We were in Moldova last week for the baptism of a sweet little boy. Moldova used to be part of Romania and the former Soviet Union as well as the Ottoman Empire if we want to go back further in time. They’ve managed to keep their culture alive through their food, music, textiles and traditions. We were there in time for the grape harvest and were treated to a variety of homemade wines, grilled meats and fresh vegetables.
The countryside is rolling hills covered with a patchwork of fields. Sunflowers in one, wheat in another. That hill is covered in apple trees, this one is a grazing area for sheep and cattle. Outside the capital city of Chisinau, Moldova is a bucolic paradise. Although landlocked, the country has rivers and lakes loaded with fish, in particular carp. Rick and I spent a day by a lake carp fishing with a friend. It’s a serious business there, with ultra long rods and professional equipment that included alarms to alert the fisherman of a nibble. My experience fishing involves pork rinds and spinners so I was duly impressed. The carp in this particular lake were easily 10 pounds…and that’s not a fish tale!
Moldova is home to about 3 million people and is nestled between Romania and Ukraine. At one time it was among the richest provinces of the Soviet Union but once they declared independence they were pretty much cut off from their normal trading partners and had to build (or rebuild in some cases) their manufacturing base. Today Moldova is an amalgam of Soviet era relics, new construction and ancient homesteads that were somehow left unmolested. Most of the people have electricity and running water but here and there you’ll find exceptions. Still, a lot of people live in what we’d consider poverty…despite that, they are well educated and many speak Romanian, Russian, English and another European language. At the moment Moldova isn’t considered a tourist attraction but the potential is certainly there. It’s not a member of the European Union and is outside the Schengen Zone although Rick and I, with our US Passports, did not require a visa.
No matter where you go, the people are welcoming and generous. Rick and I ate like royalty the entire time. The restaurant food was beautifully presented and tasty but some of my favorite meals were the most humble. Slices of the salty local cheese graced plates loaded with sliced tomatoes and an incredible variety of pickles and other conserved foods. One meal in particular that stood out featured the aforementioned pickles and cheese along with a freshly cut melon still warm from the sun.
Lacto-fermentation is a popular method of preservation. Our friend’s parents have a large cellar stuffed floor to ceiling with jar upon jar of preserved fruits and vegetables. On the other side of the cellar there are barrels of homemade wine, made fresh every fall. The wine is an important part of Moldovan identity. Nearly every family has their own vines or buys grapes to make their own wines which are freely shared with family and friends. The traditional toast is “Noroc!” which means “good luck” but is also used as a greeting and said when clinking glasses together in camaraderie.
Moldova is gaining a reputation for their commercial wines. We especially enjoyed those made from the local grapes called Fetească. We had some really good wines and some not so good but none that were undrinkable. Not far outside the city, the Cricova winery makes and stores their wines in a former limestone mine where the conditions are perfect for making a darn good sparkling wine. You don’t want to miss a visit if you get the opportunity to go.
As mentioned, we were there for a baptism which was a beautiful ceremony. Our friends are Orthodox and it was the my first experience witnessing any type of service. All the married women covered their hair in the church, luckily I had tucked a scarf into my purse! Our friends and the baby wore traditional costumes covered in embroidery. Afterwards there was a big party with a banquet, lots of food and drink and traditional dancing.
I wish I had more photos to share, especially of the food. Unfortunately Rick’s phone fell out of his pocket somewhere, possibly when we piled into the taxi after our wine tasting tour. We were using his camera to take photos as my phone no longer takes good ones. Not to mention there are times when it’s just rude to bring out a camera so I kept my phone and tablet in my purse. I had phone service there but just taking my phone out of airplane mode to check my email seemed to use my allotment of data. (We haven’t seen the bill yet, and I know I forgot to turn the data off at least once…hopefully it won’t be too bad *fingers crossed*). We should have purchased SIM cards at the airport to use while in Moldova. Lesson learned.
The trip was a lot of fun. There were challenges (for example the Turkish style toilet in a restaurant that required squatting…a bar to hold onto would have been nice, hahaha) but lots of surprises as well (the supermarkets are well stocked). I would go back if given the opportunity. I’d love to stay in an upscale resort.