Wondering how to get into the hearts of all Romanians? Try offering them some polenta. Yes, you read it right. Made out of corn flour and water, this side dish has a special meaning to the Romanians. Ask anyone in Romania, and they will tell you that polenta, in Romanian Mămăligă, has become a symbol of the Romanian cuisine. You can eat this wonderfully versatile dish at the Golden Crown Hotel in a northern city in Romania called Bistrita. Here, you can order Mămăliga and feel like Jonathan Harker from "Dracula".
Polenta is popular all over the country. Some see it with melancholy, while others just consider it a normal part of their daily life. Many Romanians have cherished their memories of polenta, and I am one of them. My grandmother and other grandmothers have passed the tradition of making polenta to their grandchildren.
The Romanians first started making polenta only 300 years ago, since the corn wasn't available in the country before that. It is said that Columbus brought the corn to Europe, among other spices and vegetables like potato or tomato. Who would have thought that these imported items would become so cherished and consumed all around the world?
At first, polenta didn't have a good reputation. Until the right amount of corn flour and the proper technique were mastered, it wasn't viewed as being much of a dish. The role of Mămăligă was a great one in the times of war, where it fought the starvation. The peasants who were poor ate polenta as a main dish. This is the reason why for some time, polenta was seen as the food of the poor. Mămăligă was also used as a substitute for bread. If left to boil for a longer period of time, polenta becomes thick and can be cut into pieces much like bread.
After some time, people discovered the benefits of Mămăligă and recognized its value. Compared to bread, polenta has only half of the calories and is high in vitamins. The doctors recommend it to people who need to eat gluten-free, who have diabetes or have digestive issues. It's a great source of beta-carotene and contains palmitic and arachidonic acids, that help in developing the muscle fiber.
The polenta was also on the mind of Bram Stoker as he was writing „Dracula”. In this book, the fictional character Jonathan Harker arrives into a city in Transylvania and spends a night at the Golden Crown Hotel. There, he eats polenta called Mămăligă with stuffed aubergines. Soon after the book was written, many curious tourists started searching for this hotel trying to retrace Jonathan Harker's steps. The hotel didn't exist, but due to the rise of tourists, it was built in the area to accommodate them. The hotel was, at first, an inn made to replicate the place where Jonathan Harker spent his night before going to see Dracula.
Today, the Golden Crown Hotel has two restaurants, one of them named the Jonathan Harker Salon. Here, you can find delightful traditional Romanian dishes. Many of these dishes revolve around Mămăligă. You can have it as a side dish, next to stews or smoked meat. This hotel also offers a traditional type of polenta with sour cream and cheese. Whichever style of polenta you choose, keep in mind that it's always made with care and love, so much that even Jonathan Harker had to taste it.
Next time you're in the northern city of Bistrita, in Romania's Transylvania, you must eat Mămăligă. Let yourself feel like Jonathan Harker from "Dracula", and experience the delicious flavors of the past that are still going strong today.
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