New restaurant Parsnip in Highland Park is one of the few Romanian restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area. So unless you have intimate knowledge of Romanian culture, you may not have tried the food. At the risk of sounding uncultured, Rosalie Atkinson went to eat her first Romanian meal and chat with Chef Anca Caliman about her new spot's inspiration.
What distinguishes Romanian food from other food? Chef Anca says the food pays tribute to the country's working class. She says, "It's a combination of these stews and braises, things that are kind of making the most with what you have. To make stick-to-your-ribs that you have after working all day. But then also a good balance of fresh... fire-roasted vegetable salads."
While she was growing up in Romania, Anca says she learned to cook by watching her parents then embellishing. She says, "I was always the helper in the kitchen. These are [recipes] that I remember very fondly so they all have my own spin on things. There is no written down recipes. So that's what this food is: it's the foundation of the family recipes plus everything I've learned in life."
Most of the options on the menu are Romanian peasant dishes, for a good reason. Anca says:
Even though I grew up in a city in Romania, both of my grandparents on my mother's and father's side are country people. They have animals and land to till. They definitely grow their own vegetables. My fondest food memories- that's where they come from. Hanging out with my grandma, picking tomatoes and making a salad.
After Lemon Poppy Kitchen in Glassell Park, this is Anca's second restaurant. When it came to naming this one, Anca wanted to promote the "unsung hero" root veggie of Romanian cooking. She says, "They tend to be in everything but never in the foreground. I thought they deserved their time in the sun.
When it comes to other Romanian restaurants around LA... it's slim pickings. Anca says, "There's a place in East Hollywood called Sabina's* and there's one in Anaheim called Dunarea." But she says they are far more traditional than Parsnip.
But what is Anca's favorite Romanian dish? She says it is a simple, yet delicious soup. She says, "When I'd go home from college, I'd always want... fasole cu challan. It's a bean soup with ham hocks but again- complex flavors, slow cooked beans, ham... I like to eat it with toast and lots of raw garlic, so I save it for when I don't have to go anywhere and face people."
Parsnip opened in March and is located at 5623 York Blvd. in Highland Park.
*According to Yelp, Sabina's has closed.