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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Moldova

Historic Diet

Moldovan Food - Mamaliga
Mamaliga

Moldova was most likely heavily forested in its pre-history and due to this, along with the ideal weather and soil in the region, plant and animal life was ever present. Berries, small fruits, nuts, and mushrooms were common on the forest floors, all of which made great food sources. The animals present also made up a part of the diet, but most of this was in the form of small mammals and anything else that could be caught. There is, however a notable lack of fish and other sea life in the country.

Culinary Influences

The first great influence came with the migrating or traded animals that are still present in the region today. As people settled the region and as other people passed though, they brought with them new foods, but more importantly new animals. Domestication and breeding animals became more common and the variety of animals and animal byproducts also expanded. These meats and dairy products became a more significant diet source, although they were expensive and rarely did the average Moldovan feast on meat, milk, or cheese until recent times. Among the early animals to arrive, the most important then and today were sheep, cattle, and chicken.

Moldovan Food - Pastries
Pastries

After or perhaps during this same time, the ancient Greeks colonized the Black Sea coast a couple thousand years ago and their influence and trade to the region brought certain ingredients and foods to modern-day Moldova. Without many preservation methods at the time, the most significant contributions to the diet of the locals were additions in the form of herbs, olive oil, and some fruits. All people at this time could only eat what was fresh and locally available so the introduction and planting of these foods is what has lasted to the present. Items like fish and other sea food found commonly in the Greek diet didn't make it to Moldova since these ingredients were not available in the region.

After the discovery of the Americas in the late 1400s, a number of ingredients from there arrived to Moldova and Europe as a whole. The most important of these ingredients in Moldova was corn (maize). The Moldovan people use this food heavily and today one of their staple foods, mamaliga is made from cornmeal. There were many other ingredients introduced from the Americas as well, but none with as great an influence in Moldova; some of these other ingredients are potatoes, sweet peppers, and tomatoes.

Other influences primarily came from the country's foreign occupiers. This begins with the Ottoman Turks, but they left few significant or lasting effects on the culinary front. The Russians, Ukrainians, and Jews also settled in or ruled over the region and each left certain foods or cooking techniques, but again few of note. Of course, most of the ethnic Russians and Ukrainians eat an entirely Russian or Ukrainian diet, however this has not truly affected what most of the ethnic Moldovans eat other than adding individual dishes.

Under Soviet influence, one of the greatest changes to Moldovan food occurred when the Soviets introduced and encouraged the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers. These introductions prevented animals, primarily insects, from destroying a year's crop, while also increasing output due to the fertilizers. These changes have led to greater produce output year to year, but have also hurt the water supply as many of the fertilizers have run off into the rivers.

In fairly modern history the influence of machinery, food storage techniques, and mass production have influenced Moldova's food, but not with the impact most European countries have experienced. There are now quick service restaurants, frozen foods, and more, but for much of the population these are either inaccessible or too expensive so have not truly affected the diet as a whole. Despite this, people in the larger cities now have access to these foods. Likewise, foreign ethnic foods have tried to make an entrance, but have little to no effect outside Chisinau and perhaps a couple other large cities. More than anything, these new technologies have increased the amount of meats people eat, but has changed little else.

Despite the past influences, Moldovan food still remains primarily local, focused on fruits, vegetables, and limited meats. This is partly due to a love for this historic foods and flavor but is also due to a lack of money and access, meaning they are essentially confined to these foods.

When & Where to Eat

What, when, and where people eat in Moldova is heavily based on ethnicity, but due to the industrialization of the country and regular working hours, most people eat at roughly the same times each day no matter their ethnicity. For most people this begins with a simple breakfast (called prima colazione in Moldovan), which generally consists of bread and cheese, plus cold meats and sometimes tomatoes, cucumbers, and yogurt are also served. When there's more time, some people prefer eggs. Coffee, tea, and juice are also often served. Most people eat this small and quick breakfast in the home prior to work or school. For ethnic Russians and Ukrainians this meal also tends to remain fairly simple and taken at home.

Lunch, known in Moldovan as prânz, is almost always a hot meal that is eaten between about noon and 2:00 pm. This meal generally begins with a soup and finishes with a larger course focused on a starch, which may include mamaliga, potatoes, rice, or pasta. Meats, fruits, and vegetables are also often included to varying degrees depending on the meal. On weekends this meal tends to be a long drawn out affair with large family gatherings. It also almost always includes desserts, perhaps an appetizer, and always wine. Again, for the Russians and Ukrainians the foods served vary, but the timing of the meal is typically the same.

Dinner (cena) in Moldova again varies by ethnicity as each ethnic group tends to prefer traditional foods. For the ethnic Moldovans dinner usually includes local favorites and it is seemingly always accompanied with wine. For many farmers dinner tends to be later in the day and may be a bit smaller than lunch, while in the cities, dinner might be the largest meal of the day and eaten a bit earlier.

Most Moldovans, no matter their ethnicity, tend to eat all their meals in the home. Going out to eat in Moldova is very rare as few people can afford this on a regular basis so the restaurants that do exist tend to be small quick service places. Chisinau has more dining options than anywhere else in the country and more people go out to eat here, but few do so on a regular basis. Also in the capital, and other large cities, work demands mean fewer people go home to eat lunch.

Staple Foods

Bread: commonly served with many dishes, but not typically served when mamaliga is served
Mamaliga: cornmeal boiled in salt water until it's mushy; this is served with nearly every traditional meal as a base or side

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Brinza: a very popular sheep cheese found in or with many dishes
Placinte: pastries shaped like pies that are usually topped with cheese, potatoes, or fruit

Dining Etiquette

The Moldovans are somewhat formal in many ways and this includes dining. Dress conservatively, but more on the formal side and arrive on time if eating with locals. Some households may request that you leave your shoes at the door, so if you see shoes there, take them off to save the host an awkward request.

After you're shown a seat, wait to sit until everyone else sits down. You'll probably be served a number of courses, generally beginning with soup and the words pofta buna (good appetite). Leave your napkin on the table while eating, keep your hands within sight, and dine in the continental style, which means you keep the knife in the right hand and fork in your left.

If you finish your plate, you will surely be offered a second and third helping. Turn down this food at first; only after your host's insistence should you succumb to their offerings. If you truly are done, place your knife and fork together in the 5:25 position.

If eating at a restaurant, the inviter is expected to pay for everyone, but you should offer to assist, an offer that will most likely be turned down. Tipping is not common in Moldova and after experiencing the standard poor service nearly everywhere you won't be inclined to tip anyway. The only exception to this rule is in nice restaurants catered to foreigners in Chisinau (of which there are only about five). Service in these restaurants substantially improves and tips are expected in the form of about 10% for a good meal with excellent service. In local restaurants, if service is good rounding up is a nice gesture and not completely uncommon among the locals.

If your host is an ethnic Ukrainian or Russian, your best course of action is to follow the advice on the Ukrainian Food page or the Russian Food page.

Moldova's Top Culinary Cities:
-The food in Chisinau offers the best variety, highest quality, and most authentic Moldovan foods
-Tiraspol is the best place to try authentic Russian and Ukrainian foods

Drinks

Moldova isn't known for their non-alcoholic drinks; in fact their only true claim to something interesting is compote, which is essentially just fruit-flavored water and not original to Moldova, although it is popular in the country. Beyond this, most popular international beverages are available in Moldova, including soft drinks, coffee, tea, milk, and juices, although none have any particular cultural significance.

Despite the world's lack of recognition, Moldova produces some fantastic red wines and cognacs. Unfortunately for those outside of Moldova, the country doesn't impose any quality control measures so most of their alcoholic exports are of poor quality. A couple of the larger vineyards have self-imposed quality control (including Cricova and Milestii Mici), creating great wines, sparkling red wines, and cognacs with consistently high and predictably quality. The best vintages from Moldova are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and mixes of the two. Many families also have a small plot for grapes and each fall (autumn) they make wine and store it in wood barrels for about half a year. If you arrive between late winter and summer many families can be found bottling their own homemade wines using family recipes. Like the non-alcoholic drinks, hard liquors, beers, and other alcoholic beverages are available in Moldova, but again none have any cultural significance.

There is no consensus on the cleanliness of the tap water in Moldova. Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink, but in some areas the water quality is poorer and perhaps unsafe, so should be avoided. The best course of action is to check with locals for the cleanliness of the local water or be extra cautious and avoid the tap water entirely. If you do decide to drink the tap water, remember that many people may have trouble adjusting to the local water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to. Be aware that most fruits, salads, and ice were washed with or made from the local water so be cautious of these foods if you decide to avoid the tap water.

Moldova's Top Places for a Drink:
-The drink options in Chisinau are the most varied, especially at western-styled restaurants
-Take a wine tour at either Cricova or Milestii Mici for the country's best wines
-Go on a tour and tasting at Kvint Wine & Cognac Distillery (stick with the cognac) in Tiraspol

This page was last updated: February, 2014