Our journey around the cuisine of Romania has brought us to what are the most popular side dishes that you will find in restaurants, or that you may want to cook at home. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the most popular Romanian side dishes, showcasing the ingredients and flavours behind each dish.
About the Romanian Side Dishes
The best way to describe Romanian side dishes is by dividing them into two categories: light and refreshing, and comforting carbs. Being a country which gets very hot in summer and extremely cold in winter, the typical Romanian cuisine is adapted to these two seasons. We have dishes that cool you down in summer as well as those that warm you up in winter. And when it comes to side dishes, there is no difference. Polenta and potatoes are a staple of the local gastronomy, so you will find plenty of side dishes based on them. On the other hand, the fresh vegetables that are grown in the countryside make wonderful, light and healthy side dishes. Whilst summer is a great opportunity for fresh vegetable salads, in winter we switch to pickles such as cucumbers, cabbage, and peppers.
The Most Popular Romanian Side Dishes:
Below I’ve compiled a list for you with the most popular Romanian side dishes that you will find on the restaurant menus. I will explain what they are made of, so you can know what to expect when you order them. I will not mention French fries, which are very common too, as anywhere else.
Mamaliga – Polenta
Polenta is the most traditional side dish in Romania. It is usually served with traditional Romanian dishes such as sarmale, stuffed peppers or tochitura. Polenta can be a dish on its own when it is topped with cheese, sour cream and eggs, but in restaurants, it is usually served as a side dish.
There is an art in making polenta – with everyone having their own preference on how soft or how hard polenta should be. For me, polenta should have a creamy consistency, whilst still holding its shape.
Polenta is made from cornmeal and water. It is a very easy side dish to make at home. All you have to do is bring a pot of water to boil, add salt, and mix the cornmeal in it, stirring continuously until you get the desired consistency of the polenta. At the end I like to add a little bit of butter into the mix, for a creamier texture.
Piure – Mashed Potatoes
Mashed potatoes are another very popular side dish in Romania. It usually accompanies dishes that have sauce, such as baked steak or mushroom stroganoff. There are many different ways to make mashed potatoes, and very rarely the restaurants will just serve it on its own. Most of the time, the mash potatoes will be enhanced by adding herbs and even cheese to it, elevating its taste to fit the flavour profile of the main dish.
Cartofi Taranesti – Rustic Potatoes
I really love rustic potatoes. This side dish is a perfect combination of flavours and a great accompaniment to meat dishes. The potatoes are part-boiled and then tossed inside a hot pan with onions, garlic, paprika and, sometimes, Romanian cured smoked pork.
Rustic potatoes can be a dish on their own as well, served topped with sour cream to balance the flavour. Either way you choose to have them, they are delicious.
You can see my recipe for rustic potatoes by clicking here.
Cartofi Gratinati – Potato Gratin
Potato gratin is a hearty side dish that combines comfort flavours with fragrant herbs. This is one of those recipes that differs from place to place. I like a potato gratin with everything in it, which is eggs and smoked meat, but in some places, this recipe only has potatoes, cheese and sour cream.
To make the potato gratin you have to layer the ingredients one by one, in a deep tray, and pour the sauce made from sour cream, garlic, nutmeg, and thyme over The top of the gratin is sprinkled with a generous quantity of grated cascaval (a traditional Romanian hard cheese), which once baked, will create a delicious crust.
Sometimes, the potato gratin will be referred to as “French potatoes” on some menus.
Salata Orientala – Oriental Salad
Salata Orientala is another favourite of mine, and practically another traditional potato salad recipe. It consists of boiled potatoes mixed with raw red onions, boiled eggs, black olives, and a dressing made from vinegar and vegetable or olive oil.
You may think that the combination of potatoes and vinegar is a bit strange, but once you taste this wonderful salad, you will change your mind.
Sote de Ciuperci – Sauteed Mushrooms
Another great Romanian side dish, especially for the lighter meals, is sauteed mushrooms. This is a simple dish, where mushrooms are sauteed together with garlic, until cooked through. The combination of earthy flavours and the punch of garlic create a perfect side dish for meat based dinners.
Orez – Rice
A side of rice can come in different ways. It is very rare that when you order this side dish you will only get boiled rice. Most of the time the rice is cooked alongside vegetables, or is served as pilaf – a typical Romanian dish where the rice has the consistency of a risotto and is cooked with vegetables. Even if the rice comes on its own, it will be enhanced with butter and herbs.
Legume la Gratar – Grilled Vegetables
Grilled vegetables is a classic side dish for steak, alongside French fries. The most common vegetables to be served grilled are peppers, aubergines, onions, and courgettes. They are grilled over a coal grill, to get that smoky aroma that makes them so delicious.
Legume Blansate cu Usturoi – Blanched Vegetables with Garlic
Blanched vegetables is a healthy, simple side dish that consists of mostly carrots, broccoli and cauliflower that have been boiled and once cooked, placed on ice for rapid cooling. This process keeps that vibrant colour of the vegetables, the crunch, whilst they are fully cooked.
The vegetables are then seasoned with salt and pepper, and mixed with chopped garlic for an extra kick of flavour.
Varza Calita – Stewed Cabbage
Stewed pickled cabbage is a classic traditional Romanian dish. It is also served as a garnish, especially for dishes with pork, as the combination works so well.
The cabbage is cooked with onions until it becomes soft and starts to release its own juices. This dish is flavoured with salt, pepper, tomato paste, thyme and dill. Sometimes you will be served stewed cabbage that has peppers in it as well, it depends from restaurant to restaurant.
Salata de Rosii cu Ceapa – Tomato and Onion Salad
The tomato and onion salad is one of the simplest Romanian side dishes. It is a great summer side dish, very light, that packs a lot of flavour, especially if the tomatoes come from a farmers market. This salad is exactly what its name says: chopped tomatoes and onions, mixed together. The salad is seasoned with salt, and dressed with lemon juice and vegetable or olive oil.
Salata de Muraturi – Pickles Salad
Pickles are a very important element of Romanian cuisine. We can pickle everything, from the classic cucumbers and cabbage, to green tomatoes, peppers, carrots, cauliflower, garlic, and even quinces and watermelons.
Pickles salad will usually have on the plate pickles, peppers, cabbage, and green tomatoes. Each of them has a specific taste, so try them all! The pickles salad is best accompanied with grilled meats and French fries, dishes that don’t have sauces.
Salata de Varza Murata – Pickled Cabbage Salad
Another great salad that goes very well with grilled meats is the pickled cabbage. This is a very simple and quick salad to make, where the pickled cabbage is finely chopped, drained, and mixed with caraway seeds and sweet paprika.
Salata de Ardei Copti – Grilled Peppers Salad
The grilled peppers salad is a delight for the taste buds and works very well with grilled meats, such as pork chops. At home, I make this salad every time I fire up the barbecue because it’s a great way to use the flames, before they burn the coals. The peppers are roasted directly on the flame, until they are charred, which gives them that smokey flavour that makes this salad special.
Making the grilled peppers salad is very easy. The charred skin is taken off the peppers, which are then left to soak a delightful marinade of garlic, vinegar and vegetable oil.
You can read my recipe for roast peppers salad here.
Salata de Primavara – Spring Salad
The spring salad makes a great refreshing side dish for a heavy main meal. It consists of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, and spring onions, which are mixed together and dressed with a mixture of oil and vinegar.
You can click here to see my recipe for the spring salad.
For more articles about the Romanian cuisine check out the following:
- The most delicious traditional Romanian food
- The best Romanian cakes
- The most delicious Romanian soups
- A guide to traditional Romanian cheese