Food writer Irina Georgescu on Romania’s food culture

The Romanian landscape is dominated by the Carpathian Mountains and the mighty Danube River, with many small rivers weaving their way through forests and hills to feed the fertile plains. This is dairy country, where the creme fraiche is so thick you can slice it with a knife; plums, which are made into magic fruit butter or baked into pies; and nuts, used in many centuries-old dishes. It is also a country of overlapping cultures. Culinary exchanges have occurred over centuries of tumultuous history, from the honey-sweetened cheese pies of the ancient Greeks and Romans, to the hazelnut halvah of the Ottomans and the rolled puff pastry strudel of the Habsburgs.

A tava (baking tray) taken out of the oven can contain a plăcintă (savory cheese pie), croissants de cornulețe (pastries) filled with fragrant rose petal jam, or delicate biscuits used to sandwich a lush chocolate cream . It may contain Armenian kurabia (butter cookies) or Jewish cookies, as both communities have been influential in Romanian cuisine. There is also a love for fried breads and donuts all over the country. Across the mountains of Transylvania, Romanian-Hungarian families are frying langoși potato bread, topped with sour cream. Saxon villages greet guests with donuts served with tangy cottage cheese or simmered dumplings rolled in buttery breadcrumbs.

Cereals are often used in sweet dishes, be it rice, cracked wheat or pearl barley, while noodles are mixed with butter and poppy seeds, cooked in a vanilla soup with nuts or wrapped in filo pastry and baked. Pancakes made from semolina and yogurt are unique to Swabian communities in the Banat region. The corncakes are enriched with cottage cheese and eggs.

Coffee is a popular flavor in creams and buttercreams, and the tradition of drinking “Turkish” coffee at the end of a meal is an essential part of the ritual at the table. But wherever you are and whatever you eat, a little glass of plum brandy is never far away. Tava, by Irina Georgescu, is published by Hardie Grant, £27.

Helen D. Jessen