(Written in October 2010)
Leaving Bulgaria I was feeling quite ready for a change from the monotonous tomato, cucumber and pepper salads that were offered everywhere for every meal of the day. Now, here in Romania (statistically the most carnivorous country in Europe), how I long for those lovely fresh veggies.
Romanians seem to lack the sort of lively restaurant culture present in Bulgaria, perhaps because of more widespread poverty or simply a much larger rural segment of the population. Restaurants are hard to come by and their food tends towards unimaginative heavy meat-based dishes or ubiquitous (and generally mediocre) pizza. Eating as a vegan has proved nearly impossible, though it is heartening to know that most milk and eggs here are extremely fresh and local. The meat too – we watched transfixed and a little horrified as our innkeeper slaughtered two roosters outside the window where we were having breakfast.
The saving grace of this otherwise vegetarian-challenged land is the proliferation of very good and very cheap bread and bakery products. Many bakeries (and some restaurant menus) even helpfully label items as “de post” meaning in accordance with the Orthodox fasting diet (no milk, no meat) and de facto vegan. And… Romanians like peanut butter! As any other PB-loving traveler to Europe knows, most European culinary tastes abhor the stuff and finding a small jar of grossly overpriced Jif in a rare imported foods store in Italy or France is akin to finding the holy grail. So with peanut butter and bread in hand to cover your bases, navigating the meager vegetarian options on Romanian menus becomes a little more bearable. Be prepared to eat little more than veggie soup, small simple salads, pickled veggies and the occasional pasta dish or stew in restaurants. If at all possible, get your own kitchen. Supermarkets and fresh fruit and veggie stalls are common in towns and cities.
Mamas (several locations)
This mini-chain restaurant offers a full page of tasty veggies entrees and a good selection or salads. (I’m sure many other options exist in the capital too, we were only there one night).
Restaurant in Berg Hostel
This casual spot serves up a tasty vegan stuffed cabbage dish and mamaliga (polenta) with stewed veggies with egg and cheese (or without).
This atmospheric cafe on the main square in the citadel serves up homemade baked goods, pies, and sandwiches (including PB&J and a vegetarian cheese option).
Einstein Cafe (Piata Mica)
This trendy cafe serves up coffee, ice cream and big satisfying salads. The vegan Turkish Salad (roasted eggplant with tomatoes, onion and herbs) is especially good.
Billa Supermarket (end of Nicolae Balcescu St. and under the central clock tower)
A typical western-style well-stocked supermarket. Great for all the basics if you have a kitchen.
Avicenna (24 Nicolae Balcescu)
This cute little health food store and pharmacy sells soy milk, soy sausages, tofu and healthy snacks.