October 19, 2008

The Courtyard Gratar (a Romanian Barbecue)
Apoldu de Sus, Romania

Romanians expect that every real meal must have meat in it. There's even a proverb in these parts: Cel mai bun peşte este porcul (The best fish is pork).

In keeping with this spirit, Iliuca and Badia (the two eccentric locals charged with some of our home's upkeep) created a grand gratar—a barbecue—in honor of our visit.

Step One: Drink

The first step in the gratar is the same for many other activities in Romania—you drink. In this case (again, as in most), it's proper to indulge in several helpings of a strong homemade moonshine called pălincă.

Pălincă (Hungarian: Pálinka, Slovak: Pálenka) is a traditional type of brandy that's produced in Hungary and Romania, though mostly in Transylvania, a region in central Romania formerly belonging to Hungary.

Pălincă is always made from fruits only. The most common varieties are made from plums, pears, and apricots. Nevertheless, pălincă is also made from apples, cherries, and even from mulberry and quince. It can even be made from pomace, the residue from winemaking. Using any of these ingredients, the drink is almost invariably double-distilled (twice fermented).

The alcohol content varies, with 40% or less more being the norm, as required by law for stamped bottles available in stores. Homemade pălincăs typically have an alcohol content higher than 60%. The most alcoholic pălincăs are (informally) referred to as "kerítésszaggató" in Hungarian, which literally means "fence-ripper" (referring to a drunkard's loss of balance).

Step Two: Grill (…and Drink)

Over several mouth-puckering shots of clear moonshine, we watched as the wacky pair cut up the sheep and chicken that would be become our meal.

Simply referred to as a disc in Romanian, the barbecuing is not done over coals on a grill, but on a portable self-supporting concaved dish made of iron. A small fire is started someplace on the property (in our case, the courtyard), atop of which the icon disc is eventually placed. Inside the disc is the oil (animal fat, probably pig) that eventually becomes the cauldron within which the prepared meats will be placed.

Step Three: Drink

While you're waiting for things to cook—drink!

At this point the pair is mixing things up a bit with the introduction of store-bought beer and homemade "wine" from the home's cellar—a tart, pale-yellow drink that's basically the sibling to a bottom shelf two gallon jug Carlo Rossi—eloquently distributed from a coffee pot.

Did I mention that Badia has crossed eyes (AKA "Crazy Eyes" to us), and is divorced but still living with his former wife in the same house? And that Iliuca still lives with his parents? Drink!

Step Four: Eat (…and Drink)

At some point we were thankfully we were joined by Stephan, who served as both translator and babysitter (for both the grown men and Aidric).

Despite our cook's attempts to convince our vegetarian host that the chicken was totally a vegetarian dish, he declined, citing that the chicken maybe vegetarian, but it was fried in pork fat. Meanwhile, Iliuca laughably illustrated how Crazy Eyes was impotent from too much drinking, which probably resulted in his divorce.

The conversation was simply hilarious, and we found the sheep meat absolutely delicious. It was quite the memorable experience.

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