Saturday, May 21, 2011

Zarzare and Șuncă

Most of the food here is extremely similar to food in the U.S. and the rest of Europe. At our host family, we've had fried chicken, steak, pork chops, green salad with oil and vinegar dressing, apples, oranges, french fries and mashed potatoes. The emphasis is much more on meat, potatoes and cheese than our diet in the U.S. It is especially focused on salami, bologna, hot dogs and cheese; often what we get for our breakfast and lunch.

Despite the similarities, I have had a few new experiences in my three weeks here. On our first Sunday with our host family, we ate an excellent lunch of ciorbă (a slightly sour, meaty soup), followed by a large meal of pork chops and what is called orez pilaf (very similar to risotto). As we were finishing the meal, our host mom, Mioara, started telling us about a traditional grilled meat dish called mici (pronounced meech). Gabriel, our host father, told us that we'd get to try it at his son's place during a barbecue. Then they started to get up from the table and usher us along. He meant the barbecue was right now!
Photo by Gabriel Radic

It turns out that this was a major holiday in Romania similar to the U.S. Labor Day, where families get together to grill. It also turns out that their son, Robert, lives next door. So we walked outside, stuffed from rice, chops and soup, over to Robert's place for some mici. Needless to say, we found room for it and it was delicious. Imagine a meatball, but rolled out into the shape of a hot dog or sausage. There's no casing, but something in the recipe allows it to stay together. This time I asked what kind of meat was in it, and I think it was goat and pork. Sarah gently reminded me that maybe I shouldn't ask next time, because I might not want to know the answer.

Last weekend, I went on a walk to a beautiful monastery, called Mânăstire Dealu. We had the honor of joining in a junior high school field trip. There were two Romanian teachers of English, about fifteen Peace Corps Trainees and about 35 Romanian students. It is spring here in Târgoviște, and many of the Romanians were picking this small fruit from trees along the side of the road. It was a little bigger than a peanut, but soft and green. They were popping them like candy, but I was warned strongly to take a very small bite if I wanted to try it. They are called zarzare. Under-ripe as they are this time of year, they are one of the most sour and bitter things you can imagine. I found it not entirely unpleasant, but I stuck to a single berry. 

Sarah has been a bit sick as of late, with a very bad cough. Last night she skipped dinner entirely, so I was called from the couch at about 6:30 to "Hai să bea whisky." I joined Gabriel and Robert at the kitchen table for a shot of some nice Scotch, and munched on sunflower seeds. Gabriel and his son started a long, animated conversation in rapid Romanian. I was very happy if I could pick out a word or two. At one point Mioara tried to teach me how to open the seeds, and in broken Romanian and plenty of playacting, I attempted to explain that I have driven across the U.S. many times, spitting sunflower seeds out the window. That was my sole contribution to the conversation and it played for a big laugh.

Before too long, though, we got a plate of what looked like raw bacon placed on the middle of the table. Since I'm fast becoming a pro in situations like this, I kept my game face on, waited, and watched. Sure enough, Gabriel got a look of delight on his face, said, "Yum! Șuncă!," grabbed a piece and popped it in his mouth. Following suit, I did the same. On the șuncă, there was about a half inch of pure white fat and then a thin line of something clear. The clear line was harder to chew, but Gabriel had not spit anything out, so I soldiered on. Now that I knew what to expect, I found that it was quite good. From what I can gather, this is the wikipedia entry for it:

We weren't quite done with the oddities for this meal. Next, there was a call for usturoi and ceapă from Robert. Finally some words I know! But these are not usually things I would expect as side dishes. Usturoi is garlic and ceapă is onion. Out they came, perfectly raw. We skipped the ceapă and went straight to the garlic. Everyone got a clove or two, and you simply dipped them in salt and munched away. Frankly, I have always wanted to do this, but it is entirely socially unacceptable in America. This is my kind of country.

After a dinner of steak and french fries, I noticed Mioara was cooking more. I took a peek and noticed some small whole fish that she was dredging in flour and frying in a pan. I asked if these were for tomorrow, because I couldn't imagine that we would eat more. Note to self: if you are full, don't ask about what's being cooked because even if it is for tomorrow, you'll eat it now. The fish ended up on the table as a sort of dessert. I asked what type of fish they were and gathered that they were caught by a friend from a nearby river. Nobody here had a name for them, except "sweet fish." They were tasty, but a ton of work to get past all of the bones. Thankfully my experience taught me to wait for Gabriele to eat one first, and he stopped at the head.
Photo by Kristie's NaturePortraits:

If this is what I've experienced in three weeks, I can't wait to find what awaits me over the next two years!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Out of Place

It is so obvious to Romanians that we don't fit here. As we drive to school, my host father can point out other volunteers walking down the street. Perhaps our most obvious abnormality is our backpacks. One Romanian teacher asked us why we carry so much "luggage" to school.

I've also had some delightful experiences as the clearly out-of-place American. Students are so excited to meet Americans--so much so that I was asked for my autograph. Another student approached us on the bus and asked sweetly if she could talk with us in English. Theron and I were also offered seats on a crowded bus simply for being a guest in Romania. Who knew our 15 minutes of fame would come now?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Orange curtains and red pleather

It has rained every day since we've been in Târgoviște. Our school doesn't have heat and the temperatures have been in the forties and fifties. However, Romanians seem to have a penchant for orange curtains--including vertical blinds. When the occasional ray of sunlight bursts through them, it lights up the entire room. I never thought I'd say this, but we'll definitely be decorating in orange.

Another popular fabric in Romania is fake leather. I've seen black pleather pants, red pleather jackets, purple pleather skirts, and the ever-popular men's brown pleather bomber jackets. Will I soon be wearing pleather, too?

Saturday, May 7, 2011


It looks like we have a puppy. Our gazda mamă found her outside and she has been staying in our house. She can not make it up the stairs, so we haven't had to decide whether we're going to kick her out of our bed.... yet.

Sarah has named her Păchii. If you are wondering what that means, you should be able to figure it out if I tell you how Sarah might introduce herself in Romanian: "Mă cheamă Sarah. Sunt voluntară la Corpul Păcii." My favorite thing is that "păcii" is pronounced "puh chee," and when Sarah first told me, I thought she said "poochie." How could you resist this cuteness?
Păcii Păcii Păcii!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

First Impressions

It's hard to believe we've been in Târgoviște for only six days. It seems like much, much longer…in a good way. We've moved in with our host parents, Gabriel and Mioara. We have a nice room in a separate building from them. We eat at their house and spend our evenings with them while we study. Here are some first impressions:

Things we love about Romania:

1) Our host family is so generous. They insisted on buying our phones for us. They were $15 each plus an additional $15 each per month for service. While this doesn't seem like much, we only have $70 to our name, so this would have wiped us out.

2) To say you're full, you say m-am săturat. Literally translated this means I'm saturated. We have eaten so much! On Sunday we ate a huge lunch with soup and a main course. We then got up from the table and immediately went to a picnic next door where we were expected to eat more! It turns out it was a national holiday similar to our labor day, and families traditionally grill meat called mici (pronounced "meech").

3) We have met great people! The other trainees and the staff are wonderful. I feel completely confident in the language lessons we're receiving, our pre-teaching experiences, and medical care. Two more choice quotes from Dr. Dan: "Be careful what you chew on." and "If you put a cork in the muffler, that's not good."

4) Learning Romanian isn't impossible. Our language classes are conducted entirely in Romanian and we do our best to talk with our host family only in Romanian. It's amazing how much we already understand and can say. This is due mostly to the fact that language lessons are in groups of five, for four hours a day.

5) Our host mother thinks we're crazy for wanting to eat raw carrots and doesn't believe that there is such a thing as banana bread.

6) Theron loves that a double shot of espresso is $.40.

7) Today is Man's Day, so wish your favorite man la mulți ani de ziua bărbatului and buy him a beer!

Things we're still getting used to:

1) The bathrooms at school lack soap, toilet paper, and toilet seats. Romanians are afraid some will steal them.

2) We're eating a lot of "hot dogs" for breakfast.

3) We don't have the freedom right now to choose what to eat, how much to eat, where to go, or how to get there. Either our host family decides, or we're following our schedule at school (9-5, five days a week).

4) The showers here don't have curtains or glass. It now takes me twice as long to shower (even though I use about 1/4 of the the water). I have to be very careful to keep the water in the tub. We haven't mastered this art yet.

5) It has rained every day since we've been here.

6) Our host family's 25 dogs, which live outdoors. They also have one very special pup named Molly who lives indoors.

Here are a few pictures of our room. We live by ourselves in this giant building that used to be a hotel and restaurant (we think). It has all kinds of passages and rooms we have yet to see.

This picture shows our favorite (very creaky) doorway, which we pass through to use the internet.

We'll post some pictures of the outdoors when it quits raining!

Finally, here's a picture of the view from our hotel room, where we stayed for our first two nights in Târgoviște.