8. Bohemian Bucharest: Markets & Mahallas Small Group Tour
Your Bucharest tour begins in University Square, the geographical and administrative heart of the city, and the scene of titanic street battles between miners and students immediately after the Romanian Revolution. Absorb all that sociopolitical history before taking a short walk to Strada Batistei, formerly known as the 'St Germain' of Bucharest and the site of the old American embassy, now an overgrown testament to different times. This area is famed for its 19th-century Neo Romanian architecture that defines much of the national style.
The first stop will be an exquisite turn-of-the-century townhouse, lovingly restored but with the sense of elegant decay so typical of Bucharest. Under trees and vines, with grapes dangling overhead, you’ll sample a selection of Romanian entrees (gustari), including goat cheese, cured meat, spring onions, homemade bread, and locally brewed craft beers, and you can relax and absorb the atmosphere of this recherché little hideaway. It is said that while Romanians love the culture and sophistication of urban life, when it comes to food their taste is always for the peasant food (cucina povera) of the countryside, so this peasant platter will be the perfect introduction to Romanian flavours.
To help you digest all those treats, you then make your way to the Armenian quarter. The Armenians were a vibrant and successful merchant community in the 18th and 19th centuries, thanks to their valuable role as 'middlemen' for the Ottomans. Based around the Armenian church, their mahalla (neighborhood) features a spectacular variety of architectural styles from all over Europe and the Ottoman empire, as the wealthy merchants strove to out-do each other in taste and elegance. Classical, Belle Époque, Modernist, New-Romanian, Balkanic, eclectic — this quarter boasts all these styles, including the oldest documented house in Bucharest, which you will visit.
Crossing into the old Jewish quarter, stop for the most famous street-food, covrigi, before heading on further on your Bucharest tour to discover one of the most beautiful and peaceful areas of the city: Mantuleasa. After exploring 19th-century and inter-war Bucharest, stop for an ice-cold Romanian weissbier, in a space that can only be described as art-gallery-meets-bookstore-meets-summer garden, before experiencing the quintessential Bucharest public transport: a short ride on a tram. Rattling along the famous Mosilor Street, you’ll enter into Communist Bucharest, with its regimented blocks and housing projects, as you make your way to the famous Obor Market. This market is the largest and most famous of all the peasant markets in Bucharest, offering every kind of item, food, or service you could imagine, and even some that you couldn’t!
Since you’ll be on the trail of the sights, scents, and tastes of Romanian cuisine, stop for a drink of traditional Romanian palinca (brandy) to prepare the palate. Next, enter the indoor market to sample a range of Romanian cheeses: cow, sheep, and goat. After that, it’s on to the vegetable market, amid a riot of colors and textures, to taste and photograph the fresh local produce.
Probably the most famous and typical of Romanian foods — at least for Romanians — is called mici, which translates as 'little.' A kind of skinless sausage, these are served with mustard and cold beer, and every Romanian has their own opinion about where and how the best ones are made. But certainly the stall in Obor Market has been known for more than 50 years as one of the temples of mici, and here you will get to try them for yourself! And finally, because your gastronomic adventure would not be complete without a dessert, you grab a sweet Wallachian doughnut, served piping hot, before sending you happily on your way home.