When in Romania, sarmale with polenta
Sarmale are the best known dish in Romania. Almost every foreigner who visits our country gets in love with this delicious goodies rolled in cabbage or vine leaves, with meat, rice and spices. The name of the dish comes from “sarmak”, a Turkish verb meaning “to wrap”.
It is not known exactly when sarmale appeared on the territory of our country. However, it has a strong tradition and is closely associated with our national cuisine.
This traditional dish is made of minced meat (usually beef, pork, veal, or a combination of them, but also lamb, goat, sausages, chicken, duck, goose, etc.), rice, onions, salt, various spices (pepper, greens different, pine seeds, onions, etc.) mixed and then rolled into large leaves. Cabbage leaves (fresh or pickled), beets, cauliflower, sorrel, vines (fresh or pickled) are used as packaging. This combination is boiled slowly for a few hours. There are countless variants, with meat and vegetarian, seasoned differently.
Romanians also prepare many other stuffed vegetables, vaguely similar to sarmale, especially peppers, pumpkin or tomatoes. All these dishes are served with polenta, and are sprinkled with yogurt or cream. Sarmalele is a preparation intended especially for religious holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, and even for festive occasions, especially at weddings.
In the romanian area (as in the Balkans), the original recipe (which was based on vegetables and rice, possibly with mutton or beef) has become mainly based on pork. The explanation seems to be that the Romanian peasant, eternally oppressed by the Turkish army, decided to raise several pigs, which the Muslims did not eat. This is how a true culinary cult of pork appeared, including also sarmale.
If you have the opportunity to have a hearty meal at a family of romanian locals or at a restaurant specialized in romanian cuisine, you will most likely be offered, as an appetizer, a plate consisting of „jumări”, „slăninuță”, „caș de oaie” (sheep cheese), other popular traditional dishes in our country. We suggest you not to refuse them, just to complete the purely romanian culinary experience.