How Far Can a Jar of Zacusca Get You in Romania?

This vegetable spread popular in the Balkan region has become sort of a commodity good in Romania, especially among students. Forget about gold and other precious goods, zacusca is now the most coveted possession.

Zacusca a romanian roasted pepper and eggplant sauce.
Zacusca, a Romanian roasted pepper and eggplant sauce. Photo: Rebeca Sendroiu Gilcescu / Alamy Stock Photo / Be&W

Let us indulge in a creative exercise and assume that you’ve come to Romania and, somehow, the only thing you own is a jar of zacusca. You may be surprised by how many things one can do with it within the barriers of this land. Zacusca is not just a spread; it is the one and only thing that can satisfy those midnight cravings, the one thing that can act as a snack on a full stomach or as a main dish on an empty one, but, most importantly, it can get life-lasting friendships. All with just one jar of this “magic” food. Just how far can it get you in Romania, you may wonder?

Zacusca, the perfect midnight snack companion

Zacusca a romanian roasted pepper and eggplant sauce.
Photo: Rebeca Sendroiu Gilcescu / Alamy Stock Photo / Be&W

Firstly, if you want to make a good deal with your zacusca jar, you must know your audience. Much in the same way that you can’t sell ice to an Eskimo, you won’t be able to get much out of it if you make your deal with a bunică (grandma). You need to look for a category of people more vulnerable or in need, and your perfect audience is students.

Known for their passionate incline towards education, these students have left their homes in order to pursue their academic desires. Out there in the wilderness, they are your best prey – or, pardon me, target. Find yourself a Romanian student and casually bring up the topic of zacusca. You will most certainly be pleased with the outcome.

Between students, the jar can act as a farewell present, as a much-appreciated gift, it can be a reason to get together, and can even substitute for money. When the famous question, ”Did you get your package from home?” is asked, there is no need for further dialogue. Everyone knows zacusca is involved. And everyone loves it.

The Romanian semi-liquid gold

But you must be sleek in your quest. Find out your opponent’s soft spots and weaknesses – does he prefer bean zacusca? Or eggplant? What region is he from, and do they use fish in their recipe? These are the questions you may want to consider in order to reach out to the full benefits of the spread. Your safest bet is to invite more people over for a taste of zacusca, and there you have it, the networking event of the year. Socialites will envy you. But bear in mind, you need quite a big jar of zacusca for that, for there is nothing more depressing than having it run out when you need it the most.

Zacusca is a prized possession. You might want to keep one for the ”dark” days. For example, what if your pipe breaks down and the only person in the dorm who can help is that grumpy neighbor from across the hallway? You are a student; you might not have the money – or time or desire or knowledge – to appeal to an expert. But your grouchy next-door neighbor might help you in exchange for a jar of happiness.

And if you’re wondering what this life-saving spread is made of, or if you were thinking of making for yourself a jar of this liquid gold, you’ll be surprised to find out it is made with what some may consider quite modest ingredients. For the base, all you’ll need is some roasted (preferably on the open fire) eggplants, onions, some peppers – in any form and shape, but roasted as well, and tomato paste. After this, it’s all up to you and your creativity. You can add mushrooms, beans, carrots, celery, or even fish. This combination of simple yet delicious ingredients leads to the creation of the much-loved vegetable spread that has stolen the hearts of Romanians – and not only –everywhere.

Zacusca ingredients:

For the base:

  • Roasted eggplant
  • Red bell peppers
  • Tomato paste
  • Onions

Optionally (but highly recommended):

  • Mushrooms
  • Beans
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Bay leafs

If you would like more protein in your spread, you may also add fish to your recipe.

No two zacuscas are exactly alike. That’s what makes it such a great thing to exchange. Feel free to mix and match ingredients in order to create your perfect zacusca, one that will get you far in life too.

All in all, zacusca is a great little something to have at home or lying around for when you’re low on cash, for when you owe someone a favor, or when you simply want to gather your friends – or maybe make new ones. Try it for yourself and see just how far one jar of zacusca can get you.

Naomi Gherman

Master student in Cultural Diplomacy and International Relations at Babeș-Bolyai University, eager to share more about our world's most fascinating stories and people. Romania-based reader, writer and content creator with a strong interest in journalism, foreign languages and politics.

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