Adrian Hadean

“What these restaurants are doing is important for the growth of our culinary culture,” insists Adrian Haden, a Romanian chef and cookbook author. The former Masterchef Romania judge is a long-time champion of Romanian cuisine, its produce and its emerging chefs. He travels the country extensively, but when he’s home in Bucharest, these are the restaurants and bars you’ll find him in.

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“This Is Who We Are, But We’re Evolving.”

Mahala is a hip restaurant, and the chef is young, but he loves to cook traditional food. It’s old-school food, only made better. He is not reinventing dishes, he is only cooking them really well and maybe adding a small modern accent here and there. You can find things like veal sweetbreads, really good sausages, and I think the best schnitzel in Bucharest. You can notice the transition from old to new in both the menu and the design of the restaurant. It’s in an old building right next to Bragadiru Palace, a really beautiful and important site. You can feel this inside of the restaurant. It says, “This is who we are, and we are proud of it – but we are also evolving.”

A Modern Take On Traditional Romanian Cuisine

For me, Kaiamo is the most creative place in town. It does the best modern take on traditional Romanian cuisine so far. Chef and owner Radu Ionescu is really young, really passionate and works really hard to bring new ideas to the table. Even though the chef is young, he is very nostalgic and you can feel this in his food. Almost everywhere in the menu you can find things rooted in his childhood or in his memories, revisited with a modern approach. He changes the menu with the seasons, but there is one item that has been on the menu since the restaurant opened. It’s a dish that will only resonate with Romanians. Parizer is like mortadella, and when I was a kid, because of the food shortage, parizer was a replacement for meat. People used to crumb and deep fry it – it looked just like a schnitzel. The chef is ten or twelve years younger than I am – I’m not sure he was in this period enough to remember it – but he has this type of nostalgia, and so he makes his version of parizer. They also have a really big wine list with a lot of Romanian wines. This is the type of restaurant I would love to have. It’s a place where I’m feeling really good.

Israeli Cooking From A Celebrity Chef

Caju by Joseph Hadad has deep roots in the chef’s Israeli heritage and Morocco, a country that he spent time living in as a child. He’s been living in Romania for about 20 years now. He’s really passionate. He is actually now on the Romanian Masterchef television show as a judge. His restaurant Caju has a really cosmopolitan environment; you see locals, tourists and of course many visitors from Israel. He’s cooking Middle Eastern vegetable and fish dishes, and has a lot of mezze style small plates. The hummus is really good. The eggplant is really good and the lamb tagine is amazing.

Sweets Like They Used To Make Them

On the same street as Caju, only about 30 metres away, is a place that you can find sweets. Really good sweets. Like cookies and cakes but made very well. It’s called Mara Mura. There are not may places like this in Bucharest. Many years ago, you could eat these in Romanian coffee shops, but because of commercialisation, you don’t get this anymore. Mara Mura is owned by a lady who used to be a politician, but she gave up on politics to follow this passion.

A Neighbourhood Wine Bar

There are no other places in Bucharest like Ethic Wine. People stand in front of the wine bar, out on the street and drink wine around barrels. It’s something really unusual for Romania. It’s a kind of gathering for the local community. People from the neighbourhood will drop by on their way home to drink wine and chat with their friends. It’s always a cheerful atmosphere. Ethic wine is on a street corner – next to a laundromat – and on the other side of the laundromat is their small bistro called Tasting Room. It is good, honest food with great wines from their wine store. They cook international food. Things like soup and pasta. You can have good bread with pâté, and amazing beef cheeks slow cooked in wine.

The Taste of Romania In One Meal

Noua (meaning new) is a new restaurant opened this year by chef Alex Petricean. If you want to get to know the taste of Romania in one tasting menu, this is the place. For Romanians, the tastes are familiar, but the form they are presented in is new. Alex is another chef who is taking old recipes and making them into something new with modern techniques. He changes the menu every season, but he does a really interesting thing with the way he presents the menu. The tasting menu is like a puzzle. Each course represents a different region of Romania and is presented on a small piece of wood that is shaped like that particular region. As you eat each course and move through the menu you are putting together puzzle pieces that together make a map of Romania. You are eating dishes inspired by the east of Romania, the north, some from the seaside. It’s a really cool game.

“The Romanian Ramen”

Ciorba is a very typical Romanian dish. It’s a sour soup made with borsch and we have hundreds of different versions throughout the country. In Transylvannia for example, because of the Hungarian influence in the city, they eat sweet ciorba. But in the south, and here in Bucharest we like it really sour. The most used sour agent is borsch (a fermentation product), but we also like to add vinegar – and sometimes you get extra vinegar on the side to add more, if you want. You almost always have sour cream with it, and if you like it spicy, chilli too. It’s really nice in the winter time because you can get pickled chilli on the side. For ciorba, I like to go to Ciorbarie. They have maybe twenty versions. The most typical Romania one is ciorba de burta, meaning tripe soup. It’s really good. It’s something I really love to eat. A Spanish chef and friend of mine called it “the Romanian ramen”.

Casual Dining And Seasonal Ingredients

At Voila Bistro you get good food and nice wine in a casual atmosphere. Chef and owner Radu Dumitrescu has created a great, short menu using really seasonal ingredients. They have a dish called păsat (some sort of Romanian grits) that no one is cooking anymore, except in the country side.

Romania’s Favourite Street Food

Mici are Bucharest’s version of the hot dog. It’s one of the most common street foods in Romana – and probably the most popular. It’s like a sausage, but without the skin, and depending on where you are in the country, is made usually from lamb or a mixture of beef and lamb. My favourite is a mixture of pork and beef at Terasa Obor – a stall at Obor, the biggest fresh market in Bucharest. They have a recipe that works. They have to start early in the morning, maybe lighting the charcoal at 6am. To build a really nice fire out of charcoal is a science that you cannot learn from a book; you have to just practice it over and over again. It’s not easy to spend almost all of the day next to a grill. It’s a tough job, but here, they do it really well. Every day without exception, there is cue. There are other mici stalls around, but for this, people don’t mind waiting in line, and the cue moves really fast. We eat mici with mustard, fresh bread and beer. In the weekend and late in the afternoon, people drink a lot here. Well, some people drink a lot, let’s put it this way. But one of the nicest things is that sitting at the same table are people from every social category in Bucharest. They are all there together to eat mici. And drink beer. It’s like a permanent Oktoberfest, but with a strong Balkan feeling all over.

How To Navigate The Market (And Find The Best Pastries)

At the Obor market, you can also find some really good traditional Romanian pastries. Kurtoseria is selling a sweet pastry coming from Transylvannia called kurtos kalacs. It is actually from our Austrian/Hungarian heritage (Transylvania was part of the Austrian/Hungarian empire until 150 years ago). It is a sweet dough that is spread into a really thin sheet, rolled around a cylinder and then roasted over an open fire or charcoal. It’s then sprinkled with something like walnuts or cinnamon. There is another place in the market which is selling gogosi, a type of deep-fried Romanian doughnut. This together with mici is a very good day at the market. The fruit and vegetable section of the market is split into two areas: one is operated by vendors, and one is for the producers. In Romania, we grow some of the best produce available in Europe, but I think even the Romanians do not yet fully realise this. Most of our produce is exported to countries like Spain or France. If you go to visit the producer section of the market you can see, you can feel the quality. You can taste the seasons of Romania. It’s very special.

A Stop Over In Transylvania

Cluj in Transylvania is somewhere I visit often, and each time I go, I have to stop by restaurant Baracca. I really love the team here. It opened as a gastronomic restaurant in 2007 and its kept the same high standard since day one. When they first opened, people didn’t understand the food. They had to educate people and be patient but persistent. The cooking is really creative with a lot of technique. It’s experimental in parts, yes, but it also has this really grounded menu that anyone can approach without getting intimidated. What I really like is that you can walk in from the street, take a table and eat a nice, delicious lunch, but also you can try something out of your comfort zone if you are willing to trust the chef. It’s a really good balance. The design of the restaurant is also genius. It looked modern when it opened more than ten years ago, and it still looks modern today. It somehow looks eternal. I guess you could say it has a New York style. For me, it’s the perfect look. You don’t need to change anything. Only the tablecloths as people come and go.

Guide last updated October 2019

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