Romania

Family is Sweeter Than Honey

I came to the monastery for the honey.

Well, ok, I came for many different reasons. But the prospect of fresh, sticky honey sweetened and sealed the deal.

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The oldest, most established monasteries in Romania are hundreds of years old and can house up to 500 nuns and monks. They spend most of their time preparing celebrations, hosting guests, and playing large public roles.

However, the younger monasteries, established after the communist era in the last 25 years, function differently. These monasteries are smaller; for example, only 14 nuns live at Fardea Monastery. In addition, because new monasteries do not have ancient, cultivated land and established property and resources, they need to provide more for themselves. To do so, many of these young monasteries in Romania start small businesses.

When I ask for some examples of these businesses, I am surprised at the diversity- there are monasteries that make vinegar, rugs, herbal products, traditional clothes, soap, candles, and numerous food products, to name a few. Many monasteries function like workshops, producing a craft, in addition to all religious activities.

Here in the Fardea Monastery, besides manufacturing religious icons and clothes, they produce another beautiful product: buzzing bees.

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One day, while picking tomatoes in the greenhouse, a bee gets trapped under my skirt and stings me. The lunch bell rings soon after, and when I sit on the bench, I wince.

“Maica Siluana, a bee stung me on the butt today.”

“Ah! You are lucky. It’s good for the health.” She tries to keep her smile under wraps but soon cracks into laughter. Later, I am offered sweet honey on fresh bread, to ease the pain.

The nuns keep over 250 hives of bees. They harvest different types of honey over the season, like linden, acacia, and forest honey, as well as pollen, propolis, royal jelly, honeycomb caps, bee bread, and other bee products. I’ve been lucky enough to taste many of their products, and they are extraordinary.

I’m not the only one who has noticed. The monastery had a contact in England, who distributed these products to different natural food stores. But after the acacia and forest honey won major awards at the Great Taste awards, other stores started to be interested in selling- notably, Harrods of London, one of England’s upscale department stores. While I am at the monastery, we send off the first shipment of product samples.

Thanks to a wonderfully talented Hungarian graphic designer who is also a volunteer here, the honey has been elegantly branded and packaged. Every time I eat some of this honey, slathered on bread or in my morning coffee, I think: Londoners don’t know what they’re in for.

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Working with the bees is overseen by two nuns, and they do almost all of the specialized work themselves, keeping a close eye on the bees. Watching over 250 hives is an enormous task, and they are busy year round. There is no honey harvest while I am here, but I do stay busy helping package the final product.

While sticking labels onto jars one afternoon, I tell Father Moses how much I’ve enjoyed eating the honey here. I ask him if I can buy some to take home.

He’s incredulous. “Corinne, do you have brothers or sisters?”

“What?” I ask, “umm… yes, I do.”

“And if you came to their house and ate something, would they ask you to pay?!” Father breaks into a smile. “Of course you can have honey. But don’t ask to pay for it- it is our gift to you.”

I smile back, and accept their gift of sweet, sticky gold. I came for the honey, and I found family amongst the bees.

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Busy as the Nuns

Chomping down watermelon after a lunch at the monastery, I cautiously eye the honeybees that linger around my plate. They are visiting our table, searching for sustenance to take back to their hives. The nuns keep a few hundred hives of honeybees (more on that in another post). With this summer abundance, the bees are everywhere, preparing for the cold winter.

As the bees do at the monastery, so do we. The nuns grow most of their own food, and during the summer months, they keep busy juicing, pickling, drying, pureeing, freezing, and preserving it. Feeding fourteen or more people, year round, requires much work and planning. I’m not sure who is busier- the nuns or the bees.

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Most mornings, we harvest whatever vegetable is most ripe. This region’s summer heat wave has finally been broken with days of steady rain, and every vegetable seems to be reaching its peak production. We pick tomatoes, eggplant, beans, zucchini, cucumbers, and peppers in enormous amounts, each harvest bigger than the last. Other nuns pick forest herbs and flowers, destined for tea. Plums and grapes are beautifully ripe, and even the apples are ready for the table.

The afternoons and evenings are spent processing most of our harvest, to keep it for winter. We pickle green tomatoes and small peppers, lining up the jars on shelves. Trays of roasted eggplant are peeled and packed into sterilized freezer bags. The hundreds of kilos of tomatoes are juiced and mostly distilled into concentrated products, like spicy ketchup or tomato paste. Beans are cleaned, blanched, and frozen. Slowly, our wheelbarrows and crates full of fresh produce disappear into jars, bags, and bottles that can be stored for the upcoming months.

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“How do you say ‘zacusca’ in English?” Maria, a Romanian volunteer, asks me.

Before I can respond, Maica Irina interrupts with her answer: “Zacusca.”

She’s right. There is no English translation for one of my favorite Romanian foods. Zacusca, basically meaning snack in various Slavic languages, is essentially a vegetable spread. Its exact contents vary, but most families use finely chopped and blended eggplant, peppers, onions, and tomato paste. This mix is slowly roasted for hours before being canned. Made at the end of the summer harvest, it is kept over the winter, usually eaten on bread. It has a taste that reminds me of summer’s bounty, with roasted, smoky, rich flavors that only deepen over the winter.

Having tasted zacusca for the first time when I was Romania in March, I was incredibly excited to be back in the summer, to learn how to make it. The other two volunteers, Maria and Teresa, and I spent one rainy, long Friday preparing it with the zacusca expert, Maica Irina.

Like most delicious dishes, zacusca takes an immense amount of work. Even having harvested and roasted all the ingredients in advance, we still spend the entire day cleaning and processing and stewing them. The peppers need to be peeled and de-seeded. The eggplant is peeled and washed and made into a paste. And all the onions need to be peeled, cut, and cried over.

I stare, mouth agape, as Maica Irina finely chops buckets of onions faster than any chef I know, while still keeping an eye on the cows trying to enter the kitchen. We are making large quantities of zacusca, measuring ingredients in kilos and liters. Having made this vegetable spread since she was young, Maica Irina can practically peel a pepper with her eyes closed. And her hands behind her back.

I am humbled by how quickly and efficiently the women cut, clean, and process these vegetables. I cannot even compare with their deft hands and experienced movements. They work longer days than I do, sending me to take breaks while they continue. If I look tired, a nun will suddenly appear with coffee, hot chocolate, or fruit to give me energy.

I try to be as helpful as possible, learning what I can, and not being in the way. Nuns are busy. There is a lot of work to do.

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Late in the evening, with the zacusca finally finished and packed into glass jars, we breathe a satisfied sigh. The last little bit of hot zacusca is spread and shared on slices of bread, and I enjoy the fresh fruits of our labor.

Every day, we take some of the summer’s bounty, and save it for winter. It’s a lot of labor, but, like the worker bees, these nuns keep moving. I’m starting to see new truth in the old saying, “keeping busy as bees”.

And I’d like to propose a new phrase: “keeping as busy as the nuns who keep bees.”

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Celebrations and Feasts

I spot the two nuns through the packed crowd on the train platform, and after brief introductions, we head towards the car. I’m a little nervous, wondering what these Romanian sisters will be like. Maica (Sister) Antonia and Maica Demetria quickly put me at ease, joking, laughing, and asking me questions as we speed through the Romanian countryside.

The rolling hills, forest, and fields of corn and sunflowers makes me think of the last time I was in Transylvania, in March. I am happy to be back, watching familiar images whip quickly past my window. My first lesson: being a nun does not stop Maica Antonia from driving like a getaway driver.

“So…” I ask, tightening my seatbelt, “What kind of work are you doing at the monastery right now?”

Maica Antonia and Maica Demetria look at each other knowingly and burst out laughing.

“We are preparing for a special event. It is… a lot of work. You will see.” Maica Antonia says, ending with a mischievous smile. “We are happy you are here to help us.”

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

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I am spending a month at the Fardea Monastery, located 100 kilometers from Timisiora, in northwestern Romania. This Christian Orthodox monastery was founded in 2001. It is home to fourteen nuns, the church father, some workers from the village, and other Romanians who spend parts of the year at the monastery.

This monastery also welcomes women from around the world to stay and work with them, which is unique in Romania. We help them with the enormous amount of work that goes into running a monastery. Without prior knowledge, I had arrived just in time to help the monastery prepare for their biggest celebration of the year. August 15th is the feast for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and this is the holiday with which this monastery is associated. On this day, the bishop, regional priests, and busloads of local worshippers will arrive for a 16 hour service. And at the end of it, we’ll feed them all.

There is a lot of work to do, indeed.

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The weeks before the celebration, we are kept busy tidying the grounds, cleaning buildings, moving furniture, and arranging rooms. The monastery is thoroughly polished and shined, inside and out. But the few days before the 15th of August, there is only one large task left: cooking the food.

Preparing food in large quantities is an enormous logistical task. Feeding hundreds of people requires careful planning, large pots, and many hands. Luckily, the nuns are experts, experienced with these types of feasts. The menu is already worked out in advance, and all we have left to do is to face the mountains of uncut, unwashed, unprepared food.

Gutting a hundred kilos of fish with two of the nuns, I keep thinking of the summer I worked in a catering kitchen in Wisconsin. It was the first time I thought about food in terms of weight. Instead of talking about the number, or cups, of potatoes, suddenly you are measuring what you need in terms of fifty kilo bags.

We spend the days peeling potatoes, de-scaling fish, and picking through beans. The kitchens are full, people coming in and out, jokes being passed back and forth. The nuns are busy before I wake up and continue after I go to my room to sleep. I am, obviously, not responsible for any of the logistics, but I feed off of the tangible energy in the air: the stress, and excitement, that a big holiday brings.

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Finally, the 15th of August arrives. A stage has been built outside, near the monastery’s church, as the church itself is not big enough for this special service. Threatening rain clouds menace us in the afternoon, but they clear up by evening, bringing in a refreshing breeze. The buses arrive and unload locals from the surrounding regions, families and friends convening and reuniting. The service starts on Friday evening and will continue through the night, until Saturday afternoon. Those who can will fast during the entire service, and I join them.

I do not follow all of the service, despite the English explanations from helpful friends. But I sit, stand, and kneel in the grass, mesmerized by the beautiful singing of the church fathers and the nuns. Later in the night, everyone holds candles, and the cool evening air brings us energy. Some people nap on blankets, drifting in and out of the prayers.

I eventually retire to my room, falling asleep to the sounds of the continuing service. I dream of candle flames and the sound of bells.

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The next morning, I attend part of the service again, but I soon make my way to the kitchen to help the nuns with the final preparations for the lunchtime feast. We set the tables, and I help to carefully carry full pots and plates from the kitchen.

We soon run out of space to put new dishes on the tables. There are the Romanian classics: bread, onions, cabbage, and of course, ciorba, the Romanian sour soup. Heaping plates of sarmale, steamed stuffed cabbage leaves, line the center of each table. We add two different types of stuffed and roasted fish, different cheeses, olives, tomatoes, creamy fish eggs, and buttery mashed potatoes. The tables groan under the weight, but there is dessert too- piles of juicy Romanian grapes, plums, and pears, cookies, and finally, layered cake.

When the service ends, sometime around 1pm, the benches and chairs are filled, and we feast. Relieved of my responsibilities, I watch as the nuns continue to work, making sure there is enough food in front of everyone. Of course, with all their careful planning, there is an abundance of everything, and we all enjoy the end of the celebration by stuffing our stomachs.

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There is a beautiful, tired air that descends after a holiday. Saturday night was quiet at the monastery, the nuns taking naps that, for some, lasted until Sunday morning. I found myself at ease, and grateful to be here.

As I helped wash and dry a truly enormous amount of dishes, I reflected on the holiday. We put so much effort into a single celebration, preparing for weeks for one single day. And yet, afterwards, I felt nothing but contentedness, a great exhale from the nuns. One of my favorite parts of a holiday is the release after it is finished, when the work and celebration are over. This is when you can pause, see the arc of the seasons, mark the passage of time. It is when you can reflect on the holiday, and why we celebrate these traditions to begin with.

But as I stared at the mountain of plates and silverware, my stomach full and happy, I admitted to myself the true reason I love to celebrate these holidays: people never seem to come together without someone suggesting that there be food.

 

(Note: out of a general respect for the nuns’ privacy and their services, I limit my photos of the monastery and the activities there, so they will rarely include people besides myself.)

Glorious Spring!

In Romania, some people say that when you try a new food, you should make a wish. Every time that I’ve tried a new food here, I’ve wished for the same thing: spring, spring, spring!

When I arrived in Romania a few months ago, coming from the oppressively hot Bangkok (and not even in the “hot season”!), I expected to need a few days to adjust. But instead, when I stepped out of the Bucharest airport, I felt an enormous sense of elation and recognition: cold! That spring cold, where the air is frigid but the sun is strong! That spring cold, where the ground has yet to thaw but already the plants are shooting up! That spring cold, where you need to keep moving to stay warm, and yet everyone is outside. I walked around the city for a few hours my first day, feeling like I had reentered my native habitat: the cold ecosystem, just before a spring.

It only snowed a few times while I was in Romania. This particular snowfall, at Iulia’s farm, the snow only stuck around for about two hours in the early morning. But the snow brought out even more vivid colors after it melted.

Flowers in the snow.

And flowers celebrating the absence of snow!

Is there anything more reassuring, or beautiful, than spring? I spent the most recent springs of my life in Wisconsin.  I love that first day that the temperature tops 32°F (0°C). The entire population changes into shorts and sandals, happy to expose skin to wind that doesn’t bite. I love how suddenly no one can sit inside, even when the snow hasn’t yet fully melted. I love that productivity declines inversely proportional to the rising temperatures.

But mostly, I love spending time outside in spring, when things start to grow again. I was happy to have work on farms in Romania as the spring season started, because it gave me an excuse to be outside. Spring is always a busy time on farms, and to me, it always seems to involve the heaviest manual labor: preparing the soil, moving debris that piled up over winter, transplanting, and cutting back early spring growth of unwanted plants. Though many days were bitter and cold, I saw promises of spring everywhere I looked: budding flowers, shoots of overwintered garlic, and happy people shedding winter layers. Springtime on a farm is a joyful time.

The first buds on the apple trees.

Before there are many vegetables and greens in the garden, Ana, a friend of Iulia’s, uses forest plants to spice up our meals. The rice dish on the left is cooked with dockweed and nettles, two native plants she collected from the forest.

Chico, the farm puppy, sniffs the springtime flowers with me in the orchard.

After celebrating spring on farms for a few months in Romania, I headed to Bulgaria for a few weeks to be a tourist. Luckily, Bulgarians love spring as much as I do, and they celebrate in a truly beautiful way. On the first day of March, every Bulgarian buys “martenitsa” (мартеница) bracelets or adornments, which are made of white and red thread. Friends and family give them to one another, and most people wear them on their wrists. Then, at the first sign of spring, usually the sighting of a stork or a budding tree, the wearer takes off the bracelets and leaves them nearby, usually hanging on a budding plant.

This tradition means that spring is consistently in your peripheral vision. The red and white colors of the bracelets add color to the landscape before the buds have fully flowered, and it is a constant reminder of the season.Though I arrive a little too late to fully participate in the tradition, I loved seeing these bracelets hung from every early-budding tree. This is a country that celebrates spring like I do: loudly, colorfully, and with a lot of joy.

A tree, adorned with various martenitsa bracelets, in Veliko Tarnovo.

Making Molehills out of Waste

I recently had a lot of time to meditate on the classic idiomatic phrase, “to make a mountain out of a molehill”, as I spent an afternoon raking molehills flat in a Romanian apple orchard. The work is important because if these molehills, mounds of soil brought up to the surface by moles digging underground tunnels, are left by themselves, within a few years the ground becomes uneven. Bumpy land makes the hay harvest with the scythe difficult and dangerous.

So, in the spring, here Iulia, my host, and I are, roaming around her apple orchard with rakes, flattening each molehill as we find them. And while, indeed, the molehills are not mountains, moles are certainly industrious creatures.

“My God, is there any soil even left underground?” Iulia sighs. After hour two of molehill-flattening, I agree with her. The moles have built an underground system more thorough and widespread than any metro I’ve ever seen.

But, Iulia doesn’t seem to mind too much. This orchard is home to her, and it is home to the moles too.

Old shoes used as planters for succulents- Iulia reuses everything in her orchard.

Since Iulia moved with her family to rural Transylvania two years ago, she has been even more industrious than the moles. Iulia bought an apple orchard that had been abandoned for decades. While the trees are well-established and productive, the land has taken a lot of work to be reclaimed for agriculture. Wild plants from the forest encroach on the borders of the orchard, and the apple trees have more sprouting branches than they know what to do with.

Iulia is dedicated, however, and her land shows her efforts for the past few years. Iulia practices permaculture, the newest agricultural buzzword, in this orchard. Every farmer has their own definition and beliefs about permaculture, but (at this writer’s risk of a thousand ideological challenges) the basic premise revolves around considering a farm as an ecosystem, rather than a factory. There is an emphasis on biodiversity and organic methods, and materials are continuously re-purposed and re-used.

Iulia’s farm is in rural Transylvania, a quiet and calm region. There are cars, electricity, and many other trappings of city life. But many villagers also still use horse and carriage to transport manure, hand-draw their water from the local wells, and collect chicken eggs daily from their flocks. People here are living “close to the land”. After decades in big cities, Iulia has slipped back into village life, but with a new focus: permaculture.

 

A view of part of Iulia’s vegetable garden, facing the orchard. She builds her vegetable beds using a process similar to hugelkultur, where underneath the bed, there are layers of organic materials. Wood, compost, sand, and other organic materials are layered to decompose slowly under the top layer of soil. Over time, the soil in the beds should improve even more as these organic materials decompose. On the left-hand side is a solar-heated shower- simply add water to the black box, add a curtain around the outside (unless you’re adventurous), and wait for the water to heat up in the sun for your outdoor shower!

The other volunteer, an American named Emily, and I spend one sleety day sewing down feathers into a blanket. I had never realized how warm real down feathers are!

One especially cold day, instead of working outside, Emily, another volunteer, and I help with a household project, sewing down feathers into an old, mass-manufactured blanket from Ikea. Iulia found old pillows and blankets in the house when she moved in, and they contained real, hand-collected and cleaned chicken and goose feathers in them. The amount of time that goes into collecting feathers like this, only from the soft bellies of chickens or young chicks, is incomprehensible, but they are worth their weight in gold.

Emily and I cut open the blanket, stuff it with feathers, and then carefully sew it back up. A cheap blanket from Ikea, previously filled with synthetic stuffing, suddenly became a warm, soft, comforting down quilt.

This is why I like Iulia’s outlook: nothing is wasted. Old ceramic shingles become stones for a path. Fallen logs are cut to border garden beds, sand from deepening the well is reused in creating fertile soil. She transforms things.

Iulia (right) and her friend Anna (center) spend one rainy afternoon teaching me how to make soap. They make all of their own soap and cosmetic products, using organic oils, fragrances, and sodium bicarbonate (chemical version of lye). The soap is still in liquid form at this point; I am mixing it in the bowl.

Today, we are manufacturing some things that are difficult to transform. In many rural communities, from Senegal to Romania, the disposal of plastics has become an enormous issue. In Iulia’s village, this rural community that could compost all of its trash for centuries is now faced with a reality that this new trash will not decompose in a few years. Trash disposal systems or the concept of littering have not yet become common, and plastics have begun to pile up in forests and along roadways. How do these communities adapt to these changes?

Plastics present a large challenge, but other materials are possible to quite easily reuse- water, organic materials, things we clear from our land, biological waste, and food waste. Many of the materials that we seek to dispose of are instead capable of being usefully transformed. However, in American cities, we often see these materials as waste, just like plastics. Food waste is thrown away; grass clippings are shipped away in paper landscaping bags.

Iulia sees waste as an opportunity for reuse. Iulia’s house is not on any water system; drinking water is drawn from a spring well by hand, and water for washing is rainwater collected off of the roof. While I am staying with the family, they put the final touches on the outdoor compost toilet. The house is heated from two efficient wood stoves, using wood collected from the orchard. The family grows most of the fruit and vegetables that they eat, and the meat and cheese comes from trading with their neighbors. There is very little waste coming out of this household, and it is because Iulia chooses to reuse materials.

This re-conception of waste is the foundation of permaculture, of seeing the ecosystem. When we see our farms or kitchens as factories, and we ship away our waste, we forget that we have a responsibility for what we create. Permaculture is growing in the world because it imitates the systems that have worked for lifetimes. Living ecosystems do not ship away waste; materials are instead continuously transformed. And when we imitate nature- as Iulia does on her farm, as my friends do in Wisconsin, as Pom and U do in Thailand- we are transforming.

Panoramic view from Iulia’s home, in the late evening. She has the best view in the village.

A Healthy Diet of Bread, Onions, and Liquor

On the plane from Bangkok to Bucharest, Romania, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, a new mantra: “I’m trading rice for bread”. Trading ginger, fish sauce, and coconut for new flavors. How will I sustain myself without the richest broths in the world? What will I eat, if not fresh mango? Would my digestive system even work properly without thrice daily portions of rice?

Every culture seems to have a “fast food”, cheap on-the-go snacks for people without a lot of time to eat. In America, chain restaurants or vending machines fill this role. In southeast Asia, street stalls serving hearty and healthy bowls of soup or takeaway packages of curries line the street (which in my opinion is superior in every respect).

When I arrived in Bucharest, I looked for their fast food: bread. Their bakeries have windows facing the street, and the cashier quickly grabs your order, slips it into a bag, and takes your payment. Most contain a sweet jam, or a combination of meat and cheese. People walk the streets with various pastries and sandwiches in hand, bundled up against the cold.

Bread is a utensil, used to transfer food from your plate to your mouth. Bread is a sponge, wiping each plate clean before the dishes are even started. And bread is the ubiquitous flavor, the base of the meal, the necessary component. I quickly learned that “please set the table”, in a Romanian home, implies a series of steps: shake out the breadcrumbs from the tablecloth, set the plates and utensils, and then cut the new bread.

To draw from recent months: as rice is to southeast Asia, bread is to eastern Europe. I am in for quite the change of cuisine.

Bread, bread! There was a basket full of bread on the table every meal. In one home in which I stayed, I was the designated bread cutter- a lofty title.

To celebrate Mucenici, a Christian holiday in Romania that also celebrates the beginning of the growing season, Liliana, one host, and I made pastries. The dough is rolled into thin strips, baked in a figure eight shape, and then covered in honey and walnuts. They say that when you feed someone on this day, you are also feeding your ancestors. If so, I was so well fed, Liliana’s ancestors must have been stuffed!

In Romanian cuisine, in addition to the base of bread, onion and garlic are always present. A balanced meal contains one or the other. Many Romanians believe that cooking garlic or onion is somewhat toxic for the body, and so these members of the allium family are usually eaten raw, on the side. I’ve seen few tables in Romanian homes that do not have a basket of bread and a bowl of raw garlic or onion.

Ceapeă, meaning “onion”, was one of the first Romanian words that I learned. (“Pass the ceapeă!”) Spring onions, garlic, and red or yellow onions are continually passed around during a meal. Romanians love the flavor, and many of the traditional dishes are meant to be eaten with it. Romanians even have a hidden treasure, off the tourist track- an onion monument, dedicated to the ceapeă, located in northwestern Transylvania.

One day, while working on an apple orchard in Transylvania, the family welcomes a friend for lunch. During the meal, he asks for a few extra onions, even though there is a bowl of cut onions on the table. I watch, barely keeping my mouth from hanging open, as he expertly peels them and chomps into them, apple-style. He devours two raw onions in a matter of minutes.

I say nothing at the time, listening to the rhythm of the larger conversation in Romanian between the rest of the family. But after the meal I ask quietly, “is that… typical?” My question is greeted by laughter, and we all joke together. While that man might have been exceptional, it is true: Romanians see onion and garlic as an entire food group.

Ciorbă, a sour soup popular in Romania, is one of my favorite Romanian dishes. The sour flavor comes from a fermented wheat sauce, or a special type of sour plant. With some cream and a side of bread, it is the perfect lunch.

Every visitor to a Romanian home will remember slanina (the meat on the left hand side) Slanina is pork fat that is salted for a month before it is smoked. The fat comes from a Romanian variety of pig, and there is allegedly no cholesterol- only good fats. The flavor of slanina is like nothing I’ve ever had, a sort of combination of bacon and cheese. It is typically eaten with bread and onion or garlic- a classic Romanian combination.

During my months in Romania, spending time with two open and welcoming families, I ate like a queen. Romanian cuisine features excellent soups, dried meats, and fresh dairy products. Even in the early spring, there are still root vegetables and canned foods leftover from the fall. Meals are long affairs, always full of conversation and laughter.

But although the bread and onion may feed a people, liquor truly sustains them. Eastern European liquors vary by the region, but northern Romanians prefer țuica, a type of clear fruit brandy. Tuica is drank in tiny glasses, sipping slowly on one shot at a time. It is strong and… effective. While it certainly does keep you warm, it may also lower your work productivity, as I found out after many a lunchtime glass.

Luckily, there was always bread and onion to sober me up.

Me with some of the family that hosted me in Transylvania. We spent many nights sitting around the dinner table drinking țuica and exchanging stories.