The first time in my life I had ever heard or seen a dessert that the Romanian’s called “Papanosh” was when I was sitting outside the citadel, enclosed by the very castle walls that had been the home town and birthplace of Vladimir Dracul. I tasted the dessert with my friend’s brother and his girlfriend who had invited me to explore the castle with them while my friend started her first day at work at a nearby riding stable. I had met my Romanian friend in Belgium when I had been working with horses at an Olympic stable and although my friend had never worked with horses a day in her life and was in her early thirties, I had found it easy to talk with her despite my youth and indifferences. After all, why wouldn’t a blonde American, California girl like me find her stories about vampires and gypsies to be anything other than interesting? And somehow here I was more than a year later visiting my friend in Transylvania. I had only been in the country for a grand total of two days and so far the most exciting thing I’d done or seen was sitting on a plate in front of me.
“What’s this called again?” I asked in between mouthfuls. The fresh cream and jelly oozed outside of what I could only describe as the greatest donut ever invented as I shoveled in the dessert. Every bite was the equivalent to that of one hug, and considering my run of bad luck the past month—what with me having to leave my job in Egypt suddenly and on a whim travelling to Romania without work and absolutely no money to even think about flying back to California—I really needed those hugs.
“Papanash,” my friend’s brother giggled at me. The eyes-widened look that must have been spread across my face in that moment was more than just a little amusing. But I didn’t care, I was in heaven. Dessert heaven…and the irony was that it was found in a small café in a building that was older than my entire country. Its brick walls had withstood war during the medieval ages, conflicts during the communistic rule and not to mention the aging effect of weather and time.
Eating Desserts in Romania was one of the perks of living there! Here I am Eating a Traditional Hungarian Dessert at Dracula's Castle.
Three months later I was at that same café. Only this time was different. I was no longer a tourist, just visiting a friend. I had been working at a nearby stables (starting the minute I left the café the first time and went to the barn in search of my friend) that specialized in taking tourists out on the long and scenic trails. I had seen gypsies carrying impossible loads of wood atop their hunched backs, I had ridden horses in the small villages with blood flowing from the houses into the drain system in the side of the roads (after all December had been pig slaughtering season), I had gotten to be an extra in an American film (what better place to make a horror movie that Dracula’s birthplace in Transylvania nearing Halloween?) among other things.
Yet here I was, three months later, three months more cultured, three months of learning to speak the language, three months of learning about communism and three months of attempting traditional Romanian dances while listening to authentic music I couldn’t understand, and three months of eating the traditional local meals (and yes, a smile still crosses my face every time the Transylvanian customers cover their food with their ultimate favorite of all spreads—garlic.).
And what was I ordering in this café?