So you're a vegetarian visiting Bucharest and you open a restaurant menu hoping to find some plant based food to eat - hopefully after an exciting day around the city. What will you order? Below you will find my favorite options; most of these courses are vegan, but I will give you the details about their vegetarian counterparts (and warnings about hidden animal products) as well.
Starters and sides
This is my fail proof method of eating out "de post" - this is the way Romanians traditionally eat during Lent, basically avoiding any animal products whatsoever. I usually make sure the waiter confirms the dishes are vegan, as we Romanians are still far from understanding what it means to avoid all animal products.
Zacusca - This is a vegetable spread usually served with some kind of bread. It's made from a variety of fall vegetables (eggplants, onions, tomatoes, peppers) but it can also include mushrooms. It's salty and slightly spicy, but definitely a comfort food since the recipe involves a lot of oil.
Salată de vinete - Akin to the Lebanese baba ganoush, this is a spread made of roasted or grilled eggplants. Beware that the mayonnaise variety is very popular in Romania so you should make sure what type the restaurant serves in case you are avoiding eggs. Some places serve it with slices of "telemea" (a feta-like cheese), but it should come with fresh sliced tomatoes and bread.
Grilled vegetables - You get what you think you will get. An assortment of grilled vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and so on.
Roasted red peppers salad - This one is seriously to die for, probably one of my favorite dishes, although people usually have it as a side. Basically these are roasted red peppers dressed with oil, vinegar and some seasonings or garlic, according to the recipe. Anyway, it goes with everything, even a simple slice of bread.
French fries - Well, there is nothing special to say about them, although some restaurants are into pouring grated cheese on you fries or serving mayo based sauces. These are usually on the menu.
Other potato based sides - Mashed potatoes are usually made with butter or milk, and oven baked potatoes may be topped with bacon. This is just a warning, asking the waiter saves the day.
Vegetable salads and other international food, such as hummus - International vegan food is available, it's just that not every restaurant will have it. It's best to check the menu. Side salads are usually vegan (e.g. the traditional summer salad made of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers) and it normally doesn't come with a dressing.
Pizza is a very popular dish in Bucharest, but most places will only have a limited number of options for vegetarians and vegans. If you don't eat meat, you can usually choose between a margherita, a quattro formaggi (four cheeses) or a vegatarian (made with mozzarella and loaded with veggies). Some places offer a "de post" option containing non-dairy cheese, but you can always ask the waiter to forget the cheese on your vegetarian pizza all together. I was a little skeptical in the beginning, but all veggie pizza actually tastes good and a lot healthier than the cheese loaded versions.
Although most restaurants in Bucharest serve some kind of pasta dish, there is a chance that all them will be meat based. Trattorias and other Italian places do have a larger pasta menu, where you can find your usual vegetarian options, as well as some vegan ones such as arrabiata or aglio, olio e pepperoncini. The latter is my favorite (there is something about the simplicity of that dish), but I still usually try to make sure it's not topped with parmesan cheese or some kind of sea food, as I've seen on the menus.
If the place you chose sells sandwiches, it will usually have a vegetarian (cheese) sandwich somewhere at the end of the list. However, it's is rather difficult to find a vegan sandwich in Bucharest. The good news is that if you can find one, then it's most likely a good one and it comes with a heap of fires on the side. Menus do change, so I don't have a recommendation at this time.
Bucharest salads are sad. The odd place that does sell a vegan main course salad will most likely offer you a salad loaded with tofu, veggie mayo and weird ingredients. I will usually pick something else simply because if I ask the waiter to leave out some ingredients in one of their salads, it's not worth it anymore, money wise. Greek salads (veggies and feta) are very popular on the other hand, and also very good - vegetarians rejoice.
If you are expecting a generous vegan or vegetarian menu, Bucharest is not that kind of place (just yet). Slowly but surely, restaurants are getting in the habit of marking their veggie courses as such, but there is still a long way to go. However, between side salads, potatoes and the local favorites - you should try zacusca and salata de vinete at least once - I can guarantee you will not go hungry. If you don't make it to a restaurant, don't panic - street food, local farmers markets and home delivery can prove to be even more friendly to your dietary needs.
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