Long ago, in an area of the blog consigned to the archives, I was asked by some glib or other about Romanian fast food. My first answer was what like Romanian McDonald’s? For some reason I associated the term fast food with US style fast food joints. Not in the abstract “food that you get and eat without wasting much time”. By my first thought, most street food was not fast food.
In the end, every country has something to eat for people on the go. Although the definition of fast food may not be all clear. So what about Romania?
Well, right now, off course, the larger cities of Romania have most types of worldwide popular fast foods. Of variable quality. Sandwiches are to be found everywhere, but on our fair shores most are not that good, consisting of mainly low quality cheap bread with tiny amounts of filling.
But what about traditional fast food? Well I am unsure what to say about it. We really did not have anything resembling US fast food. Most roadside places where people stopped for a quick bite had a few pots of soup/stew kept warm and a grill that, in busy places, was constantly full and whenever someone came, there was probably something ready or close to ready. So this is not a post on fast food in the end, but one of food that is ready to eat ehm… fast.
Among the more traditional things is mici, translated as little ones which are skinless sausages that are grilled fast on a hot grill to be slightly charred on the outside and still moist on the inside. These were originally a mix of beef and mutton but now it is either pork and beef or pork and mutton. They are served with cheap yellow mustard and cheap bread. Usually on the grill you also find regular sausage and bell peppers roasting.
Another is pastrama, which is salted mutton and is probably the origin of US pastrami. This is generally grilled or pan fried and was popular during harvest season, especially with tulburel (meaning murky) which was wine that fermented some, but did not have the chance to finish fermenting and have the sediment clear. The salty pastrami provoked enough thirst for the booze to go down in quantity. In these times beer is the drink of choice. It is usually served with mamaliga (polenta cornbread whatever you may call it) and pickles. It can be served more or less fast food-y.
The places serving the local soup, ciorba (yes a Turkish word) usually make large pots in the morning or overnight and serve thorough the day. Usually with bread and a hot pepper, and a bit of plum liquor does not hurt.
There are pastry shops everywhere on the streets, saving mainly something pretzel like, and pastries with cheese or mushrooms or apple.
And when there is a special occasion, the grills extend as far as the eye can see. But this is no longer about fast food, more like street festivals.
And the same with stews. And pork shank with beans or cabbage. Or sarmale – stuffed cabbage leaves.
Now what is the most popular fast food? That would be shawarma, which is served whether in a flatbread or on a plate, with meat fries salad and sauce – garlic aioli style sauce being almost compulsory. There is, of course, also doner and gyro and other variations on the theme. Back in the day – my college days – the standard by which all were measured was Genin, a place where even at 3 AM there were long lines. They made their own excellent sauces and due to the turnover you knew everything was fresh. This was a sign of a good place, own sauce. The question was very spice, medium or mild sauce. The bad places asked do you want hot or mild ketchup, because they used store bought ketchup not house sauce. And some store bought mayo. No thanks.
Besides all that there is pizza, there are burgers, there are sandwiches, McDonald’s, KFC and Springtime – the first western style fast food chain in Romania started in the 90 by a Lebanese gentleman. And with the rise of the food truck, we have many many more options from arepas to curries to US pastrami sandwiches and more.