornmeal bit by bit, stirring continuously so that no lumps form, until it reaches the consistency of porridge.
Add half the cheese, half the butter, and the salt and mix well.
Allow the polenta to cool slightly and mix in the eggs.
In a greased 11” round cake pan, place half the polenta mixture.
Cover with sprinkling of the rest of the cheese and remaining butter in small pieces.
Fill the pan with the rest of the polenta. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 min.


  1. You weren't kidding! That looks just like Paris.

  2. Dude... I'm going to Romania in July. We need to talk ;-)

  3. @Genie Ko: I'm so jealous! Remind me to tell you a story about a horse and an elevator...