MAMALIGA (ROMANIAN CORN PORRIDGE, OR POLENTA)
Mamaliga (Romanian Corn Porridge, or Polenta)
If "mamaliga" (mama-LEE-gah) is an unfamiliar dish to you, you're sure to know it by another of its names: polenta. Mamaliga is the Romanian version of this staple and has been called the country's national dish. While the recipe itself is not revolutionary, the history behind mamaliga is fascinating. Cooked in a round-bottomed kettle called a "ceaun," the cornmeal porridge would be turned out into the center of the peasantry's wooden farm tables, where it hardened as it cooled, holding its rounded shape. Portions would be sliced off using a piece of string held taut, and pieces would be topped with butter and sour cream, or with cascaval cheese, a sheep's milk cheese similar to pecorino. After each meal the matriarch would scrub the table clean, and it's said that many a Romanian table is concave and shiny in the center, a testament to the daily tradition of eating mamaliga. When making mamaliga, examine the piece served to you; any cracks that appear on the top of your portion indicate an unexpected journey lies ahead. Grandma never made her creamed chicken without mamaliga to serve alongside it.