A plate of “tocană” (ground maize boiled in milk) with sheep cheese, cream and fried bacon scraps, a helping of rolls of soured cabbage stuffed with minced pork and coarsely ground maize, a slice of homemade bread baked in the hearth, a glass of “horincă” (plum brandy), and as last course: a crinkled pie or a pound caked with nuts – these would be some of the specialities of the traditional cuisine in Maramures.
The art of local gastronomy does not excel in delicacies and sophisticated combinations of foodstuffs and spices (like other Latin cuisines – French or Italian). It is rather sober and extremely ecological, alike the agriculture, cattle breeding and fruit growing that are the principal sources of food.
The culinary tradition relies mainly upon the mobile pastoral dairy the shepherds install in the mountains during the summer, the period when they graze their sheep. In these “miniature” dairy factories, the principal actor is the shepherd in charge of the sheepfold who is also responsible for the processing of the dairy products. The owners of the sheep used to climb to the sheepfold taking turns in order to collect their share of the product which had been established at the milk measuring. The ewe’s milk is used to prepare milk curds, cottage cheese, pot cheese, and a mixture of whey with the sediments from the boiled curds. The young cheese brought from the sheepfold is aged in the homestead.
As the meteorological and climacteric conditions and the quality of the soil had not favour the cultivation of wheat in this region covered mostly by hills, agriculture was based mainly on the growing of maize. Beginning with the 17th century, maize flour used to be “the principal element of nutrition for the rural population” (Petru Dunca 2004). The maize was used in the preparation of the “mămăligă” (maize flour boiled in salted water), and for the baking of the daily bread. This is why, as I. Bârlea stated it (1924), “bread made of wheat flour is eaten only on important holidays; otherwise people eat only maize bread”. White flour was used for the preparation of the communion bread and of the ritualknotted bread for the important holidays.
But for the inhabitants of Maramures, according to their ancient customs, the meal is rather a cultural act with social significances. It represents actually an integration rite.
Hospitable and filled with empathy, the peasants of Maramures invite the stranger in their house animated by the thought that “having travelled so much, the visitor must be hungry”, but this is done also in order to facilitate a cultural interaction. Thus, the peasants value the most efficient way of having a dialogue, whether they do or do not speak the same language as their interlocutor. The intercultural dialogue by means of sharing the food is achieved on a non-verbal level, the words being superfluous. Each gesture and impression of the guest is watched attentively and decoded according to the behavioural acquisitions of the individual and the local customs.
In order to be shown respect, the guest is given “the place of honour” at the table, as it happens with the elders or with persons of authority (priests or teachers). The host, following the unwritten law of hospitality, has the obligation to be the first who tastes the drink, showing by this that it is clean and deserves to be tasted, and the guests drink only afterwards.
Another local custom demands that the guest should eat everything offered by the host. The rule applies also to drinks.
To conclude, the cuisine of Maramures can accede to the status of a brand if the dishes will be promoted in the rural guesthouses from the region and the products will be also included in the menus of the great restaurants.
The Ethnographic Museum of the Historical Land of Maramures.
History. The first museum was founded in Sighet in 1899. But a part of the collection had been lost during Word War II. In 1954, the museum was entrusted to Francisc Nistor’s management. The objects bought during the field researches would constitute the nucleus of the present museum. On the 1st of March 1957, the museum was reopened for the public with a heterogeneous exhibition that remained unchanged till 1967. After four years, the museum was reorganised being divided into sections, and on the 26th of December 1971 the ethnographic museum was opened in a building from the centre of the town (No. 1, Bogdan Vodă Street)
Collections. The exhibition is installed in rooms forming a free circuit arranged according to the principal categories of folk culture. The first rooms show people’s primary occupations: food gathering, hunting, fishing, bee keeping. These are followed by the principal occupations of agricultural and pastoral type, i.e. forestry and rafting. The inventory of agricultural equipment consists in wooden ploughs, harrows, rakes, vessels for storing grains, seed crushers, screw oil presses etc.
In order to illustrate animal husbandry, the exhibition presents the inventory of a sheepfold: wooden buckets for the milking of the ewes and vessels for the preparation of cheese. In another room there are tools used by women in the household textile industry: scutchers for hemp and flax, carders for cleaning the wool, distaffs, simple spindles or rattle spindles, a loom etc.
The furniture specific to peasant houses is shown in a distinct room. There also elements belonging to folk architecture recuperated from old houses: window and door frames, veranda props, barn doors, well poles, fragments of wickerwork fences etc.
Two rooms exhibit textiles objects: towels, pillow cases, towels for girl’s poles, woollen bedspreads and rugs decorated with geometrical motives and coloured with natural dyes, items of folk costumes etc. The last room is dedicated to the pottery from Săcel. The first floor entrance-hall houses a rich collection of folk masks.
The museum was inaugurated on the 30th of May 1981, on the occasion of the International Day of Museums, on Doboieş hill, Sighet. It constitutes a reserve of rural architecture, recreating a village with the specific of an ethnographic zone that had developed from a “scattered” type to a “compact” type of settlement. All the lanes and paths converge to the village centre marked by the church. The well-conserved houses and homesteads are grouped according to the main sub-zones of the historical Land of Maramures: Cosău-Mara and the lower course of the Iza up to Strâmtura, Middle Iza, Vişeu-Borşa, the sub-zone of Tisa and the Ruscova basin.
The church is the oldest construction preserved in the museum. Dating from the 16th century, it was relocated from the village of Onceşti (Vadu Izei). Ilea’s house from Călineşti is dated from the end of the 19th century. The house has an access space divided into two and a large room. It has a remarkably beautiful veranda surrounding the house on both sides, with poles and arcades made of fir wood. The Marinca house from Comirzana, with a porch, is built of round fir logs, and is from 1785. The Ţiplea house from Fereşti dates from the 18th century. It is made of massive oak wood, and the crossbeams have impressive dimensions. The joining system is what they call “cheutoarea românească” (Romanian jointing).