I couldn’t have predicted that the night I arrived in Romania, I’d end up eating food from Moldova instead.
In all honestly, I had no idea what kind of food I’d be eating in general on this trip–a trip in which I’d be cruising the Danube River. If pressed, I’d have imagined some sort of stuffed cabbage, a meaty stew, or some kind of sausage, but I couldn’t have told you what was Romanian, what was Moldovan, or, for that matter, what was any national cuisine in Eastern Europe. So when the concierge at our hotel mentioned that he’d just taken his girlfriend out to this wonderful little spot that was walking distance, served pastries, and would cost us less than 150 Romanian leu (that’s around $30 USD), my husband Ryan and I decided to give it a try. After all, we weren’t starving. A little pastry shop sounded perfect.
Well, we were right about only one thing: our multi-course meal did end up costing us less than $30 USD, but it definitely wasn’t the kind of pastry shop with tiny squares of cheesecake and brownies that we’d imagined. Here was a restaurant dedicated, instead, to meat pies, or, more specifically, to placinte, Moldovan meat pies.
Not a pastry shop á la a tucked-away, dimly lit café you’d find in the United States, La Placinte is an inspired chain of restaurants in Bucharest that specializes in home-cooked cuisine reminiscent of the Moldovan countryside. The menu, which is pages and pages thick, includes everything from soups to pies to pastas to meat-centric plates and side dishes. It also has an extensive alcohol list (especially vodka!) and a number of locally-brewed beers. From what we could tell, La Placinte’s approach to food is similar to the tapas restaurants I’ve been to in Spain: order plenty of little plates and share them.
So that’s exactly what we did.
We started with—what else?—a pie. At our server’s recommendation, we chose the Moldovan pie with cow and sheep cheese–Placinta cu branza de oi si de vaci–and ordered two local beers. “The pie will take about twenty minutes,” she told us.
The pie came out, surprisingly, in six minutes. We put down our beers (more on that in a second), cut the pie open, sliced through the flaky crust into the ricotta-like cheese center, and served ourselves triangle-shaped slices. The first thought I had, eating it, was that it reminded me of many of the pastries I used to eat on a daily basis when I lived in Malta. There, they are called pastizzis, and are often filled with ricotta or, to my horror, peas. I was smitten, as anything that even vaguely reminds me of Malta is approved in my book.
The next dish that came out was a salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives. Ryan ordered layered cake with egg and salmon.
Then, we ordered a bowl of pelmenis, my favorite food from Russia. The Moldovan pelmenis were very similar, as they, too, were stuffed with pork and served with a small dollop of sour cream. On the menu, the dish is called Pelmeni de casa cu smantana. Here’s me (let’s face it, a very bedraggled me…hey, it’s a long trip from Los Angeles to Bucharest!), enjoying some of them:
We also ordered Taitei de casa cu branza de oi (spaghetti tossed in olive oil and served with a side of grated sheep’s cheese). Here it is:
While Ryan and I sat there in a very foreign city, listening to the Moldovans and Romanians all around us banter about their lives, jobs, and loves, we wondered what the next two weeks would hold for us. We finished up our many-course meal with two shots of bronze-colored Transylvanian vodka, toasted to our upcoming adventure, to what we hoped would be two inspiring and mind-blowing weeks in a region of the world neither of us had ever visited—much less knew much about.
We took the long way back to our hotel, pointing out some of Bucharest’s glorious Paris-inspired buildings shining in the moonlight. We passed by a busy metro stop, marveled at a statue in a square, and watched people in restaurants eating and spending time together.
Because it was the first night of a two-week stay in Eastern Europe, a trip in which I would come to learn that there are delicate and powerful nuances between the cuisines of all the diverse countries and regions that make us this unique area of the world, we were satisfied with our first foray into cuisine that was very new–and very exciting–to us. As the trip would progress, we would learn that Romanian food is not exactly like Moldovan food, even though La Placinte attracts both communities and that both countries do share a lot of cuisine in common. We would learn that there are compelling similarities, as so many countries in these regions typically serve a combination of beef, pork, potatoes, cabbage, and a variety of cereal grains.
But there are also important differences. For one thing, we’d come to learn that because the many countries in Eastern Europe are multi-ethnic, the food may differ dramatically from region to region as Moldovan, Ukranian, Bulgarian, or Russian traditions came into contact with each other. Food tells its own history–and that night, I couldn’t wait to learn more.
Who knew Moldovan food would be the perfect introduction to Romania?
20 Dacia Blvd., Bucharest, Romania
Article and photographs by Kristin Winet (except the photo of the front of the restaurant, which was provided by La Placinte).
Special thanks to Viking River Cruises for hosting my recent stay in Bucharest. However, dinner was purchased by the author and all opinions are, of course, her own. Check out La Placinte’s menu online to whet your appetite!