Saturday, October 17, 2009

Nibbling my way to Count Dracula's Castle

Transylvanian Cuisine

I have boogied my way into unfamiliar territory in the past, but never have I attempted fate by following the footsteps of Bram Stoker's rogue character, Count Dracula. Join me as I ramble my way through Transylvania's winding passages deep in the Carpathians, into the heart of Transylvanian Cuisine and a few of Jonathan Harker’s menu encounters.

Dracula Chapter 1

The culinary odyssey begins in Bistrita, Romania:

Jonathan Harker's Journal:

3 May. Bistritz. __Left Munich at 8:35 P. M, on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible.

The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East; the most western of splendid bridges over the Danube, which is here of noble width and depth, took us among the traditions of Turkish rule.

We left in pretty good time, and came after nightfall to Klausenburgh. Here I stopped for the night at the Hotel Royale. I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem. get recipe for Mina.) I asked the waiter, and he said it was called "paprika hendl," and that, as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians.

"Without any doubt the most popular spice in Transylvania" is paprika. Some may call "paprika hendl," Chicken Paprikash while others sink their teeth into a hearty bowl of Chicken Dracula. Paul Kovi does not include a recipe for either in his book Transylvania Cuisine (1985) however, I did find a recipe on page 265 for Júhtúrós Kukoricagombóc, if you dare to rollick among the unknown.

Cornmeal Dumplings with Sheep Cheese
1 lb. sheep cheese (such as brinza or feta)
6 eggs, separated, white stiffly beaten
pinch of salt
1 tsp. caraway seeds, ground
1/2 medium onion, grated
7 tbs. butter
3-3/4 cups cornmeal
Bread crumbs sauteed in butter
2 cups sour cream
Combine the cheese, egg yolks, salt, ground caraway seeds, onion, and butter in a large bowl and beat until foamy. Mix in the cornmeal and beaten egg whites. Shape mixture into small dumplings, and cook in a pot of lightly boiling salted water until done. Top with sauteed bread crumbs and sour cream and serve. Note: Farmer cheese can be substituted for the sheep cheese.

Dracula Chapter 1

Having had some time at my disposal when in London, I had visited the British Museum, and made search among the books and maps in the library regarding Transylvania...

I find that the district he named is in the extreme east of the country, just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia, and Bukovina, in the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe.

I was not able to light on any map or work giving the exact locality of the Castle Dracula, as there are no maps of this country as yet to compare with our own Ordance Survey Maps; but I found that Bistritz, the post town named by Count Dracula, is a fairly well-known place. I shall enter here some of my notes, as they may refresh my memory when I talk over my travels with Mina...

I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; if so my stay may be very interesting. (Mem., I must ask the Count all about them.)

I did not sleep well, though my bed was comfortable enough, for I had all sorts of queer dreams. There was a dog howling all night under my window, which may have had something to do with it; or it may have been the paprika, for I had to drink up all the water in my carafe, and was still thirsty. Towards morning I slept and was wakened by the continuous knocking at my door, so I guess I must have been sleeping soundly then.

I had for breakfast more paprika, and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was "mamaliga", and egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they call "impletata". (Mem.,get recipe for this also.)

Mamaliga, The Recipe

Rumanian Stuffed Eggplant
4 medium eggplants, washed, dried, and halved lengthwise
Salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup butter
1 cup rice
1 bread slice
1/2 cup milk
14 ounces boneless pork leg
1 onion
1/2 cup mixed chopped fresh dill and parsley
2 egg yolks
3 or 4 tomatoes, peeled and sliced
4 tbs. grated hard cheese
2 to 3 tbs. sour cream
1. Scoop out and discard the centers of the eggplants, leaving 1/2 inch of flesh all around. Lightly season eggplants and brown slightly in butter in a frying pan. Set aside.
2. Cook the rice in 2 cups water so that it remains slightly hard. Drain excess water, if any. Soak the bread slice in the milk; drain excess milk.
3. Pass the meat through the grinder twice, together with the milk-soaked bread and the onion. Then add rice, 1/4 cup water, salt, pepper, chopped dill and parsley, and egg yolks. Blend thoroughly.
4. Stuff the eggplants with the meat mixture. Arrange them in a shallow pot. Cover eggplants with the sliced tomatoes. Pour in 1 cup water. Let simmer, covered, over low heat.
5. When the meat is done, place the eggplants in a baking pan. Sprinkle with grated cheese and spread on sour cream. Put in moderate oven and bake until brown. Transylvanian Cuisine p.74

Dracula Chapter 1

5 May. The Castle.--The gray of the morning has passed, and the sun is high over the distant horizon, which seems jagged, whether with trees or hills I know not, for it is so far off that big things and little are mixed.

I am not sleepy, and, as I am not to be called till I awake, naturally I write till sleep comes.

There are many odd things to put down, and, lest who reads them may fancy that I dined too well before I left Bistritz, let me put down my dinner exactly.

I dined on what they called "robber steak"--bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks, and roasted over the fire, in simple style of the London cat's meat!

The wine was Golden Mediasch, which produces a queer sting on the tongue, which is, however, not disagreeable.

I had only a couple of glasses of this, and nothing else...

It is shadowy to me what Harker is referring to when he speaks of robber steak. It sure sounds like a shish kebab doesn't it? Since there was no reference to it in Kovi's book, I did a bit of digging to see what bewitching tales I could uncover. The raw truth may lie in the historic annals of steak. Not any old steak mind you but the best of the best (to some anyway) Châteaubriand. Legend has it that the thickness of the steak involved a peculiar method of cooking. Since it is so thick it might be burnt on the surface while still quite raw inside. To remedy the situation, the illustrious steak was put on the fire between two other slices of beef, which, if burnt upon the grill, could be thrown away; robber steak? I also found reference to robber's steak in Round About the Carpathians (1878)

Now came the supper, which consisted of robber-steak and tea. I always stuck to my tea as the most refreshing beverage after a long walk or ride. I like coffee in the morning before starting--good coffee, mind; but in the evening there is nothing like tea. The robber-steak is capital, and deserves an "honourable mention" at least: it is composed of small bits of beef, bacon, and onion strung alternately on a piece of stick; it is seasoned with pinches of paprika and salt, and then roasted over the fire, the lower end of the stick being rolled backwards and forwards between your two palms as you hold it over the hot embers.It makes a delicious relish with a hunch of bread...The wines were excellent. We had golden Mediasch, one of the best wines grown in Transylvania, Roszamaber from Karlsburg and Bakatar. The peculiarity about the first-named wine is that it produces an agreeable pricking on the tongue called in German; tschirpsen. 
And she fell in love with the Cat's Meat Man,
The Cat's Meat Man,
The Cat's Meat Man;
And she fell in love with the Cat's Meat Man,
The Man that sold the Meat.

When I mentioned to a colleague that I was going to be posting about Transylvanian Cuisine today, my statement was met with horror. "Transylvania?" "Isn't that the mythical land of Gypsies, Vampires and Barbarians?" "They don't cook!." Indeed, Transylvania is the home of Dracula, the notorious vulture who dined on blood. Fact is, the Louis Szathmary Hungarian Collection housed at the University of Chicago Library has "a sizable number of books on the history of Transylvania."

Paul Kovi wrote about Dr. Louis Szathmary's collection in the introduction to Transylvanian Cuisine.

"The greatest finding of my search surfaced in Chicago home of my dear colleague Dr. Louis Szathmary, a Transylvanian and a fine restauranteur. His library contains the world. Works about Transylvanian cuisine alone comprise more than 350 volumes. My friend not only put his treasure at my disposal but enriched me with ideas, invaluable advice, and guidance. One great treasure I found in his library was the incomparable cookbook of Marcus Rumpolt."

Transylvanian cuisine is extremely diverse. Geography, landscape and infiltration have influenced it's culinary literature. By hook or crook, Transylvania has fearlessly managed to hold onto its distinct culinary characteristics. With a large variety of fruits, vegetables, spices and wine production, agriculture is not only an important occupation it allows its people to adapt foreign recipes to local taste. A Gastronomic Tour of Romania may have inspired even Dracula to reconsider his appetite.

The Czech Republic's kingdoms of Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland were all at one time major political and cultural forces as well. The traditional foods of these three kingdoms were gradually incorporated into the court cuisine of the Austrian Empire, so by the nineteenth century they had become "Viennese." The Wiener schnitzel (Viennese veal cutlet) would never have been possible without Hungarian beef; the famous Kolatschen (custard-filled pastries) of the Vienna coffeehouses would never have existed without the ancient kolace of Bohemia. As a political coequal to Austria, Hungary evolved a distinctive cuisine of its own inspired by nationalistic themes. Since Slovakia and Romanian Transylvania were once part of the Hungarian Kingdom, they experienced Hungarian influences most, but, by the same token, they gave back to Hungarian cookery added regional nuances and many specialized dishes. Encyclopedia of Food & Culture

The book Transylvania Cuisine does not make reference to "the wine with the queer sting," instead, one chapter, which encompasses the more than 400 pages, is devoted to The Wines of Transylvania. Two sections; From Heart to Heart and Reverence of Foods are collections of essays illustrating the poetic aspects of Transylvanian cuisine. With such delights as My Mother's Starter Dough, and the Mysteries of Strudel Making, the author charms the reader to believe in the treasure trove of dishes capturing Transylvanian delights. Beginning with over 20,000 thoroughly researched recipes, 300 carefully chosen ones are at the center of the book. The book cover states that he [Kovi] "went from village to village, kitchen to kitchen, and hearth to hearth to find the nearly lost art of the original Transylvanian cooking and flavors."

I had a devil of a time trying to select one more recipe for ordinary mortals who may want to have Dinner at the Count's. I have chosen to end my journey with a rather lengthy recipe for A Wine Vinegar for Autumn.While you're nibbling away at the recipe, I'll be feeding on Voodoo Doughnuts.

Oszre Valo Ecetagy Keszitese
A bunch of green grapevine tendrils
2 ounces raisins or dried, pitted sour cherries or cornel
1 ear of young corn
2 ounces lentils
3 quarts dry white wine
1/4 cup honey
1 or 2 pieces fresh and ripe fruit (any kind), cleaned and stemmed
1. At the beginning of the summer fill a wide-mouthed glass gallon jar one fourth full with the following ingredients: green grape vine tendrils,raisins (or dried sour cherries or cornel) ear of corn, and lentils. Pour in enough wine to fill jar halfway and stir in half the honey.
2. Cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth and tie it down. The mixture will first ferment then turn cloudy before it eventually clears up.
3. When 2 weeks have elapsed, place the jar in a cool but not too cold spot. Add 1 or 2 pieces of cleaned, stemmed ripe fruit of the season to the jar and let stand.
4. At the beginning of September add enough wine to the jar to fill it. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons honey. Place the jar in a sunny spot again for 1 week (be sure the contents do not become too warm), then return it to a cool spot.
5. Do not move the jar until the first days of October. By this time the vinegar will have a layer of sediment on the bottom, and will be clear on top.
6. Carefully siphon off a bottle (1 quart) of the clear, ready to use vinegar and fill the jar again with the same amount of white wine.
7. If the vinegar is handled carefully (not moved or shaken), it will not spoil. This procedure of draining off the clear vinegar should be repeated again from time to time (taste it occasionally, and siphon it about every 2 to 4 weeks). Be sure to replace the removed amount with fresh wine. It produces a very good vinegar.
Variations: Using an existing vinegar base, one can prepare new vinegar from a favorite wine and some fruit (or other sugar-containing plant) in the following manner:

Fill a 2-quart wide-mouthed jar with wine (or with any kind of fruit soaked in wine), Cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth and tie it down, then put the jar in an evenly warm place. The top of the wine will develope a skin after a while; stir it back into the wine by shaking the jar. Continue this process until 1/4 or 1/2 quart gelatinous wine skin forms. Transfer this gelatinous wine to a similar size jar. Fill the jar with some vinegar from the recipe above. Let stand in cool spot. When the contents settle, slowly siphon off the top for use. Replace the removed amount with fresh wine. Be sure to siphon off new vinegar at least once every 4 weeks. Bottle the vinegar and store it in a cool place.
Note: If the wine develops a skin on top, be sure to skim it off. Wine vinegar prepared in such a manner can be used as a base for flavored vinegars as well.

Upcoming Food Days:
18-Feast of St. Luke. Patron of Brewers and Butchers
18-National Chocolate Cupcake Day 
18-National Meatloaf Appreciation Day  @ Slashfood
18-Send Birthday wishes to James T. Ehler author of the Food Reference Website
19-National Seafood Bisque Day
21-Apple Day @ wiki
21-National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day

1. Dracula's Homepage
2. Dracula - Beyond the Legend
3. The Origins of the Vampire Myth
4. You can’t keep a good vampire down (Stoker’s descendent Dacre Stoker, Dracula: the Un-Dead.)
5. Round About the Carpathians (available free @ Project Gutenberg)
6. Transylvanian Cuisine (Excellent with recipes)
7. Slow Cooker Chicken Paprikash
8. Coco Cooks Goulash & Spaetlze


  1. I love vampire stories. Bram Stoker's Count Dracula is the best. I'll remember this recipes when I want to have a "True Blood" party.

  2. Fantastic post, Louise! And perfect weather for it here, too . . . :)

  3. Stuffed eggplant... yum. And we'll DEFINITELY have to celebrate national pumpkin cheesecake day, although I'm shocked that's not in November. Seafood bisque day might require a nod too...

    What did I do before I found your blog?!

  4. Wow, another fascinating post really interesting recipes! Who's not interested in Count Dracula and Transylvania! I love reading your articles - certainly much thought and heart had gone into writing them. Thank you for sharing, dear Louise! :D

    With best wishes,

    choesf :D

  5. Spooky! I've got chills! That's an interesting combo for making vinegar. And, I guess a healthy dose of paprika, was not enough to keep the vampires away!

  6. That is so cool! We can actually get sheep cheese in my area and that would be an interesting taste change.

    Love the story. I think I'll follow you on Google reader too then I can read this at work!

  7. It seems to me that the "robber steak" is no steak at all but a kind of shashlik

  8. What a fun post!
    I still have a fear of vampires, and have been known to cover my neck at night on the way to the bathroom..
    I had no idea that the Transylvanian diet was so distinct.

  9. I love to check out food in fiction books -- this is wonderful!

  10. Hmm. I've never seen a recipe like the one for cornmeal dumplings before - I rather like the sound of it!

  11. I didn't even drop by this weekend, yet I made seafood bisque on Saturday night. How funny is that?

  12. Very interesting post! I found the robber steak intriguing, it would be interesting to discover the origins of the name.

  13. Oh, Veron, surely these recipes will win the "hearts" of all who attend:)

    Your words are truly appreciated Karen, thank you for following me on this journey.

    Hi Channon, the way I figure it, you are slowly convincing me that I'm missing a puppy in my world and for my part, well, we all can use another day to celebrate food! I'll have to check about the staus of pumpkin in November. I can tell you for sure, November 6th is National Nachos Day!

    Thank you for linking to this post chosef. It is most kind of you. I totally enjoy visiting your blog too and have included a link to your eco-friendly enzyme in the new post I just did for Brandied Fruit Day!!!

  14. Hi T.W. Thanks for stopping by. I found the vinegar recipe hard to resist. It sure is some process though!!! I suppose the paprika needs a garland of garlic to really ward off those vampires!!! I'll be by you in a few. I see I have some catching up to do:)

    Hi Tina I'm so glad you enjoyed this post. I need to figure out how to use google reader. Thanks for reminding me. Don't you just love the notion of using sheep cheese in this recipe. I can just imagine the tang it will add to the dumplings. I do hope you try it as written!!!

    I'm thinking shish kebab Petra. Yum...meeee!!!

  15. Hi Natashya. It was a fun post to do. I hadn't picked up Dracula in years. I'm so sorry you're afraid of vampires. You know, you can always wear a garland of garlic to bed. It is suppose to ward off the vampires.

    It is fun isn't it Mae? Thank you so much for linking to this post. It is truly appreciated.

    May I suggest you begin with the Mamaliga, Julia. Most satisfying and simple too!!!

    I agree Adele. The Cornmeal Dumplings do sound rather intriguing.

    Thanks duckie, I was afraid you would be frightened away.

    I adore Seafood Bisque, Marjie. I better pop over to see if you saved me any!!!

    Hi Rochelle, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. I had to stop myself when it came to researching robber steak. It sounds oh so primitive!!!

  16. Hello there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it
    is really informative. I'm going to watch out for brussels.

    I will appreciate if you continue this in future. Lots of people will be
    benefited from your writing. Cheers!


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise