Let's get one thing straight - Mihai Gateste is the best Romanian restaurant in Bucharest! However it isn't a restaurant at all, but the home-cooked delights of hobbyist, Romanian local and Eat With host Mihai. (Mihai Gateste literally translates to Mihai Cooks)
I think we can all agree that food is a pretty important part a city's culture right? And Romania is no different with its chequered history. In fact Romania's traditional Sarmale dish - served in most Romanian restaurants - is derived from the Turkish Dolma following its ruling by the Ottoman empire.
So when Romanian locals Mihai and Miruna welcomed us into their home to enjoy a three-course home-cooked delight, I knew I'd find no better hospitality in the city of Bucharest. But how did I come to be invited into their home? Did I just collar some poor locals on the street and demand they feed me? Of course not! It was through the online platform Eat With.
What is Eat With?
A modern twist on the everyday supper club, Eat With is the world’s largest community for authentic food experiences with locals, in over 130 countries. With over 5 000 culinary experiences available worldwide, you'll find everything from a cooking class in Rome, a rooftop dinner party in Barcelona or a supper club in London to name a few.
Having now participated in two Eat With experiences - one in Florence and the latter in Bucharest - I feel like I’m qualified to tell you this is a must-do on any itinerary. Since I covered a greater introduction to the Eat With platform, and information about how to book an experience in the previous article here, this article will mostly cover the exquisite evening with Mihai and Miruna to give you a taste of what you can expect from an Eat With experience.
I also hope that, if you are planning on visiting Bucharest, you'll consider an evening with Mihai and Miruna for one of the best welcomes to a city ever experienced.
The idea of entering a strangers home in a foreign country might sound a little daunting, but so did Air B&B when it first launched! And when your hosts supplies you with slippers and fluffy socks on arrival, you know you're in for a treat.
Recently married, Mihai and Miruna share a beautiful apartment in sector one of central Bucharest. Working in higher education, husband Mihai is a keen chef showcasing his culinary skills on Instagram. Copywriter and official taste tester Miruna is the unofficial photographer, showing off her husband's delectable dishes with a shared passion for good home-cooked food.
A modern-day love story, Mihai and Miruna grew up just 8km apart in two seperate cities in Romania, but met whilst studying in Bucharest. They met accidentally on a blind date via friends over dinner, so it only seems apt that they have a passion for breaking bread with others.
Our Eat With Hosts Mihai and Miruna
We immediately felt at ease from the moment we entered their home around 7.30pm. Probably at their amusement of us avoiding the dodgy looking lift, in favour of climbing the stairs in complete darkness to the eighth floor. In our defence, the lift only fit two people and you closed the doors yourself. You'd have taken the stairs too...
After a polite embrace as is the European way, Miruna passed on to us slippers and fluffy socks and welcomed us in, and Mihai wasted no time in popping the sparkling wine. Seated on a comfortable sofa, with a very well decorated Christmas tree, the apartment was warm and cosy and we felt immediately at home.
To my left, on a recently built bookshelf (that they built around their wine fridge, I'd have too TBH), was the complete Harry Potter heptalogy among other literary works. This immediately sparked a conversation and a shared love for the fantasy series. It was here we learnt about Mihai's home-made chocolate, "perfect for eating in front of a Harry Potter movie" he assured us.
In the far corner, a Sophie Loren posted captioned 'everything you see I owe to Pasta' lay lazily against the wall, "it's from Ikea!" Miruna advised so I immediately googled how I could get a copy for myself.
Mihai and Miruna's Apartment Bookshelf (and wine fridge)
Mihai and Miruna's Apartment
Before long, Miruna presented us with a platter of Romanian matured cheese & traditional sausages, paired with walnuts, a traditional vegetable Romania spread called "zacusca" made by Miruna's mother, homemade bread from Mihai. All accompanied by the couple's favourite Romanian red wine.
Romanian traditional sausages
A platter of Romanian matured cheese
Ttraditional vegetable spread called "zacusca"
Ok, I really need to take a minute here to tell you about the red wine. I enjoy a red wine, but I REALLY enjoyed this red wine and it's easy to see why it's a favourite.
ALIRA Tribun (2013) is described as 'an assemblage of three noble red varieties of Fetească Neagră, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, to impress both novices and refined connoisseurs. ' That's right, it's three in one!
At 13.9%, the wine is described as 'fresh, mineral, with red fruit flavors, but also slightly minty reminiscent of eucalyptus. An interesting bet between the wine that spent 3 months in French barrels and the wine kept in stainless steel tanks to keep the notes of fresh fruit.'
The ALIRA vineyard is an 80-acre boutique winery, located in Dobrogea, on the hills overlooking the banks of the Old Danube. The name ALIRA is a merge between the names of the localities of Aliman and Rasova where the vineyards are located and where the wine is born on the banks of the Danube.
With a mission to produce 'strong wines with a high concentration of flavors and aromas' I'd say ALIRA nailed it. Due to hand luggage restrictions, we picked up a bottle in the airport (well, two) for 10 euros apiece. If you can carry this in your checked luggage, you'll likely find it much cheaper in a Mega Image (local supermarkets).
Alira Tribun 2013
With our glasses full, and our taste buds tantalised Mihai prepared the starter - Caraway and Onion Soup. While he questioned if Caraway Soup was 100% Romanian or traditional, he explained how it's a dish his mother used to cook all the time - that's traditional enough for me!
The soup was served with more of Mihai's homemade bread, that we teared into small pieces and dropped into the soup. In poorer times, bread would be added to soup as a substitute for meat.
And all the while we traded cultural differences and complimented Mihai on his ingenious flavours, a careful jazz Spotify playlist picked away lending a relaxed atmosphere to the evening.
Mihai's Homemade Caraway Soup
The Main Course
Originally, the main course had been decided as a pork stew, but leaning towards a festive dish Mihai got in touch via the Eat With platform to ask if we minded the change. Sarmale is a festive course that's always served during Christmas and Easter holidays in Romania. It's basically a combination of rice & minced pork with a bunch of spices, cooked in pickled cabbage - not dissimiliar to Turkey's Dolma.
This was accompanied by a side helping of "mamaliga", Romanian polenta. This creamy, bright yellow dish made of cornmeal is an easy-to-make comfort food.
Served in shot glasses, we carefully sipped the warming spirit while I waited for some 'putball' tea to brew. I'm not sure if that's the correct spelling, or where to buy it, but Miruna's boss labelled it as a miracle cold curer and, after realising I had a cold was suggestive in me having a cup - so I did. It didn't have much of a taste but, I'm almost certain it did help!
So on to dessert, a classic apple tart. While Apple pies are a very common dessert in Romanian houses, Mihai gave his a twist by turning it into a tart and serving it with vanilla ice cream. During plum season, Mihai replaces the tart with another favourite Romanian dessert - "gomboți", sweet dumplings filled with delicious plums.
Mihai's Homemade Apple Tart
After sampling some of Mihai's homemade chocolate, finishing off the Tuica shots, a few more glasses of wine and a shopping list of cheese and suggestions during our stay, we finally ended the evening shortly after midnight.
With easy conversation, swapping curly hair problems and remedies, the evening could easily ave carried on into the early hours but, at risk of becoming a hindrance we bid our farewells and expressed our gratitude at such a beautiful evening.
But if we thought the kindness ended there, we were mistaken since they parted us with the remaining Tuica and a jar of pickled cabbage. (That both made it home in hand luggage - hurrah!)
Costing £33 each, it was a significantly higher cost for a meal than anywhere else in Bucharest, however I've had terrible meals in the UK that cost more than that. And for an evening of fantastic company, a cosy home and three courses plus an appetiser, chocolate, tuica, tea and more! It was worth every penny, especially when that penny becomes a brucy bonus for an everyday couple like Mihai and Miruna who were the perfect hosts.