Mămăligă is a Romanian dish which consists of a sort of porridge which is made of yellow corn. It is better known all over the world under the Italian name of "polenta". There are other names for "mamaliga" depending on the geographical region of Romania. Thus, in Transylvania it is also known as "puliszka", a Hungarian word. Throughout history, mamaliga was a meal cooked mostly by peasants and often as a substitute for bread in the poor villages. Nonetheless, it has gained huge popularity in the recent period, and it is served in the finest restaurants as a high-scale delicacy. Porridge was in fact the oldest form of grains' consumption, and it was discovered long before bread appeared. Before corn was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, mamaliga had been made of millet flour, which was already typical of Romans which called it pulmentum. Apparently the Romans ate so much porridge that the Greeks used to call them pultiphagonides, meaning "porridge eaters."
Corn was initially brought to Spain by Hernán Cortés back in the 16th century and then it was spread all throughout the European continent. Corn requires both heat and humidity, both in good quantities. Because of that, the Danube Valley in Romania was and still is one of the most ideal European regions for growing corn. According to a Hungarian scholar, corn was brought to Romania in Timisoara, in the country of Banat, in 1692. And thus the millet-made mamaliga was gradually replaced by the corn-made mamaliga. After that, corn became a 1st rate food especially during the 17th and 18th centuries' great famine.
The Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga stated that Romanian farmers have been growing corn ever since the 17th century.The Larousse French dictionary attested the existence of corn mamaliga since the year of 1873, by defining mamaliga as a "boiled cornmeal, in the Danube principalities". Mamaliga is traditionally cooked by boiling water with salt and corn flour in a specially made iron pot which is called "ceaun" or "tuci". Peasants used to make it much thicker than the usual mamaliga, so that it could even be sliced like bread. Its consistence makes it even possible to be eaten like bread, or instead of bread. Especially since it is considered to be healthier, richer in vitamins and of course, it contains absolutely no preservatives at all. So it's a less expensive and often more delicious alternative to bread.
Romanians serve mamaliga with sour cream and cheese, or crushed in a bowl of hot milk. Another delicious idea is to replace the milk with cocoa or hot chocolate. According to other traditional recipes, mamaliga slices are fried in a pan with oil or lard. As it has been previously mentioned, mamaliga can and is used as an alternative for bread in many Romanian or Moldavian dishes. These meals are either based on mamaliga, or they include it as basic ingredient or as a side dish. One of the most popular of them is "sarmale", which are some kind of cabbage rolls.
Another method of cooking mamaliga in the Romanian cuisine is by roasting it in the oven with butter and cheese. This one is called "bulz".
A more elaborate mamaliga-based dish is called "balmoş". Whereas in the case of simple, regular one the corn flour is boiled in hot water, in the case of balmoş the corn flour is boiled in sheep milk. The other ingredients are butter, sour cream, "telemea" (which is a kind of homemade feta cheese), caş (is often called "green cheese" in English), urdă (which is a kind of curdled cheese which is prepared by boiling and curdling the whey which has remained from the caş). All these are added to the mixture at certain precise moments during the process of cooking. Unfortunately, there aren't very many people nowadays who know how to make a good old balmoş.
Being a versatile kind of food, dishes based on mamaliga include the use of butter, milk, all kinds of delicious cheese, sausages and eggs, mushrooms, bacon, ham, fish, and many more. Being cholesterol and fat free and also rich in fibers, mamaliga can be an excellent healthy alternative to pasta, hulled rice or white bread.