International Cooking: Food from Moldova

Moldova was a difficult country, mostly because the majority of the dishes I came across are also popular Romanian dishes. I didn’t want to make all the Romanian dishes for Moldova and not have enough for Romania! So I tried to focus on dishes that were a bit different in Moldova, or that did not seem overwhelmingly Romanian when I looked them up. It was hard not to just make everything I came across though since all the food from Moldova looked delicious!

Moldova is a landlocked Eastern European country, bordered by Romania and Ukraine.

From the 14th century, most of the country was part of the Principality of Moldovia, which was a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. However, in 1812, the Ottomans ceded the land to the Russian Empire. The land changed hands a few more times during the 1800s until eventually, Romania emerged as a state under Russian rule.

There was much dispute over certain territories within Romania, and finally, Romania was forced to cede some of them which is how the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was formed. In 1991, during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Moldavian SSR declared independence as Moldova.

Moldova is a poor country with a low Human Development Index. It is currently in the process of joining the European Union.

What Do People Eat in Moldova?

Moldovan cuisine is very similar to that of Romania, which makes sense considering they were once the same country. Depending on the region, you may also find dishes such as Ukrainian borscht (beetroot soup) or Russian pelmeni (meat-filled dumplings).

Most meals are based on meat and grains. Pork, beef, and lamb are common as is fish. Popular accompaniments include sour cream, cheese, and a type of polenta (which I made this week). There’s also a variety of vegetables, with the most popular including potatoes, carrots, cabbage, beans, onions, garlic, leeks, tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant. Vegetables may be used in salads or stews, but they can also be cooked in a variety of ways as a side dish or pickled.

A variety of pastries, cakes, rolls, and buns can be found, particularly during holiday periods. Some have both sweet and savory versions, with common fillings including cheese, fruit, vegetables, and walnuts.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Moldovan dishes I didn’t make!

Pește Prăjit cu Mămăligă (Fried Fish with Polenta)

Pește Prăjit cu Mămăligă (Fried Fish with Polenta)

Fried cornmeal-coated fish is a popular dish in Moldova, often served with mămăligă (a type of polenta) and garlic sauce. I went with flounder for the fish since I had it in the freezer. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, coated it in cornmeal, and pan-fried it until crispy.

I didn’t actually make a garlic sauce here—I used sour cream instead, which I think worked well.

The mămăligă is what took the most time to make, though it wasn’t difficult. I combined water, salt, and a little cornmeal in a saucepan and brought it to a boil. (I’m not actually sure why a sprinkle of cornmeal is added at this initial stage but maybe it helps the rest incorporate better later.) Then I added the rest of the cornmeal, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Soon the mixture was too thick to continue whisking so I switched over to a spoon. I reduced the heat and continued to cook, stirring often, then put the lid on and left it for a few more minutes.

Next, I was meant to turn the mămăligă out onto a plate but it did not want to come out of the saucepan. I had to get a spatula under it, and then it came out, but it wasn’t perfect and I had to push it together to get a nice round like in the recipe photos.

It’s recommended to cut mămăligă with a piece of string rather than a knife, so I tried that with kitchen twine and that worked well. I should note here that though mămăligă is also common in Romania, it’s usually not so stiff when served there.

I thought this was a good meal; I was skeptical about the mămăligă but I even liked that! I did end up making way more than I needed though; the recipe said it would feed five or six people who like to eat, so I only made a third but still had around four generous servings.

The mămăligă recipe is from By Lena.

Mămăligă cu Brânză și Smântână (Polenta with Cheese and Sour Cream)

Mămăligă cu Brânză și Smântână (Polenta with Cheese and Sour Cream)

This is the same mămăligă I made to go with my fish, only this time I was eating it as leftovers for breakfast. Mămăligă with sour cream and cheese is very popular, and it’s also common to add eggs to make a more complete meal. I used feta for the cheese and scrambled the eggs. This isn’t the prettiest dish but I thought everything went really well together.

Plăcinte (Cheese-Stuffed Bread)

Plăcinte (Cheese-Stuffed Bread)

Plăcinte are pies or flatbreads (there are many types) that can be filled with a variety of ingredients, though cheese seems one of the most popular choices. The recipe I followed called for ‘fresh crumbling cheese’ so I took this as an opportunity to use up some of the cheese I had leftover from Mexico week. I used a combination of queso fresco, cotija, and feta. Ordinarily, I would just use feta for something like this but this mix tasted really good.

The plăcinte were actually pretty easy to make. I made the dough out of flour, salt, vinegar, olive oil, and water, and let it rest while I combined the filling ingredients. I stirred together my chosen mix of cheeses with an egg, some sour cream, salt, and a lot of fresh dill.

I divided my dough into rounds and rolled out each until it was pretty thin. Then I spread some of the filling over the top and rolled the dough into a sausage shape. Finally, I formed it into a spiral and tucked the end under.

I brushed the plăcinte with egg beaten with sour cream and baked them until they were golden on top. I did have to bake for around 5 minutes longer than the recipe said.

I loved these! I found that they freeze well too. This is something I would love to make again.

This recipe is from Bay Leaf Table on YouTube.

Zeama (Chicken Noodle Soup)

Zeama (Chicken Noodle Soup)

Zeama is Moldova’s take on chicken noodle soup. What makes it different is the addition of borș (sometimes also confusingly spelled ‘borsch’) which is a liquid made from fermented wheat and/or barley. This gives the soup a bit of a sour taste. Lovage, a European herb that’s probably most similar to parsley, is also a typical ingredient, though not something I can easily get around here. Finally, the noodles are usually handmade, but I cheated and went with store-bought vermicelli.

I decided I was going to make my own borș, but I forgot to start it in time (I would have needed to ferment it for around five days). But then I had the idea of using some of the liquid from my sourdough starter since surely that’s very similar (I’m talking about the liquid that starts to rise to the top when the starter needs to be fed, which should make sense to anyone else with a sourdough starter but probably not to the rest of you, sorry!)

The soup is otherwise made just like most chicken noodle soups. The recipe called for a whole chicken, cut into pieces, but I wanted to halve the recipe so I used bone-in chicken thighs. First I made a stock by cooking the chicken in water with bay leaves and large pieces of carrot, onion, celery, and red bell pepper. Once the stock was done, I discarded the veggies and bay leaves.

Next, I added chopped carrot, potatoes, and red bell pepper to the stock. When the potato was cooked through, I added my noodles and my borș substitute, though I didn’t really have enough so I also added a little apple cider vinegar. I seasoned to taste with salt and pepper, and added the parsley and chopped onion shortly before serving.

I thought keeping the onion practically raw was an interesting choice, but the recipe author explained that they do this intentionally and it gives a ‘special taste’ to the soup. Since I’m all for trying new things, I did follow this instruction and I think the barely cooked onion worked pretty well in this soup.

Overall, I thought this was a delicious take on chicken noodle soup. I’d love to make this again, but next time I’ll hopefully remember to make the borș!

This recipe is from By Lena.

  • Sarmale – cabbage rolls, commonly stuffed with a mixture of meat and rice but there are many variations. Many countries have some version of this dish. In Moldova, they are often served with sour cream.
  • Tochitură – a pork stew popular in both Moldova and Romania, typically served with fried eggs and mămăligă. This is something I’m looking forward to making for Romania!
  • Chiftele cu piure – meatballs with mashed potatoes, another dish that’s also very popular in Romania.

Final Thoughts

This was a great week! The plăcinte was my favorite dish but everything was pretty good.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Monaco.

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