Aug. 7, 2017

Transylvania cuisine, "Baba", monarch of the kitchen

The cuisine of Transylvania is as interesting as its history, customs and legends, and varies from region to region. Rumanian cookery is quite different from Hungarian, and has a character and flavor all its own. It is light and savory with the addition of many herbs. Rumanian housewives have developed their individual style and are prone to add a bit of this and that to their creations. Cooking is not a chore for Rumanian women, but rather and accomplishment. They are hospitable to a fault, and love to show off their culinary fare.

The mother or grandmother, "Baba", is undisputed monarch of the kitchen. In Rumania two very strong culinary influences are dominant: Turkish - Balkan - Mediterranean cuisine and Austro - Hungarian cookery. "Baba" combines Eastern and Western culinary techniques, mixing eggplant, yogurt and dolmas (meat wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves) with strudel, pilaf, baklava, riasts served in wooden platters and meats barbeqcued on a spit.

Not much has been written about Hungarian cuisine prior to King Matthias' ascent to the throne in 1458. The young King had an amazing capacity for learning and his interests ran the gamut from music and writing to culinary arts.

The favorite royal Chefof this enlightened King was Gyorgy Veres, a Transylvanian gentlemen turned Master Chef,who broght all the refinements of advanced Transylvanian cuisine to court. His laboriously recorded recipes and cooking procedures which were the first culinary writings in that part of the world.

Tarragon, dill, garlic and basilica (basil) were ingredients with which Gyorgy Veres enhaced the royal fare. The King loved his cooking so much that he sent forth emissaries to Transylvania to collect seasonings, wild mushrooms and marvelous recipes.

Transylvania (called Erdely in Hungarian) today is a conglomeration of cultures and nations. Germans who settled there in the early 12th century allegedly came from Saxony. Rumanians claim they were first, and were descendants of Roman legionnaires and Greek travelers. In any case, Transylvanians are a stimulating and interesting melange, with one of the most colorful cuisines in the Carpathian region. Isolated from both Western and Eastern worlds for centuries, they developed their own culture, language and legends. They live amidst high mountains and deep gorges in a world which is somewhat unreal and populated by imaginary characters. Their mythology, folklore, culture and culinary achievement are all closely interwoven. Gypsys who roam these lands add yet another dimension to this storybook existence, with their sad songs, tales by bonfire and their own cookery carried from village to village and marketplace to marketplace. Undoubtedly this mixture has produce one of the most delightful Hungarian and Rumanian cuisines.

Pork is certainly the favorite meat of Transylvanians, and they also thrive on mutton and lamb from and unusual breed of ship which roams the mountains. Sheep hearding is an important to a Transylvanian as ate cattle, hog and horse raising to plains people of Hungary and Rumania. The meat has in own marvelous taste because the sheep graze on tarragon,wich impart a unique flavor. Sheep's cheese, "Brindza", is used extensively in the cookery as a cornmeal. Paprika is almost entirely replaced by tarragon, dill and other mountain herbs.

Today most of Transylvania is ins Rumanian hands, and slowly the magic of Erdely is being draw into the new Rumanian culture. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before the colourful,unique legends, myths and cuisine are only a memory from the past.

Transylvanians of all origins are extremely proud of their culinary achievements, and one could write volumes describing the presentation and consumption of the various food. Every day is festive when it comes to dining, and especially elaborate preparations are made for weddings and other special feasts.