Romanian Survival Book

November 21, 2006

Polenta (Mamaliga)

Filed under: Politics,Romanian food — darian @ 2:27 am


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.

@ 3:04 PM   11 comments



  1. Andrei Rosca said…
    Claudia, i just “discovered” this blog. IT’S GREAT! Great positioning, great niche! Grrr.. I can’t believe I didn’t think about this myself :). Good luck !

    13 September, 2006

    sigquit said…
    bafta cu blogul, sper ca ideea sa nu moara in fasa dupa cateva posturi. cat despre mamaliga – prin majoritatea europei de est post-comuniste a fost relativ aceeasi poveste cu lustratia – pestii mari au scapat bine mersi iar amaratii de rand au fost acuzati de a nu fi eroi…
    c’est la vie!


    13 September, 2006

    Linda said…
    I love your blog!! Having an adopted son from Romania I find it awesome!! Please keep it going!! Thanks!

    13 September, 2006

    Kristin said…
    It has been years since I commented about anything online, but your blog is absolutely fascinating. I recently accepted a Peace Corps position in Romania, and will be leaving this winter, so I want to know everything I can learn about the country, its people and culture. Thank you.

    13 September, 2006

    Anthony Adams said…
    Great choice for an article and great article Claudia–I’ve been interested in the Social Climate of Romania for a long time now–I also have a long time interest in Nutrition–I like the parallels and the comparisons you make in your article–relating the social unrest etc. to the preparation of Polenta(hope you don’t mind me saying -you just reminded me here to take my vitamins for today—I suppose you could say that your blog supplements my day in mind and Spirit the way my vitamins do in other ways)—I do have a question for you regarding what you said about bravery among Romanian men—I have always viewed Romanians as a brave people—One could hardly have expected Romanians to have tried to face Russia in a real major standoff–Russia has 10x the # of soldiers and much more military arsenal–got to remember that Romania did defy Russia in more than one occassion(including in being the only Soviet bloc country to attend the Olympic Games in 1984)–Could you post a bit more of your ideas about?-Especially being that you’ve lived through some of the social unrest in your Native Romania.–I would appreciate much—The analogies you’ve used in this article are great–I suppose I especially like since the study of diet and nutrition have always been such an integral part of my training–and continues to be in the times where I don’t really train as I’ve done before and I now spend most of my days and nights @ my computer online.My best to you—Anthony Adams

    13 September, 2006

    Alan Williamson said…
    I like mamaliga. Most visitors to Romania do not know what to do with it. But, I grew up in the US – in the south – and we eat something we call “grits.” It is not the same as mamaliga, but it prepared me for the polenta experience. Once you learn to enjoy mamaliga, there is no going back. It is a one way trip.

    My favorite way to eat mamaliga is to add a soft fried egg and some cheese (oua si branza) to make what I have heard called “mamaliguta”. Perhaps I do not have that speled corectly, but do remember very well how good this combination is on the table. I am looking forward to trying it again next month when I have the opportunity to visit Romania again.

    I have been enjoying your blog, as I do most things Romanian. I look forward to future posts.

    14 September, 2006

    Anonymous said…
    “Patience is our national weapon. All those who have passed this way have been defeated by us through patience. They didn’t have time, we had patience. We have made a virtue of it. We hide behind it, we defend ourselves with it, just as a coward hides in the shadow of a child.”

    (Augustin Buzura, Refugii)

    Now wonder the Russians call Romanians mamalizhniki

    14 September, 2006

    rick said…
    Here on Curaçao polente is called funchi, and is used by the people as basic food, like in Holland the patato is….

    15 September, 2006

    Anonymous said…
    Mamaliga is not a “romanian food”. Jesus H. Christ!

    19 September, 2006

    claudia darian said…
    well, anonymous, would be cool if you could bring in some arguments on that….you mentioned Jesus H.-?- Christ, but I am not taking your word for it.

    19 September, 2006

    claudia darian said…
    Kristin, thanks for your feedback…let me know when you’re here, I work now with a former Peace Corps American….if that might help you in any way.

    Linda, thanks too, you’re awsome for a mom with 4 children.

    19 September, 2006

    Comment by dizzyggg — November 21, 2006 @ 2:28 am | Reply

  2. […] Will Romanian cornmeal-based dishes survive an onslaught of competitive foodstuffs? Hard to say, but it seems highly likely, especially if someone manages to market it to the EU or beyond as a more traditional, unique, or essential element of Romanian life (like Balmoş). Actually, it did not take long to find exactly that kind of discussion already underway: 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. […]

    Pingback by flyingpenguin » Blog Archives » Food security and identity — January 2, 2007 @ 4:48 am | Reply

  3. Hi

    Very interesting information! Thanks!


    Comment by hiutopor — September 19, 2007 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

  4. hi,
    good site 🙂 Whish you good luck!

    Comment by zelineCek — October 9, 2007 @ 1:27 am | Reply

  5. hi, my blog is about the food in Republic of Moldova, which is almost the same as the cuisine of Romania

    Comment by Girl — February 18, 2008 @ 2:14 pm | Reply

  6. Nu vorbescromâneste.. but i love romania!

    Comment by mitzelle from philippines — May 13, 2008 @ 4:14 pm | Reply

  7. mamaliga is awesome as food

    Comment by beca — September 8, 2008 @ 1:47 am | Reply

  8. Mamaliga has not always been made out of cornmeal. For cornmeal is a South American byproduct of corn.
    Nice replacement for millet but millet was used for similar dishes in the region until it was replaced by milled corn as basic ingredient.

    Comment by Srichard — October 24, 2008 @ 11:09 pm | Reply

  9. Draga Claudia nu stiu daca istoria romanilor iti e chiar asa straina cum reiese din articol sau ignori 99% din ea doar ca sa atraga articolul tau audienta insa gestul tau e reprobabil.

    Comment by Sergiu — February 4, 2009 @ 9:46 am | Reply

  10. Hahahahahaha I love this blog, it’s hilarious. I happen to love Romanians and am drawn to their endless eccentricity. That’s the reason why I’ll probably never stop loving them, yo. They’re never borin’ or pretentious, ‘LMFAOOOO’

    Comment by Yahyahyahhhhiamahugecatmiaowwww — July 26, 2014 @ 2:20 pm | Reply

  11. I was hoping for a real place to find romanian food… politics… not so much ! By the way: mamaliga – cold, is still usable… warm up a frying pan, put some butter or oil, smash some garlic cloves, and bring the cold mamaliga and fry it, moving it around with a fork… called “puricei” or flies… tasty… Mamaliga, you can eat it with staffed cabbage rolls, or staffed grape leaves, eggs and cottage cheese,or feta, with milk/as cereal… melt some mozzarela or whatever cheese you like… feta/ green onions… many alternatives… use your imagination…

    By the way: all those negative comments about the romanians… I guess they are as goo/bad… like everybody around the globe… no less…

    The hungarian/romanian guy: it is known that Romania and Hungary had a lot of conflicts, through the ages, mostly for the same territory -part of Transilvania, and as much as he didn’t like the people… I am sure are many romanians that do not like the hungarians… sad, but true… who knows maybe at some point is going to stop. Hopefully.

    Comment by diana — August 9, 2016 @ 9:29 am | Reply

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