The first book to celebrate the culturally diverse and delicious cuisine of Romania
A true fusion of East and West, where traditional recipes are given a truly modern twist
Romania is a true cultural melting pot, its character rooted in many traditions from Greek, Turkish, and Slavic in the south and east, to Austrian, Hungarian, and Saxon in the north and west.
Carpathia, the first book from food writer Irina Georgescu, aims to introduce readers to Romania’s unique, bold and delicious cuisine. Bringing the country to life with stunning photography and recipes, it will take the reader on a culinary journey to the very heart of the Balkans, exploring Romania’s history, traditions, and food, one mouth-watering recipe at a time.
From chargrilled eggplants, polenta fritters, and butter bean hummus, to tangy borş, stuffed breads, and Viennese-style layer cakes, this book is a true celebration of a country that’s never afraid to mix things up!
Carpathia-Food from the Heart of Romania is a wonderful exploration of an often overlooked European cuisine. The book’s author Irina Georgescu answers a few of our questions about Romanian food and her new book.
Booksaboutfood.com (BAF): Would it be fair to say that often Romanian food has been overlooked? If so, why?
Irina Georgescu: There is a lot to say and discover about Romania’s cuisine, but as you rightly say, it hasn’t yet been fully explored. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time, however things are changing, for instance the travel editor of the prestigious Olive Magazine UK has placed Romania and Eastern Europe in the top travel destinations of the year. It may not happen in 2020 but the chances for people to visit Romania and get to experience its delicious food are increasing. ‘Carpathia – food from the heart of Romania’ is bridging this gap at the moment, it offers readers the possibility to experience Romania from the comfort of their homes. I’m their private guide, introducing our staple dishes and talking about the history and traditions of the country. This has been the aim of the book, and of course, it is a door open to everyone else who wants to tell their Romanian culinary story.
BAF: What are some of the elements of Romanian cuisine that set it apart from other European cuisines?
Irina Georgescu: In this part of the world, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, things are intertwined andoften overlap. So many countries were either under the Ottoman Empire or the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Carpathian mountains set the boundaries of these two political powers on Romania’s territory. Hence our cuisine has been more Germanic in the north and west, including in Transylvania, compared to the south where it has been more Turkish in the south, not to mention the Slavonic influences all around. We are quintessentially a Latin country, and speak a Latin language, very similar to Italian.
Some of the elements of Romanian cuisine are more defined than others. The way we eat polenta, for example: cornmeal is very popular, and we can eat it for breakfast, as a porridge, for lunch as a starter – there are a few recipes in the book, then as a side dish, and also for dessert. The variety of the recipes is impressive. Another element is borș, there is a whole chapter dedicated to it in the book. It’s how we use fermented drinks and foods that is quite fascinating: bors goes in broths, but it can also go in stews and even breads. Sour dairy like yoghurt and sour cream (iaurt and smântână) goes in cakes and pies, both in the dough and the filling. We also cook a lot with paprika and we love the combination of fruit with meat in savoury dishes. At the same time, the staple desserts of Turkey and Greece such as baklava and cataif, meet the Austrian type of layered cakes and the French tarts, even if they are made with sour cream or quark. Buying a cake or a torte in a Romanian cofetărie (patisserie) is almost like a history lesson.
BAF: What advice would you give to someone what expressed an interest in cooking Romanian food?
Irina Georgescu: They need to have a good appetite. In Romania, we eat a lot of courses, so if the readers want to experience the way we eat, they need to be prepared. On the other hand, Romanian cuisine is suitable for so many tastes, and due to our numerous days of Lent dotted around the year, we have a large repertoire of vegetarian and vegan dishes, from breakfasts to desserts. I would also love people to read about the history of the dish, especially the ones that are iconic such as sarmale or pască. It is very special when people cook something that has a meaning.
BAF: What was the writing and research process like for the book?
Irina Georgescu: It had its stages, and it took three years, but everything was well planned and it didn’t feel like a burden. At times, it was very stressful for me, I put myself under a lot of pressure to deliver on my vision for the book: to write relevant intros so that people can actually learn something about Romania, to select relevant recipes, to be careful not to alter the traditional methods of cooking too much, to style the dishes in a way that keeps in line with their authentic selves but also speak about how delicious they really are. The research itself was minimal in terms of the recipes, these are my family’s recipes, this is what and how we eat at home. On the other hand, the research that went into the history and the traditions of Romania, took a bit longer. I found out so many things that I didn’t know or I learnt in a different way about my own country: for instance, the wonderful places, buildings and skills that are listed by UNESCO.
BAF: Was there anything that surprised you during the courses of writing Carpathia?
Irina Georgescu: Writing the book was a learning process, especially with regards to working with a literary agent, a publisher and their teams. I had a whole team working on this book, and every single person came with their expertise and their set of skills. It was exciting to learn from them and challenging, in a positive way, to integrate everyone’s point of view.
BAF: What’s next for you?
Irina Georgescu: I had a lot of plans for this year that unfortunately had to be postponed. I am working on a new project (exciting!) but the technicalities are still largely depending on travel andpeople’s availability. Apart from this, I will keep promoting the book, and most importantly, Romanian cuisine. There are events such as food festivals and supper clubs, that will kick in next year. I can’t wait to cook for people!
“Romanian food writer Irina Georgescu brings the often-overlooked European country of Romania into the spotlight with Carpathia. Mixing east and west influences, this gorgeously styled collection of country recipes takes you from the banks of the Black Sea to the peaks of the dramatic Carpathian Mountains.” —Forbes Magazine