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Traditional Romanian Mămăligă (Polenta) on Cooking Romania by Vivi

Traditional Romanian Mămăligă (Polenta)

Traditional Romanian Mămăliga (polenta or cornmeal) pronounced mama-LEE-gah is a staple dish of Romanian cuisine with such a major place in the country’s popular culture that Romanians sometimes scornfully call one other “Mămăligar” (Mămăligă eater).

However, the term is not as offensive as wop, frog or gringo to give a few examples. Furthermore, if you call someone a mămăligă, you consider them to be a weak, fragile individual.

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Adara and Vivi - Cooking Romania by Vivi
Adara and Vivi – Cooking Romania by Vivi

Vivi is a passionate teacher, story teller and photographer. Adara is a passionate accountant, businesswoman and videographer. On Cooking Romania by Vivi, the Mom and Daughter play together at the intersection of self and food mastery.

Where does the term Mămăligar (Mămăligă eater) come from?

Before the introduction of maize in Europe in the 16th century, mămăliga porridge had been made with millet flour, known to the Romans as pulmentum. Apparently, the Romans ate so much of it that the Greeks called them pultiphagonides (porridge eaters). See where the Romanians got their mămăligă related insult from?

What is the origin of mămăligă (polenta)?

Romanian mamaliga (polenta or cornmeal porridge)
Romanian mamaliga (polenta or cornmeal porridge)

As we have mentioned above, porridge was very popular in ancient times. Long before making its way into modern kitchens and posh restaurants, mămăliga (polenta), or simply cornmeal porridge, was the food of peasants and shepherds, who would cook it all the time and everywhere, even high up on the mountains. It used to involve only water, salt and maize flour and a very simple cooking method.

Where can you buy a ceaun de mămăligă (round cast iron pot)?

My Romanian Granny - Cooking Romania by Vivi
My Romanian Granny – Cooking Romania by Vivi

While writing this recipe and trying to provide all details of mămăligă making, we discovered that you cannot buy (our Granny’s) mămăligă cast iron cooking pot (ceaun or tuci in Romanian) anywhere in the world but Eastern Europe. The next best thing to our round cast iron pot you can use for mămăligă is a cast iron saucepan.

What exactly is mămăliga (polenta)?

It is basically a porridge made out of yellow maize flour, traditional in Romania, the Republic of Moldova and West Ukraine.

Mămăliga (polenta or cornmeal) is a fat and cholesterol-free, high-fiber food.

Is the traditional Romanian mămăligă (polenta) a comfort food?

Although common and proletarian, this creamy, joyful bright yellow dish is a comfort food Romanians enjoy eating all year round. It works as a bread substitute and you can serve it with a number of pork or diary products we are going to talk about a bit later.

Do you know other traditional Romanian comfort foods? Check out a few:

What is the difference between Mămăligă and Italian Polenta?

Romanian peasant-style mămăliga is thicker than the regular Italian polenta to the point that you can cut in slices, like bread.

How to make traditional Romanian mămăligă (polenta)

Making Romanian mamaliga (polenta or cornmeal porridge)
Making Romanian mamaliga (polenta or cornmeal porridge)

Bring approximately 4 cups of water to a simmer in a deep cast iron cooking pot/mămăligă iron cast kettle (or saucepan if you don’t have a round cast iron – ceaun or tuci in Romanian – from your Eastern European grandma). Add salt to taste (about ½ or 1 full tsp) and 1 tbsp olive oil. Gradually add the cornmeal, whisking constantly to create a creamy lump free porridge. Use a wooden spoon or metal wire whisk to stir.

Continue to cook, stirring, for 15-20 minutes. Reduce the heat as needed when the polenta starts to boil. If the porridge becomes too thick, stir in up to 1/2 cup more water. This is only in case of emergency. It’s advisable to add the cornmeal very slowly so you can control the thickness of the porridge at all times.

How do Romanian peasants cut mămăliga (polenta)?

In the Romanian countryside, peasants cook the thick and creamy mămăligă (polenta) and then flip it on a wooden board. It is customary to cut the mămăligă (polenta) using a string/sewing thread or wooden knife. It is very practical because mămăligă sticks to metal surfaces. After being cut, like bread, they eat it by holding it with the hand.

Creamier polenta is served with a spoon.

  1. In order to get over a breakup or simply mend a broken heart, drink water from the mămăligă pot after you’ve cooked it.
  2. If the traditional Romanian mămăligă (polenta) is furrowed with cracks, it means a member of the family will soon take an unexpected trip.
  3. The thick peasant-style mămăligă (polenta) needs to be cut into slices carefully using a string/sewing thread, from upside down and not the other way, as then the maize grows ear.
Romanian polenta on Cooking Romania by Vivi
Romanian polenta on Cooking Romania by Vivi

Is mămăliga (polenta) a stand alone dish or a side?

You can serve it as a side with:

  1. Sarmale (here is the best sarmale recipe you will ever find on the whole wide Internet, we promise you)
  2. Pork steak or any other pork dish for that matter (greaves, sausages, stew, fried, roasted, etc)
  3. Fried fish and mujdei (garlic and oil mix)
  4. Cheese, sour cream, boiled or fried eggs
  5. It can also be served crushed in a bowl of hot milk (mămăligă cu lapte). My Romanian Granny called mămăligă, cheese and milk mămălicubrâcula (No, it has nothing in common with Dracula; it is short for mămăligă cu brânză cu lapte)
  6. Don’t forget the white, red or green onion! There is nothing more comforting than mămăligă, cheese, sour cream and onion.
  7. Another popular Romanian dish is bulz, a rich polenta layered bake prepared with cheese, smoked meat or sausages and eggs.

Traditional Romanian Mămăligă (Polenta)

Recipe by ViviCourse: Romanian, SidesCuisine: RomanianDifficulty: Easy
Servings

2

servings
Prep time

5

minutes
Cooking time

20

minutes
Calories

300

kcal
Total time

25

minutes

Traditional Romanian Mămăligă (Polenta) or cornmeal porridge is enjoyed by Romanians all year round with meat, cheese, milk or sour cream. Try this easy 25 minute recipe today!

Ingredients

  • 4 cups water

  • 1 cup (Romanian) maize flour/cornmeal

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Directions

  • Bring water to a boil in a deep cast iron pot
  • Add salt
  • Add olive oil
  • Gradually add the cornmeal, whisking constantly to create a creamy lump free porridge. Use a wooden spoon or metal wire whisk to stir.
  • Continue to cook, stirring, for 15-20 minutes. Reduce the heat as needed when the polenta starts to boil. If the porridge becomes too thick, stir in up to 1/2 cup more water.

Recipe Video

Notes

  • Whisk constantly as you pour the cornmeal into the boiling water. Pour the cornmeal gradually, not all at once.
  • Add butter on top when you serve if you so desire.
  • Serve steaming hot!
  • Mămăliga (polenta) thickens as it sits. It is not common to reheat it, but if you do, reheat it over low heat adding water and olive oil to thin it.
Romanian mamaliga (polenta), cheese, sour cream and sausages
Romanian mamaliga (polenta), cheese, sour cream and sausages

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