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Moldovan Food – 14 Best Traditional Dishes as Recommended by a Local

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I’ve been asked by so many people over the years, ‘where is Moldova?’ And then people are shocked to hear Moldova is in Europe of all places. Located in Eastern Europe, between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is a very small country that generally is not on many people’s travel itineraries. If you’re lucky enough to visit Moldova, Moldovan food is something you definitely must try. Moldovan people are very welcoming, and they generally express this hospitality with lots of Moldovan food and wine!

Moldovan cuisine draws inspiration from Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Greece, and various other countries. Like many Eastern European cuisines, Moldovan cuisine is heavy in meat, potatoes, and other vegetables. Traditionally, Moldovan foods have been a bit too bland for many Americans. The past few years have seen a heavier Western food influence in the country, with more western restaurants. While many people consider Moldovan food delicious, if you try it and it’s not for you — worry not, there are many western-influenced restaurants in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.

14 Traditional Moldovan Food Recipes and Moldovan Dishes to Try

Under the expert guise of local Olga, here are the top 14 Moldovan foods you must try if you’re planning a visit to Moldova!

1 – ‘Mămăligă cu brânză și smântână’ – Polenta with Cheese and Sour Cream

Moldovan Food - Mamaliga | Polenta

Without a doubt, ‘mămăliga’ or polenta is Moldova’s best known and most traditional dish. Polenta is made from corn flour, to which a little butter is added. It’s generally served with sheep’s cheese or cottage cheese and sour cream. For gourmet lovers, you can also order traditional pork stew that goes well with this dish.

In the countryside, my grandparents used to eat this every day. They would also make ‘mujdei de usturoi’, which is a sauce made with garlic, oil, water, and vinegar. They would take a bit of ‘mămăligă’ and dip it in this sauce and then the sheep cheese and sour cream. This sauce doesn’t seem too appetizing to most foreigners, but many Moldovan people love it!

The younger generation doesn’t eat polenta daily as our grandparents used to, but it remains Moldova’s most traditional food.

2 – ‘Plăcinte’ – Moldovan Pie

Moldovan Food - Placinte | Moldovan Pies

Moldovan pies are a close second when it comes to most traditional Moldovan foods. And unlike mămăliga, pies have retained their popularity among young people.

People still bake Moldovan pies at home, but you can also find numerous pie shops and restaurants, as well as many shops that deliver pies to your door. There are several types of pies you shouldn’t miss. For a savory taste, try the cheese pies, cabbage pies, and potato pies. And for those with a sweet tooth, try the cherry pies, apple pies, and pumpkin pies.

3 – ‘Sarmale’ – Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Moldovan Food - Sarmale | Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Sarmale‘ or stuffed cabbage rolls are one of those dishes that feature heavily in the cuisine of many Eastern European countries. In Bulgarian cuisine, they’re called ‘sarmi.’ In Ukrainian cuisine — ‘holubtsi.’ In Polish cuisine — ‘golabki.’ They feature in Macedonian cuisine, Serbian cuisine, Croatian cuisine, Lithuanian cuisine, Russian cuisine, Romanian cuisine, and others. 

In Moldova, no holiday or party is complete without these Moldovan stuffed cabbage rolls. These are cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, minced pork or chicken along with chopped onion and carrots that are slowly simmered. Unlike in some other cuisines, in Moldovan cuisine, they are served with big dollops of sour cream!

Sometimes, they are made with grapevine leaves rather than cabbage leaves. Both versions are delicious, and you should try them both!

4 – ‘Ardei Umpluți’ or ‘Chiperi Umpluți’ – Stuffed Bell Peppers

Moldovan Food - Ardei Umpluti | Stuffed Bell Peppers

Stuffed bell peppers have the same ingredients as the stuffed cabbage rolls (rice, vegetables, and meat), but the taste is completely different due to the fact that the peppers are sweet, and during cooking, they give the rice a specific aroma. They are also served with sour cream (sidenote: have you picked up on the fact that sour cream is a staple of Moldovan cuisine?). Most foreigners love this dish, so it’s highly recommended you try it.

5 – ‘Zeama’ – Moldovan Chicken Noodle Soup

Moldovan Food - Zeama | Moldovan Chicken Noodle Soup

Zeama is a traditional Moldovan soup that is similar to a chicken noodle soup, but it’s usually a bit sour. The ingredients that go into this soup generally consist of chicken, chopped vegetables (such as onions, carrots, bell peppers, and potatoes), and homemade noodles. The sour notes are achieved by adding ‘borș acru de casa’ (a liquid ingredient most people buy rather than make at home that consists of fermented wheat or barley bran) or lemon juice. Zeama is usually served with (yes, you guessed it!) sour cream, bread, and spicy chili peppers, depending on your taste preferences.

6 – ‘Borș’ – Borscht 

Moldovan Food - Bors | Borscht

Outside of Eastern Europe, borscht is probably most associated with Ukrainian cuisine. It is however very popular in most of Eastern Europe and some other countries, including in Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Romania, and of course, Moldova. In Moldova, borscht is on the second place among soups after ‘zeama’. While ‘zeama’ (discussed above) has a sour taste and a light color, borscht is a bit on the sweeter side with a deep, rich red color.

Its main ingredient is the beetroot, which gives it a deep red color. To the beetroot, people add various combinations of vegetables such as carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbage, and tomatoes. The borscht may contain meat, but it’s also common for it to be vegetarian. Borscht is usually served with (you guessed it again!) sour cream and bread. The rich flavor of all vegetables combined makes it a great dish for wintertime.

7 – ‘Colțunași cu brânză’ or ‘Chiroște’ – Cheese Dumplings

In Moldova, cheese dumplings come in two varieties. One — ‘colțunași harnici’, which, if translated literally, means ‘hard-working dumplings’. Two – ‘colțunași lenoși’, which translated means ‘lazy dumplings.’ Fun fact — the names really come from the fact that hard-working dumplings take more effort and longer to prepare than the lazy dumplings.

Moldovan Food - Coltunasi | Moldovan Dumplings

Colțunași harnici’ generally consist of homemade unleavened dough wrapped around a filling of cheese. They are cooked by boiling them in salted water for a few minutes. In more modern variations of this recipe, you can find various fillings (not just cheese), including sweet jams inside.

Moldovan Food - Coltunasi lenesi | Lazy Dumplings

Colțunași lenoși’ or lazy dumplings are made by mixing all the ingredients (cheese, eggs, sugar, butter, and flour) and shopping the resulting dough, cutting them into small pieces. The dumplings are then cooked in salted water for a few minutes.

Both versions of cheese dumplings in Moldova are served with a lot of high-quality sour cream. At this point, I should just nickname Moldovan cuisine the ‘Sour Cream Cuisine.

8 – ‘Tort Smetanik’ – Madonna Honey Cake

Moldovan Food - Madonna Honey Cake

Although originally a Russian cake, in Moldova, it has become so popular that every dessert lover has tried it and continues to serve it at birthdays, weddings, and other parties. You can also buy it in most grocery stores, bakeries, or restaurants. This multiple-layer cake with a tangy white frosting is so delicate and moist that it will just melt in your mouth. And guess one of the main ingredients in the cake filling? Yes, sour cream that is then sweetened with sugar and flavored with some vanilla.

Related: Russian Honey Cake / Medovik / Smetannik Recipe

9 – ‘Cușma lui Guguță’ – Crepes Cake Gugutsa’s Hat

Moldovan Food - Crepes filled with Cherries | Cusma Lui Guguta

Who does not like crepes, especially when they are layered with sour cherries and glazed with whipped cream? Put into layers forming a pyramid and sprinkled with dark chocolate flakes on top, this is the Gugutsa’s Hat cake, one of the top Moldovan foods. Have a slice of this 5-star elegant cake and a cup of coffee, and you won’t regret it.

10 – ‘Frigărui’ – Grilled Kebabs

Moldovan Food - Kebabs

For meat lovers, a great Moldovan food you’ll enjoy is the grilled kebab – tender grilled meat and vegetables on skewers. Cooked on a wood or charcoal fire on a terrace, they make a great dinner for everyone.

11 – ‘Chifteluțe cu piure’ – Meatballs with Mashed Potatoes

Moldovan Food - Mashed Potatoes and Meatballs

The meatballs are extremely tasty in tomato sauce and make a great combination with mashed potatoes. They are made from minced chicken, beef, or pork served with a salad of fresh vegetables.

12 – ‘Răcitura’ – Meat Jelly

Moldovan Food - Meat Jelly

Răcitura comes from a Romanian word meaning ‘cold,’ which is why it is served as a cold dish. Personally, I think it’s an acquired taste. Despite growing up in Moldova, I never particularly liked this dish, and not a lot of westerners love it either. However, most Moldovan people love it! If you want to try something different, go for it!

In Moldova, the meat jelly is generally made from a rooster that is cooked in a broth of garlic, spices, and vegetables. After cooking the broth on low heat, the broth is poured into individual plates along with the meat and vegetables and allowed to cool for several hours until the jelly forms.

13 – ‘Pește (Caras) Prăjit’ – Fried Fish

Moldovan Food - Caras Prajit

This fish dish is usually made with Crucian carp, a river fish that is coated with cornflour and then fried in oil. It’s usually served with polenta (mămăliga) and the garlic, oil, and vinegar sauce (‘mujdei’) we talked about above.

14 – ‘Prune umplute cu nuci’ – Plums filled with nuts

Moldovan Food - Prune Umplute Cu Nuci

This dessert is less common than the Madonna cake or Guguta’s Hat cake. Generally liked by people who prefer healthier foods, this dessert is made of prunes that are soaked in fruit cognac syrup and then filled with walnuts and served in glass cups and glazed with whipped cream.

These were the best 14 traditional Moldovan foods you can try when you go visit Moldova. Hope you enjoy them!

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