Mamaliga, the national dish of Romania, has long been beloved by all Romanians—including Jews. Aaron Lebedeff’s famous Yiddish song “Roumania, Roumania” specifically mentions the dish. Evidently, when a Jewish Romanian met someone who he or she thought was Jewish, they would say in Yiddish, “Es mamaliga licht in punem,” meaning: When you eat mamaliga, it shows in your face.
This porridge, made from cornmeal, is often served with sour cream, diced raw onions, and feta cheese. Dairy restaurants, like Ratner’s in New York, served it, especially at the forthcoming holiday of Shavuot.
The late Judith Tihany, whom I knew as a fabulous Romanian Israeli cook and the mother of the restaurant architect Adam Tihany, made a yummy mamaliga layered with spinach, ricotta cheese, and shallots. Adam and I pieced the recipe together—him from memory, me from trying it out. Although I’m not Romanian, I love mamaliga and so does my whole family: It’s a perfect dish for Shavuot.
Joan Nathan is Tablet Magazine’s food columnist and the author of 10 cookbooks including King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.