Bucate, vinuri si obiceiuri romanesti

Bucate, vinuri si obiceiuri romanesti – Radu Anton Roman

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The title of this books translates as ‘Romanian dishes, wines and customs’ and that more or less sums it up. Radu Anton Roman was (he passed away in 2005) one of the great Romanian bon vivants, famous both for his writings and his travel and food documentaries. The book must really be said to be one of the defining cookery books of traditional Romanian cuisine. Roman travelled the length and breadth of the country collecting traditional household recipes from all of the regions, listing many variations, alternatives, and tips, as well as memories from his own formative years.

This is one of those books that is a joy to read. My Romanian language skills are perhaps not yet evolved enough to really appreciate his style – I have the Romanian version of the book – but even at my linguistic level I can appreciate that he describes the recipes not only with love (and occasionally honesty – he doesn’t approve of all the dishes he has included in his tome) but with a stylistic flair and casual decadence that leaves the reader in no doubt that this was a work of extreme love rather than a commercial venture. Here’s a little taste, his introduction to his recipe for Cornulete Foarte Bune, or Exceedingly Good Pastry Horns:

radu anton roman

“So good were they that when mama used to make a tray of them for us, my sister and I, so we could eat them just between the two of us, would tell the flock of children with whom we played – the offspring of a dozen streets in the centre of Fagaras – that we were heading for the countryside, to our grandmother’s. Got you! Mama wasn’t that kind of person, and she would call all those ravenous scruffs. And even though she didn’t call them directly, she’d open the window, and once the oven has started to heat up, it amounted to the same thing. It was a sad time after dinner when we’d find ourselves wolfing down but twenty of the little horns instead of two hundred…”

If you are particularly obsessive about measurements and quantities then you’ll have to take a deep breath before tackling any of the recipes in this book. As with most cookery of the countryside, quantities are often measured in terms of a ‘handful’ of this, or a ‘lapful’ of that, garnished, of course, with sprinkles, pinches, and bunches. Temperatures are rarely mentioned, so you’ll have to use your common sense from time to time. I’ve yet to see the English version of the book but the index in the Romanian version isn’t particularly helpful as in only lists recipes by name, making it hard to look up recipes that use a certain ingredient, and as the book is structured by region rather than in the traditional ‘starters, poultry, fish…’ way, so trying to find recipes to cook something fresh you’ve found in the market can be challenging.

Aside from the recipes themselves, each region has a substantial introduction and the book is littered with literary mentions of the food he describes, as well as poetry, quotations and proverbs, all which lend a certain sense of adventure and travel, both spatially and historically, to the reader’s journey of discovery through its pages. As the title suggests, frequent reference is made to the local wines of each region and which would best accompany the dish in question.

If you want to order the English version of the book, you can find it at many Romanian online bookshops such as Carturesti or Paideia. The Romanian version can be found in any good bookshop or online dealer. If you love Romanian food then I strongly recommend buying this book. Anyone with an interest in the food of this country should have a copy.

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