We just celebrated the Romanian National Day a few days ago, so Romanians everywhere had the opportunity to cook and enjoy their famous traditional dish: pork with beans. It is a traditional recipe, we must admit, albeit a bit trivial.
Pizza, shawarma and burgers have become universal recipes, but our own sarmale and mamaliga have gained popularity. But I wonder: what did the Romanian cuisine of a century ago look like? Eating habits speak volumes about a nation, being an important – if a bit underrated – cultural constituent. Nevertheless, there are anthropologists and ethnographers dealing with their study. It is the case with dr. Gheorghe Crainiceanu who published his work, “Igiena teranului roman” (The hygiene of the Romanian peasant), in 1895. In this study, he details the culinary habits of Romanians in the mostly rural context a century ago.
It doesn’t come as much of a surprise to see the depiction of a late 19th-century rural country found in a general state of poverty, ignorance and misery. The main dish was mamaliga – which again, is not surprising. Perhaps you might, however, be surprised to see that an average peasant family would sometimes prepare it thrice a day. The banal white bread was a delicacy, only served on special occasions. The white wheat flour was rare and expensive.
Meat was mostly absent from the average Romanian’s diet. The peasants preferred to sell it and replaced it with vegetables and eggs. Of all the alarming culinary rituals of the peasants, it’s worth mentioning that, out of poverty or ignorance, people often fed their recently weaned babies with pickles, bagels and beans, which made them vulnerable to gastroenteritis and other such digestive ailments. The doctor-author recounts how in Braila such events were very common. Virtually no milk was consumed during the long winter, as the animals weren’t adequately kept or fed.
On the other hand, there were also healthy foods in the Romanian peasant’s diet 100 years ago. Millet, amaranth, beet and hemp oil have been long gone from our diet. Maybe it’s a pity.