12 October 2017
It was midafternoon when we got to Gura Humorului, Romania, after circumnavigating the painted monastery circuit near the Ukrainian border. (The monasteries’ exterior walls have painted religious-themed frescoes from the 15th and 16th centuries.) We were in search of money…a bank to change some dollars to local currency, the lei. All we found was a closed bank with an outdoor ATM, the kind that ingests your card and then regurgitates it, on a whim…or maybe not. But it was Romania, 5000 miles from home and I wasn’t taking the chance. I didn’t need those sweaty few seconds of “why did I do that” terror, waiting for a soulless machine to do the right thing and give my card back.
But Romania is good about taking plastic, especially in restaurants, so we decided that we could eat without money. And eating is a decent substitute for a bank…it always is. But Gura Humorului, like many Romanian towns has no “walk-around” areas, no plazas with shops, restaurants, cafes…and people. “Let’s walk downtown”…uh uh, not in Romania. Places are on their own. They’re “find them, if you can” places.
So we picked such a place from a computer web site…Hilde’s Restaurant…and Google Maps, bless its digital heart led us to it on a road out of town, up a driveway, around the back, through a fence and, et voila, a very nice redwood villa, tiled floors, picture windows, castle-heavy tables and chairs, standing ashtrays outside (Romanians smoke a lot, but not inside).
More amazing are Romanian menus, Hilde’s was no exception; pages and pages of soups, appetizers, salads, fish, pork, beef, poultry, desserts, coffees, wine, beer. Fortunately, below each was a decent English translation. Even though Romanian is a Romance language, it’s hard to figure out English words from it as we can in more familiar Romance languages; Spanish, French, Italian, etc.
So I was down to indulging my eastern European culinary roots, led by remembered whiffs from my grandmother’s kitchen. (She was from Radauti, ironically, the town we started from earlier that day on our monastery tour. My orthodox Jewish grandmother would not have minded.)
So we started where everything culinary begins…with chicken soup and then, I’m embarrassed to say, with stuffed cabbage, mamaliga, chicken schnitzel, pickled cucumbers and finally apple strudel. Mamaliga for the uninitiated is polenta with scoops of cottage cheese topped with sour cream. You’re in pacemaker territory with a steady diet of it.
We left Gura Humorului for Suceava and a night’s lodging there. Roberta, my fellow traveler, lost a jacket that she traced back to Hilde’s. It was a dickens of a trip having to go back the next day to retrieve the jacket…and have another meal.