Mamaliga is a national Romanian food, but you may find it with Italians, Hungarians and other nations for sure, known around as ‘polenta’. Again, with Romanians things are more complicated and tricky, because ‘mamaliga’, as many other things Romanian, is not just food; there is a whole symbolism behind the poor innocent ‘mamaliga’. The mystery dwells in, at least, few aspects: how ‘mamaliga’ is cooked; our history; how we dealt with our history across time.
Romanians did not have a state organization until very late and they seem to have grown a strong resilience and patience over the numerous obstacles in their history. There were few brave rulers fighting back, but often outnumbered, and without a real army, and many times with the peasants enrolling voluntarily. Living right here, near the wilderness of nomad steppes in the beginning of Christianity, Romanians often left their houses and run into the woods, hiding of various people passing by, the Huns, the Avars, Slavs, Maghyars, Pechenegs, Cumans, but mostly the Tatars (Mongols); later, the Turks, Austro-Hungarians, the Germans, the Russians, the communists….as I consider the communists a foreign occupation given the fact that the gem of communists in Romanian resistance was very small, but the desire of Stalin to take over very big. If there are historians out there to contradict me here, please do.
The same resilience took place during the communist times. It is fairly known that in the beginning the communist system in Romania was one of the most brutal, crushing down any sign of disobedience and going much beyond that. I was born in Pitesti, where one of the most infamous communist torture prisons used to be; when I first read about that I was about 16 and I was shattered for the next few years. Around 19, I have met the greatest women in Romanian recent history, Elisabeta Rizea in her natal town of Nucsoara where, together with fellow students we were doing some sort of combined research on the application of property law and the resistance against the communists that took place in the Fagaras mountains for almost a decade and about few people know. The wives, daughters and relatives of those in the mountains were beaten up, tortured, cast out and still they did not betray. The atrocities were enormous, as the communist underground war was ferocious.
Coming back to ‘mamaliga’, that has a very special recipe: you take the corn flour, you pass it through a utensil to throw the bad grains out, and then you pour it carefully in hot water. You have to be patient, as you need to watch over it whilst boiling and smash thorough it constantly. When the boiling point is reached the ‘mamaliga’ should look quite thick and consistent. Then is ready; you turn it over on a strong wood plate and you leave aside to chill out. Here is the trick: ‘mamaliga’ is made of corn, which is the peasants’ bread, is thick but not as consistent as bread, is not baked but boiled to a certain point. You eat it fast; the leftovers are not good, as it is with bread. If is chilling out too much, then ‘mamaliga’ is not good; if is not boiled enough is flawed. So, there you go to an ad-hoc manual in defining Romanians: we need to boil to the hottest point until we take any action; even so, we might get it wrong if not boiled properly or chilled out too much. We have a peasant background, which makes us resilient and humble; contrary with some stereotypes that also makes us hardworking and generally honest. We are not of an aristocratic nature or background; the attempts to look like that are laughable. We had German kings, and few Balkan rulers with pretensions of aristocracy, but that was only a historical opportunity for installing the corrupt behaviour we perpetrate today. We had few good brave people, but very few; they were often left alone in a limbo given the problem with the boiling point I have mentioned before.
Nowadays, after boiling softly underground in the communist regime, many people seem to fake the boiling point all the time. Is not possible to fake it and not anyone notice that, because ‘mamaliga’ explodes and becomes what it is supposed to be only under real pressure, not artificially induced. The Romanian intellectuals were so quiet during communists, with very few exceptions, now they are active and loud and taking moral stands against people accused of so called ‘secret police files’. Comparing the agreement signed by anyone with the resilience of Elisabeta Rizea, anything looks pitiful for the first; then again, comparing the torturing officer, the one who betrayed his friends and family with someone who signed a piece of paper but never acted actively against someone, is a big nuance. I am tired of seeing the ‘mamaliga’ syndrome turned in such a delayed cleaning of our society, while the ones who have been always good in playing the puppets grin behind the scene. The whole idea of ‘lustration’ was addressed to them firstly and mostly and they are the ones who get away one more time.