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.
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
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
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
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
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