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Jan 29, 2010 07:36 AM

Is There a Gypsy (Roma) Cuisine?

There are a couple of Gypsy cookbooks in print, but both have been criticized heavily for failing to enunciate a distinct Gypsy cuisine. Is such an endeavor possible?

I suspect that the Gypsies, much like ethnic Jews, are sufficiently scattered that it is difficult to uncover a core body of recipes and dishes that constitue the heart of the cuisine. Rather, Gypsies, much like Jews, have adapted their food to their locales, wherever they may be.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Do we know of any dishes that have persisted among Gypsies down through the centuries and have been transported, almost without exception, to wherever Gypsies have put down roots?

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  1. _Which_ "Roma"/Gypsies? From which country? The Roma in Italy? Bulgaria? Hungary? Amid the Turks? If I may, I'd compare the gypsies to the Native Americans: Many branches, rather than a linear path "contain" them.
    It would appear, based upon my father's first-hand experiences - from the greatest possible distance, like any "good Bulgarian" '-) that their fires heated whatever they could purloin rather than loyally purchased "staples of any supposed gypsy larder".
    In other words, the cuisine of no cuisine of their own identity would be the identity of their cuisine, to hear my father tell the tale - and spit after having mentioned them - "Roma" / gypsies are held in the greatest / lowest of disparaging distain by many & suffer the brunt of many a hate crime to this day. Sorry Dad, it's the Human Relations Commissioner in me coming out '-)

    1 Reply
    1. re: SusanaTheConqueress

      "the cuisine of no cuisine of their own identity would be the identity of their cuisine,"
      Say no more, that 'splains it all.

      1. re: Whippet

        Yes. I bow to this and especially reference the final segment prior to "Etiquette", seeing it as an affirmation of my father's teachings, (above) '-)
        I look forward to reading it all.
        Thank you for a substantive addition to the thread :-)

        1. re: Whippet

          Thank you for the link without quoting it. Succinct. Yes.

          1. re: Whippet

            Oh hey, I made my post first then followed your link...about 10 years ago, I took a university course on Romani language and culture from the professor who wrote that book! He is a Rom himself and an academic expert on Romani people, as well as a Romani rights activist. Very interesting info in the link, thanks. I find it amazing that the Roma have managed to keep up the Indic cultural elements in their dietary habits after over 1,000 years!

          2. Roma are one subset of the Romani people. The Roma were at one time enslaved in the Balkans and after their emancipation have spread to mainly Central and Eastern Europe. As far as I know, the majority of Romani people in North America are also Roma as opposed to being of other Romani subgroups. The Roma (and all other Romani) cook and eat the cuisine of the countries in which they are settled. In the US, Roma eat what other Americans eat, but consider 'their cuisine' to be that of their immigrant great-grandparents, things like cabbage leaves stuffed with pork and so forth being Central and Eastern European types of foods---sort of parallel to the situation with Eastern European origin American Jews and the Eastern European Jewish culinary items that crop up when Americans think of 'Jewish food' (even though 'Eastern European' food really encompasses a lot of diversity...what's in your pierogi, for example) So Roma cuisine is essentially based on Central and Eastern European foods. Living with pariah status throughout their history in Europe, enslavement in the Balkans, and also strong ritual purity rules that render non-Romani 'unclean' have contributed to the maintenence of a Romani language and distinct culture, even distinct music, but the difficulties of their existance has not allowed any special cuisine to endure through the ages. I believe that Roma are the most impoverished group in Central and Eastern Europe and after surviving the Holocaust, their pariah status has persisted through the communist era until now. Communism superficially installed egalitarianism, and it also prevented nomadism among Roma groups who had previously lived as travellers. Being nomadic would probably mean having a totally different type of cuisine; I recall reading about things like roasted hedgehog and such---eating what was available for substinence. Since the vast majority of Roma are settled, the nomadic cuisine isn't necessarily relevent now. Eastern European Jewish foods are different from indigenous Eastern European foods in that they were prepared following Kashrut law, making them distinct. I don't know if Roma have any specific dietary laws that would render their cooking as distinct from their neighbors. AFAIK their ritual purity rules have to do with not sharing cups, forks, and vessels with other people (drinking from a shared cup without touching one's lips to the vessel, smoking a shared cigarette by sucking from a funnel made by the hand, never touching one's lips to the shared cig), not eating foods which have fallen on the floor and not eating leftovers and such (strikingly similar to traditional Hindu ideas of ritual impurity, a cultural retention brought from India!), but nothing in terms of any prohibited food items or food combinations.

            3 Replies
            1. re: luckyfatima

              My edit feature is not working, but regarding Roma in North America, I believe there has been a second large wave of Roma immigration after the fall of the Soviet Union, just to clarify because in the post I imply that the only Roma in North America are from the Ellis Island era.

              1. re: luckyfatima

                roma also have many linguistic ties to their original native india. for example the word for water is "panni" in both romani and hindi. the cooking methods for some stews is very similar in indian and roma culture, such as the technique in which the cook repeatedly adds a very small amount of water to a simmering stew over an open flame in order to regulate the temperature of the stew within 2-3 degrees, and also thicken the broth.

                as far as having a cuisine-- it's hard to have a unified cuisine when you don't have a country. settled roma will naturally adopt many of the culinary characteristics of their home countries, and the longer they are settled, the more similar their food will be to that of the country in which they live. nomadic roma have a style of cooking that is suited to nomadic life and is flexible and adaptable to the availability of a wide variety of ingredients. stews in which many different vegetables and/or meats and/or foraged herbs forest mushrooms can be subbed in or out, bound by a black pepper or fried spice sauce would be one example. much of the roma cultural traditions, particularly the nomadic traditions, have been suppressed over the years. in addition, someone should probably point out that many roma people did not survive Porrajmos (the great devouring-- when the nazis attempted to kill all of europe's roma in mass genocide during ww2), or they were sterilized, so the older traditions in many countries are pretty much gone now.

                1. re: luckyfatima

                  Sounds like you took one of Ian Hancock's courses/lectures? Yes Faati, there is a Rroma diet here in the U.S. It can be found on the internet under Gypsy Cooking.Unfortunatly, most of the "demonstrations" are not meant for the English speaking (Gyjae). However, some are. I can say there are about, maybe 20 or so favorite recipies here in this country that the Kalderash Rroma prefer. You can't really cook them properly unless you have been taught my your Mom,etc. all your life. But, what else is new. If you are really interested maybe I can get you in touch with a Romni from our community who would be willing to give you a few pointers. If interested email be back at: Thanks, David.

                2. Very informative posts here. At the following site some Hungarian Rom recipes and comments are found. The term "botos' - store-bought - crops up as a negative and earns my respect.


                  Roma have offered little in cuisine perhaps but have figured huge in western music in all genres. There is a genius there that travels with as per this Magyar C&W bit:


                  And then Junior says;


                  3 Replies
                  1. re: DockPotato

                    There are many foods that have originated from the gypsy culture that we still eat now, such as joey greys, bacon puddings and hedgehog etc, even though back then we didn't have the cooking experience we still choose to make this food now! I was always told we actually originated from the egyptians but people have there own views

                    1. re: Staciemaria

                      What I might suggest is going on U Tube and looking at the "Gypsy Cooking" shows that many of the various Kalderash or Machwia girls have posted. It is authentic Roma cooking in America, at this time. Most of it isn't in English, because it wasn't meant for you
                      Gyjae out there, but you migh t get some kind of an idea how to cook dishes such as Perogo, Saviako, Pufi, etc. Most of the food is a carry-over from our sojourn in Eastern Europe. If you ever go to Eastern Europe, you will see versions of the same food in restaurants and homes there. Just as our names for the different fruits, vegtables, meats and dishes had its origin Somewhere in E. Europe. Forget getting invited to a Roma house for dinner! Try Afgan or Hungarian food or something. You can always get in touch with Ian Hancock, Professor of linguistics at Texas State University, and see if he wants to share an Roma Cultural stuff with you. Or, leave me a message on my email at: The Romichal "Gypsies" in America have a quite different set of food. But they became so unaculturalated through the years, that to be indistinguishalbe from the Gyjae. Well, anyway, Thanks for the interest. David


                      1. re: davidmiller

                        Thanks for the insight and also for referring us to youtube. After having a perusal, it seems there are loads of English language Roma food videos. Some for traditional foods like sarme, and others for stuff like banana waffles and cannolis. How fun.

                        I once randomly came across a Romanichal woman's cooking videos from the UK, but I can't find them again. I'll have to keep searching.

                        One thing I remember from Dr. Hancock's class is that he said many Roma dishes were the same as their Eastern European gadje counterparts except the Roma like more heat in their food and add red chile flakes and hot peppers. Any thoughts on this?