The food in Maramureș, no matter what it is, is not only tasty – but also has to keep you satiated. This is an easy to understand aspect, since farm work, forestry and raising animals are energy consuming activities. That’s why the cuisine here is hearty and nutritious, based on meat and dairy, potatoes and beans, polenta and fruits – be it apples, pears or berries.
The guesthouse owner will ask you, usually before you arrive, what to cook for each meal. It’s one of the privileges you have when you sit with locals, who have no reason to fit, like restaurants, into a fixed menu – especially if their guest has some special craving. In Maramureș in particular, you feel rather a relative from the city than a tourist; you feel shaky, as if you have come to an aunt whose joy is to see you getting up happy from the table.
However, if the hosts do not ask you, your breakfast will consist of omelet made with eggs directly from the nest, milk from the stable cow (or from some neighbors’), cheese from the sheepfold, honey and sweets from the pantry. At noon, if you are not out on the hills or in the village, you will get a bowl-full of meat or beans soup and maybe a stew of mushrooms or stuffed cabbage with meat and rice (sarmale). As for dinner, prepare for polenta with cheese and pork rinds or pies filled with cheese, potatoes or pancove (a delicious variety of donuts).
There are only a few traditional dishes without meat, dairy and eggs; if you were to move to Maramures, your chances of staying vegetarian would get lower and lower by the day.
“Being vegetarian” is a notion that people from Maramureș are not used to, although they faithfully respect the feasts prior to important Christian celebrations. Be indulgent if you see them smile in confusion when you ask for a vegetarian menu. They do it because they are not sure that they can prepare a real meal without what it means for them “good food” – more precisely meat, cheese, milk and eggs. But even so, they will do everything they can to prepare for you the best dishes they know.
A word of caution: When you eat everything from the plate or drink all the glass, people here will understand that you still want some – and, without asking, they will fill your plate or glass back up, until you say “No, thank you, I can’t have anymore”.
And one more thing: There is no meal without horincă (traditional brandy) and/or afânată (the lighter version of the horincă, prepared with blueberries, for women). Try not to refuse. For people in Maramureș, refusing a drink is a bitter disappointment – and for some an outright offense.