“What is Romanian Christmas food?” is the question everyone asks. Well, since I did one of these things for Easter, I figured I might as well do one for Christmas. When all you heathens and heretics eat Chinese food and prime ribs and such, Eastern Orthodox do what God intended: slaughter a pig. It is rather traditional for any Romanian family of some size – well, older folk, I suppose, not kids these days… – to buy a whole pig, usually not from an industrial farm but from relatives in the country or a small farmer (we still call ’em peasants here). The pig is prepared nose to tail and little is wasted, to form a very large Christmas feast, which often results in the ambulance being called due to overeating (though never in my family).
So I will talk of the food I know. Other Romanians families may have somewhat different traditions. This year Christmas was a sad one as it was the first since my father passed away, but my mother and I decided to try to keep Christmas as close to usual as possible. We only got less than half a pig, though. We could have gotten a whole and frozen most of it, but I prefer cooking from fresh meat so I don’t freeze much. The pictures are not good – taken by phone and I don’t know shit about taking pictures – but the food is tastier than it looks.
The first meal of the day – usually around 9 AM – consists of what we call mezeluri, could be translated as cold cuts. This includes leber (from the German word for liver, I think) which is basically the pig’s liver boiled and minced very fine, mixed with some pig fat minced very fine, some onion chopped fine and sauteed a little in oil, plus five eggs (for the average pig liver), beaten. This makes a liver pate-like paste which is then stuffed in a pig intestine and boiled as a whole for a bit more. Toba – meaning drum – may be similar to what you call head cheese in looks. It is made from parts of the pig’s head and trotters, plus years for the gristle – gristle gives texture – boiled, chopped up roughly, stuffed into the pig’s stomach and boiled a little more. Șorici is basically raw pig’s skin, packed in salt for a few days – the pig is generally seared in order to remove the hair, so the skin may be slightly cooked in the process. Slănină is basically what Italians may call lardo – just less sophisticated, raw pig fat with a little skin attached, also slightly salt cured. Hard salty cheese and raw onion complete the meal, usually alongside bread and țuica.
The second meal -around 12 – is of caltaboș, a thick boiled sausage. It is reasonably fatty pig’s meat minced more roughly, mixed with rice, seasoned with salt and pepper, stuffed in a piece of large intestine and boiled in a broth of mainly water, onions and a bay leaf. This is eaten hot with a squeeze of fresh lemon and some grated horseradish (fresh horseradish just grated and mixed with some salt and a little white wine vinegar). Generally, unlike sausage, the intestine casing is not eaten, and neither is the broth, which is used for cooking. Although red wine works better with pork, in my family we usually drink white with this one.
Around two or three, the sarmale come – stuffed cabbage leaves cooked with some tomato juice and wine. Red wine usually accompanies this meal, and sometimes a hot pepper to take the occasional bite out of.
In the evening, stomach room permitting, the final meal is usually some roast or grilled pork – ribs in general – and sausage. The sausage is a simple but delicious affair, a mix of fatty pork and beef with salt, pepper, garlic and paprika. This is generally eaten alongside pickles. With this part, red wine continues to be drunk.
As dessert, traditionally it is cozonac (I mentioned it in my Easter post, it is, if I remember my Seinfeld, maybe similar to what polish call babka). More red wine here, if you can handle it, which many cannot. Cozonac goes well with red wine. The saying goes in Romania the only thing better in life than cozonac with wine is just wine.
So that is about it, did not feel like writing a longer post so this will have to do. How Romanians gain weight during the winter holidays.
Oh wait, almost forgot the picture of cozonac…