Because of the ongoing pandemic, on May Day this year Romanians could not go out for barbecues
Because of the ongoing pandemic, on May Day this year Romanians could not go out for barbecues, as they usually do. The custom relates to one of the most complex holidays in the Romanian folk calendar.
On May Day or Arminden, the tradition was to decorate the gates and windows of village houses with green branches to protect harvests, animals, vineyards and orchards. The holiday was accompanied by an outdoor party where people would eat lamb and fresh cheese and drink wormwood-infused red wine. For this reason, the Arminden Day is also known as Wormwood Day. The wine was believed to make one strong and red-cheeked, which traditionally was a sign of health. But with some men overdoing this part of the custom, the Arminden Day or May Day also came to be called Drunkards’ Day.
In România, wormwood wine has been known for hundreds of years, and it used to be prepared for very practical reasons. As wine barrels were gradually emptied, air would go into the barrel, which affected the quality of the wine as weather would become warmer and warmer. In order to prevent the wine from going sour, people would put a sachet with dried wormwood flowers and crushed wormwood seeds into the barrel.
Another option was maceration. Wormwood plants and seeds, cinnamon, cloves, coriander and quince peel, totalling just a few grams, were soaked in a mixture and wine and alcohol. A week later, the extract was poured into 10 litres of white wine.
In May Day festivals, pork, chicken or skewered meats are grilled. The mixture of meat varieties, onion, mushrooms and bell pepper next to each other on a grill is common in many other countries. But nothing compares to the grilled ground meat rolls known as “mititei” or “mici.” Made from a mixture of pork, beef and lamb with a variety of spices, these are similar to the Turkish kebab, but also with a Serbian dish called “cevapi”, with the addition of pork, which is traditionally forbidden in Muslim countries.
Legend has it, according to the famous 19th Century journalist Constantin Bacalbaşa, that the mititei were invented in a pub in downtown Bucharest, when the cook ran out of casing for sausages and so he put just the sausage filling on a grill. The popularity of this dish has grown ever since, and now it is a May Day staple in Romania.
(translated by: Ana-Maria Popescu)