Mamaliga: When Grits or Polenta Just Aren’t Enough

I did a test run of the mamaliga last night, with farmer’s cheese, sour cream and butter. Perhaps no other culture takes this humble corn dish to the same extremes as Romanians, and that’s why it’s featured on the menu for our Romanian Valentine’s Day event in St. Louis.

Corn arrived in Romania in 1692, and it thrived in the climate. Guess what else thrived in turn? The human population. How embarrassing!

I made my mamaliga closer to the style known as ‘balmoș’, which is a shepherd version associated with the Transylvania and Bucovina regions. It contains every possible permutation of dairy you can think of. It’s then finished with butter, cheese and sour cream.

A couple of weeks ago I also mentioned the version of mamaliga from the southern Danube Delta in the LUKA Facebook group. It is nearly as much cheese as it is cornmeal.  From the depictions I saw, it looks as if you could patch a leaky roof with the stuff.

“I hate to tell you this, Harold, but she’s as much cheese as she is Mildred now.”

The richness of mamaliga speaks to the need for subsistence farmers and shepherds to pack massive amounts of nutrition into a single bite of food, and it says a lot about the way of life. Three or four bites probably constitute a meal for some people. With staple dishes as rich and filling as this, the regional love of sour foods is easier to understand. Acidity balances richness.

You probably didn’t expect lengthy discussions of grains and porridges when you hopped on the LUKA train. Pardon the pun, but I like to go granular with this stuff. Regional food analysis gives us a window on local culture, history and lifestyles, and I am in this to learn things.

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