Bucharest’s authentic spots: the traditional markets

Rachel Sargent of the London Street Atelier wrote about Bucharest traditional markets in the 2014 edition of the City Compass Romania: Bucharest & Beyond guide. Below is an extract from her text. You can check info on traditional markets in Bucharest in our 2017 edition available here. 

When I first came to Bucharest, one of my biggest delights was to be able to wander around Amzei market right in the heart of the city and buy produce directly from locals.

For me visiting markets is a way of observing the markers of the seasons: the first young fresh garlic (“leurdă”) to be made into fresh pesto or eaten raw, the first crunchy bitter red radishes to be dipped in salt and nibbled, watercress (“untișor”) for salads and soups, spinach and “ștevie” (a sorrel-like wild leaf) to be bound with “telemea” cheese for little pies or stuffed to make delicate “sarmale” and the outrageously pinky purple spring “lobodă” that makes the prettiest ciorbă ever. Then there are mountain strawberries rich in perfume, raspberries red and yellow, redcurrants, blueberries, blackberries and then, autumn. “Cătină” (sea buckthorn) berries for syrups and jellies, Cornelian cherries for paste and jam, fragrant quinces for “marmeladă” and pies. Apples and plums (fresh, dried and smoked) by the cartload, new season walnuts and then the final deluge of sweet flavourful tomatoes, red peppers and aubergines to be preserved as “zacuscă” and opened in the winter as jars of summer sunshine.

Many of the local vegetables and fruits have wonderful health benefits: Ștevie is incredibly detoxifying and apparently helps balance out blood sugar, watercress and spinach are full of antioxidants, fresh garlic will lower your cholesterol, the fresh summer fruits will boost your vitamin C levels and “țelină” (Celeriac) and parsley root will boost your magnesium levels and, according to Romanian folklore, boost parts other vegetables never reach!

Markets,of course, are not just the preserve of vegetable lovers. For those passionate about meat and cheese, herbs and spices there is plenty to explore. You can still be lucky enough to find proper smoked (ie not injected with smoke “flavouring”) sausages and ham, unpasteurised cheeses (in particular the “brânză de burduf” fermented cow/sheep or goats cheese traditionally made in pig’s bladders – in fact the last one I bought had some extremely anatomically correct large veins creeping all over the exterior proving that it was indeed 100% natural) such as fresh “caș” or beautiful “urdă” (ricotta) and many types of “telemea” (for all intents and purposes a feta type cheese) ranging from fresh to matured and made from various milk: cow, sheep, goat and if you are lucky buffalo. You also shouldn’t leave a Romanian market without buying some real “smântână” (sour cream). The stuff you want is 30% fat content but as much is home-made. What you need to look for is sour cream so rich and creamy that a fork stays upright in it. I use this stuff to make the easiest cheesecakes ever and in place of oil and butter in certain cakes, in particular a dark chocolate and sour cream cake.

One of the pleasures of shopping for local produce is to come home after an over enthusiastic shop and work out what to make with all your treasures. Have a go, adapt recipes you know from home and you will have fun and be amazed at the results. You might also along the way put some money into the local economy rather than lubricate the wheels of vast supply chains bringing products from the ends of the earth to “the bread basket of Europe”. It is hard to be prescriptive about which markets to visit and which stalls, as part of the fun is discovering but here are a few tips to help you dip your toes in the water and go exploring.

The extensive Shopping chapter of the City Compass guide will help you navigate Bucharest, including the main traditional markets and their addresses. 

 

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