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Ro­ma­nian wed­dings aren’t typ­i­cally swift af­fairs; they’re epic, belly­bust­ing events, dis­cov­ers reader Steve Fryer…

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

Reader Steve Fryer is in it for the long haul as he dis­cov­ers how epic – and stom­ach-fill­ing – Ro­ma­nian wed­dings can turn out to be

Slowly, I pushed open the door to the ban­quet­ing hall and peered in­side. Pow! In a flash, con­trol was snatched from my hands and tra­di­tion took over. The band struck up a rous­ing tune and the re­cep­tion party pa­raded over to greet us. We were quickly whisked over to our al­lot­ted seats at a long ta­ble just as some more guests ar­rived. The band struck up again with an­other rous­ing tune as the re­cep­tion party pa­raded out to greet them, and then they, too, were shep­herded to their seats, as yet more guests ap­peared. And so it con­tin­ued.

That morn­ing, our old­est son’s best friend (and very much a part of our fam­ily over the years) had mar­ried his Ro­ma­nian sweet­heart in the me­dieval city of Iași, right next to the Moldovan bor­der. It was a re­mote place – the an­cient cap­i­tal of the king­dom of Mol­davia and home to Ro­ma­nia’s old­est and most pres­ti­gious uni­ver­sity. Even so, it had no in­ter­na­tional air­port, and to get there, we had flown to Tîrgu-mureș, in the heart of Tran­syl­va­nia, the day be­fore, then taken a bumpy, but very scenic, seven-hour bus ride across the Carpathian Moun­tains.

9pm: First course

It was then that the band started up again with an­other tune I couldn’t place and my at­ten­tion re­turned to the scene around me. By the time the feast had started, ‘that song’ had be­come an ear­worm I couldn’t shake.

I peered down at a large dol­lop of spicy egg may­on­naise sat boldly on a crinkly green let­tuce leaf in the mid­dle of my plate. The edge of the let­tuce leaf was only just vis­i­ble be­neath its heavy load. It was sur­rounded by four slices of baked ham, each thick, ten­der and pleas­antly salty; sev­eral wedges of lo­cal cheese; a less de­fined wedge of herby cream cheese; and a large slice of a meaty roulade that had been rolled in poppy seeds and well sea­soned with gar­lic. This loaded plate was all for me, and gar­nished with splashes of con­trast­ing colour in the form of stuffed olives, slices of dill cu­cum­ber and a chunky red-pep­per-and-cream dip. I ate the lot.

Then the band struck up once more and the wed­ding guests be­gin to dance, parad­ing, twirling and form­ing cir­cles and arches. Ev­ery­one seemed to know the steps to these tra­di­tional Ro­ma­nian folk dances and the crowd just fell into it nat­u­rally.

10pm: Sec­ond course

Three stuffed vine leaves and three stuffed cab­bage leaves were lined up on my plate next to a large serv­ing of savoury yel­low po­lenta. It was like a Ro­ma­nian ver­sion of bangers and mash, only the tasty parcels stuffed with meat and rice were squidgier than sausages and the po­lenta was smoother than mash. The whole lot soon dis­ap­peared, al­though I wasn’t too sure about the tang of the sour cream that had ac­com­pa­nied the dish.

The ban­quet­ing hall was dimly lit, its rus­tic de­sign of wood and stone fram­ing a plas­tered wall painted with dark Ro­ma­nian peas­ant scenes – like a Mol­da­vian Breugel paint­ing. The Ro­ma­nian Ortho­dox church had also been dimly lit that morn­ing when the bride and groom, both wear­ing golden crowns, stood be­fore the pri­est and made their solemn vows.

There had been no seats, so we all just gath­ered round while the can­dles flick­ered and a choir sang in deep har­mo­nious voices. There were no win­dows, ei­ther, and saints peered down at us from out of the shad­ows of ev­ery wall and pil­lar. It seemed like all con­ceiv­able sur­faces had been or­nately painted with gold-framed icons. When the new­ly­weds, each hold­ing long can­dles dec­o­rated with flow­ers, pa­raded down the church aisle and out into the sun­light, the guests threw not con­fetti, but sweets.

Back at the re­cep­tion, the band struck up and the guests be­gin to dance ( again). The young woman sit­ting next to me in a red dress and high heels grabbed my arm and pulled me onto the dance floor.

“You must dance,” she said. “Make ap­petite to eat. I teach you steps. Watch my feet.”

11.30pm: Third course

A large roasted fil­let of fish now cov­ered half my plate. On my fork it dis­in­te­grated into ten­der white flakes edged with spicy brown sea­son­ing – the per­fect com­ple­ment to the del­i­cate flavour of the fish. The whole dish was com­pleted by the con­trast­ing sweet­ness of pasta in a rich tomato sauce and the fresh crunch­i­ness of steamed broc­coli flo­rets. I was be­gin­ning to flag by this point, but I man­aged to fin­ish it.

Just be­fore mid­night, the bride mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared. She had been ‘kid­napped’, and it wasn’t long be­fore a mes­sage was re­ceived from the kid­nap­pers de­mand­ing a ran­som from the groom. But they didn’t want money...

“If you love your bride, you must strip naked be­fore all the guests. We will then re­turn her safely to you.”

So, to cheers and whis­tles ac­com­pa­nied by mu­sic from the band, the groom played the part and be­gan to strip. For­tu­nately, be­fore get­ting as far as ‘the Full Monty’, the kid­nap­pers sent an­other mes­sage: “You can stop now if you make a speech declar­ing your undy­ing love for your wife.” A re­lieved semi-naked groom made his speech, and his clothes and bride were re­turned to him.

Tak­ing cen­tre stage, the kid­nap­pers then danced to a spe­cial tra­di­tional tune, twirling round and round, faster and faster, un­til they col­lapsed in a sweaty heap. The band struck up and the wed­ding guests be­gin to dance ( once again!). This time I was pre­pared. I grabbed the near­est lady with­out a danc­ing part­ner and pulled her on to the dance floor. We twirled and pa­raded un­til ready to drop. I had two left feet but she didn’t seem to mind.

1.30am: Fourth course

I savoured the smell of the penul­ti­mate dish be­fore it ar­rived, and wished I’d left more room. A large pork cut­let and a chicken fil­let, both sea­soned and grilled to per­fec­tion, lay on my plate next to a tum­bling pile of roast potato pieces sprin­kled with grated cheese, red onion slices and fried ba­con bits.

I had just fin­ished when one of the many wait­ers – who were, nat­u­rally, all dressed in tra­di­tional cos­tume – came bound­ing into the hall danc­ing with a cooked chicken. He held it aloft on a dec­o­rated plat­ter, twist­ing and twirling over to the top ta­ble while we all en­thu­si­as­ti­cally clapped en­cour­age­ment. The chicken had (the­o­ret­i­cally) been cooked and dec­o­rated by the bride’s mother, and it was some­one’s job now to ne­go­ti­ate a price for it on be­half of the groom. Af­ter some hag­gling, the wed­ding god­par­ents – who play an im­por­tant role in the oc­ca­sion and are usu­ally two mar­ried friends able to ad­vise the new­ly­weds – man­aged to se­cure a deal.

The band struck up once more and the wed­ding guests be­gin to dance ( yes, again). Mean­while, a young girl in a pretty peas­ant dress stood in the mid­dle of the hall and sang tra­di­tional folk songs in a clear, beau­ti­ful voice. We all joined hands in a ring around her and danced first in one di­rec­tion and then the next. Round and round we went in a merry whirl, first to the left and then to the right. Faster and faster we went – and even faster still – singing, laugh­ing and bump­ing into each other.

Then, a be­wil­dered best man (our mid­dle child – the best man must be sin­gle and our el­dest had just mar­ried) was pulled into the cen­tre of the hall, where he took part in a tra­di­tion in­volv­ing the chief brides­maid, an ex­change of flow­ers and a lit­tle dance. He had no idea what he was do­ing but he did it en­thu­si­as­ti­cally and the guests loved him.

3.30am: Fifth course

The band struck up – a spe­cial tune – and ev­ery­one cheered as the wed­ding cake was brought into the hall, sprout­ing fire­works and can­dles. The bride and groom cut into it and be­gan serv­ing it to guests in big iced wedges. I love fruit cake, and by now I needed some­thing sweet on my tongue. I stuck my fork into the dark-brown fruity wedge ex­pect­ing re­sis­tance, but there was none. The cake was soft and gooey.

The party con­tin­ued and I some­how man­aged to find room for a sec­ond help­ing.

Oof! That’s me done. I’m stuffed.

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