We don’t usually do requests, but we got an email on Monday from some new arrivals in Bucharest asking where they might find various things, from decent souvenirs to take back to family at Christmas to, erm, peanut butter. As such, we thought it might not be too bad an idea to list a few of the places we go shopping ourselves, and what we buy when we’re there.
Fruit & Vegetables: The Market
As the son of a costermonger we like to buy as much of our fresh produce as possible (that which we don’t get from family, at least, and we get a lot: we came home from Fagaras last weekend with a sack of potatoes that will last us until Christmas) from local markets. We rarely buy fruit and vegetables from supermarkets or hypermarkets, although sometimes there is simply no choice. We adore markets (we were brought up in them), but while there are plenty all over the city, some are better than others. Much better. Indeed, many markets are no better than the supermarkets, in the sense that they sell almost all imported produce bought wholesale (although often at prices higher than the big stores).
Fortunately, there are some markets which are open exclusively to local producers, and it is two of these that get most of our custom.
The first is Piata Ramnicul Sarat, found at the corner of Bulevardul Camil Ressu and Strada Liviu Rebreanu. We’ve written about it before, so shall not repeat ourselves (there’s a first), merely reiterate the fact that it is an excellent place with incredibly cheap prices, and that the costermongers who sell there are all genuine producers selling their own produce.
Of late, however, we have been going more to the peasants’ market which is held each Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Nerva Traian (the corner of Bulevardul Unirii and Strada Nerva Traian, to be precise. Here.)
Smaller than most Bucharest markets everything on sale is top notch stuff, and although prices are a little higher than at Ramnicu Sarat, we have no problem paying them. This place is a guarantee of high quality. As well as fruit and veg you can also get homemade wine here, alongside cheese, hams, honey, bors for making ciorba and – at this time of year – must.
The only fruit and veg we buy at supermarkets is the more exotic stuff: oranges, lemons, pineapples, asparagus (of which Mega Image – see below – always have a stock, usually imported from Peru and costing a fortune). Mega also stock frozen asparagus (both green and white).
Cheddar, Butter: Mega Image (& Other Supermarkets)
To get most of the things we can’t buy at the market we head for Mega Image. The Belgian retailer has become ubiquitous in Bucharest over the past couple of years, its shops popping up anywhere and everywhere. You really do not have to go all that far to find one.
Not all Mega Images are the same, however: some are better than others. The one we usually head for is at Piata Vitan. It has an Angst butcher inside (which sells excellent meat) and a fishmonger selling a decent selection of fish and seafood.
Amongst the many items Mega Image sells which might be of interest to our readers are the following:
Yep, Mega Image now has two different types of mature cheddar on sale. The best is the Wyke Farms one, an extremely strong and very crumbly cheddar costing 19.33 lei. The Kerrygold Irish Cheddar is only slightly less good, but a lot cheaper at 13.29 lei. Mega also stock a mild Kerrygold red cheddar but it’s not really worth your time or money. We have not seen any of these cheddars on sale at any other supermarkets in Bucharest.
Lurpak butter is now ubiquitous: both the actual butter and the spreadable version we tend to buy. It costs between 9 and 10 lei, and every major supermarket has it. Mega Image stock a Kerrygold Irish butter (9.99 lei).
Peanut butter too is fairly easy to find, although the brands on sale are not usually the best. We buy this one. It’s made in the Netherlands, and is not bad.
Meat & Fish: Mega Image, Auchan, Halal Butchers
When it comes to meat we are fortunate in being able to source a lot of it from our in-laws. Most of our pork and chicken comes straight from their farm, brought at regular intervals in coolboxes on the overnight train from Carei. When we do have to buy meat we do so either at Mega Image (yep, them again) or at Auchan.
Mega does a good range of vacuum-packed gourmet beef and lamb cuts, while the Angst concessions in many Mega stores sell excellent pork and chicken, as well as a decent selection of marinated meat, including some very good pork ribs. Lamb – our preferred carnivorous treat – remains something of a rarity in these parts, although you can pick up mutton at any of the Turkish butchers around the city (there are more than a few now). We use a particularly good one (Macelaria Saray) on Bulevardul Nerva Traian, next to School 81. Here. Besides mutton, lamb and beef they stock delicious ready-made beef and mutton koftete kebabs.
Fish and seafood is cheapest at Auchan. They usually stock bags of fresh (although usually farmed) mussels for around 11 lei. Trout (again, farmed) and carp are also cheap although anything more exotic costs a bit more. If you like prawns, here’s a decent tip: ignore the fresh ones available in most supermarkets (always pink and par-boiled) and pick up the uncooked frozen prawn tails available for 39 lei for a half kilo bag in the frozen food section of larger – you’ve guessed it – Mega Images. Although frozen, the fact that they are uncooked gives them a massive taste advantage (especially if your are making pasta or risotto) over the fresh variety.
Bucharest has recently seen an explosion of souvenir shops, particularly in the Old Town. They pretty much all – without exception – sell a load of old Chinese crap that someone has printed ‘Romania‘ on. They are to be avoided at all costs.
What to buy? Linen and traditional peasant clothes, although beware that these are expensive. You will pay at least 300 lei for a handmade traditional Romanian ie (blouse). We have always like the painted glass icons (usually costing around 150 lei, depending on size) and the naive art (around 200 lei, again: it depends on the size). We have also bought pottery here. Traditional plates (we bought three last week for our newly redecorated front room) sell for 65 lei upwards.
If you are quids in – and can get the thing home – then look out for original dowry chests, like this:
We are currently using one of these as a coffee table. Note, however, that we didn’t buy it at the museum shop: we got one outside in the courtyard at one of the regular antique fairs for a far better price (although not in quite as good condition: it needs restoring). The fairs – where you will find gifts, antiques and Romanian delicacies – now appear to be held almost every weekend. For Christmas presents the museum is more or less a one-stop-shop.
Finally, we’ve said it before and we will say it again: if you ask us what makes the perfect souvenir from Romania, we usually answer: ‘the Bucharest version of Monopoly.’ More on that here if anyone is remotely interested.