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Cuisine from the Carpathians

Germanic and Slavic traditions combined with a Technicolor history bring together the cuisines of many different cultures in the Carpathians, where sustaining food rules the day.

Traditional cuisine in Poland cuisine combines the refined and elegant tastes introduced centuries ago by the French court with the wild, mysterious flavors of the Lithuanian forests, the sweet aroma of the dishes served for the Jewish Sabbath supper, and the fierce, rare taste of the raw steak Tartare (originally made by Genghis Khan’s horsemen, who would place a slice of raw beef under the saddle for extra tenderness. Yikes!) Potatoes, plain or dressed up, are a staple of the Polish diet. Try Shepherd’s potatoes with Czech blue cheese, chicken and oyster mushrooms, or another national favorite – potato pancakes! Ok, potato dishes don’t do it for you? How about duck with ginger and white cabbage with a selection of bread dumplings?

In the Czech Republic the cuisine features sturdy fare. Common soups are onion, garlic, goulash, at and Christmastime, the special carp soup. You’ll find lots of pork and beef on offer, cooked in stew and served with potatoes or dumplings. The former also show up as irresistible potato pancakes, where the latter exist in an amazing variety. Czech dumplings can savory or sweet and fruit-filled; for other “afters”, try a pancake anointed with a dollop of sour cream, or a lovely cake filled with fruit or cheese curd. Should you partake of a spa experience, be sure to nibble one of the round, sweet filled wafers which have sustained those taking the waters since the 16th century.

The traditional basic components of the diet in Slovakia have always been and still are milk, potatoes and cabbage. Tasty meals typical for Slovak cuisine such as cabbage dumplings are prepared from these ingredients. The Slovak national meal is bryndzové halušky, which is to Slovaks what sushi is to the Japanese or pizza to teenagers – but does not indicate raw fish on pasta. It’s a dish of potato dumplings made with a soft and salty sheep curd and fried chopped bacon for extra flavor, washed down with a glass of sour milk or whey. A big holiday feast is apt to feature a roasted goose, and for dessert, pastries of risen dough filled with marmalade, curd, nuts or poppy seeds.

You heard it here first: authentic dishes in Hungary are definitely not for people on a diet. Hungarian cooking may seem a bit heavy and fatty; however its rich flavors, aromas and textures compensate for the slightly excessive calorie intake. But don't think that everything is soaking in pork fat and paprika. These ingredients are essential for authentic Hungarian dishes, but properly portioning them and using modern cooking yield healthy as well as delicious dishes. The ingredients that account for the distinctive flavor of Hungarian meals are Hungarian paprika, lard, onion and garlic, sour cream and cottage cheese, walnuts and poppy seeds in sweet courses. Try cold cherry soup, authentic chicken paprika, and plum dumplings for dessert. What diet?

Great variety features in the cuisine of Serbia thanks to its geographical, national and cultural diversity, and the jigsaw of Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish and Hungarian influences. Beef prosciutto, a type of polenta made from flour, eggs, butter and cheese, rose-petal slatko (a sweet preserve) and specialties made with dried plums are considered native Serbian foods. You’ll find lots of breads, strudels and pasta, spinach pies and spit-roast pork, smoked meat and lamb dishes as specialties in different western regions. In eastern Serbia try shepherd’s pies, lamb cooked in milk, smoked wild boar meat, and Homolj kačamak, a type of polenta made from cornmeal, potato and sometimes feta cheese. Whether you’re an omnivore or a vegetarian, you’ll delighted by the variety on Serbian menus.

Over time the ancient Greeks, the Germanic Saxons, the Turks, and its Slavic and Magyar neighbors have influenced the kitchen in Romania. A traditional Romanian meal may include appetizers of assorted cheeses and cured meats and salamis along with vegetable pates, and then a sustaining soup. Favorites are meatball or tripe, and of course vegetable soup. Common fish are grilled, brined carp, Black Sea sturgeon and herring; meat can be grilled but is popular stewed with onions. Mixed sautéed vegetables or stuffed cabbage leaves balance out the diet, and then of course there’s dessert. Pastries filled with sweetened curd or cream cheese and flavored with raisins, seeds or nuts are what your sweet tooth can happily anticipate.

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