Traditional Foods at IP Romania (6) Student reflection

Four previous blogs reported on the Intensive Program on Traditional Foods in Romania which took place during the first weeks of February. Students who participated reflect on their experiences.

Written by Hylke Sibtsen

While watching the airplanes departing from Schiphol airport take-off from a runway with perfectly white lanes of snow on either side I wondered what the IP in Cluj-Napoca Romania would bring. Besides a little bit of information concerning the topic, “Microbes and traditional foods: competitors or allies?”, and that each participating country would present several traditional products of their country or region, I didn’t know what to expect from the IP.

In the last few days before our group, four students from Wageningen UR, would travel to Cluj we had selected three traditional Dutch food products to present on the first day of the IP. Of course, having to bring the products to Romania meant that we had to account for some factors limiting shelf-life. Our final selection consisted of Leidsche Nagelkaas, Rookworst and a piece of ‘Naegelholt’. The latter, an air dried cut of meat originating from the Eastern parts of the Netherlands, had found a well-protected place in my suitcase, carefully stuffed in between warm clothes and an extra pair of gloves.

Since I’m not a big fan of negative temperatures and Dutch news channels reported very ‘wintery’ conditions in large parts of Eastern Europe and Romania in particular, I hoped the IP would be worth it. In retrospect the weather conditions were not half of what I expected and I can say without doubt that the IP was definitely worth the trip! The two weeks in Cluj passed as if it was a single weekend!

The organizers ‘warned’ us at the beginning of the IP that it would be a lot of hard work and not just fun. Yet, the program started with presentations by the different  groups of students (approximately 40 students in total) from Belgium, Romania, Italy, France, Slovenia, Poland and the Netherlands presented several traditional products from their home country. It was interesting to see the differences and similarities between products from different parts of Europe. I guess that curing, salting, drying and acidifying food products is something we all have in common. What was best about these presentations is that afterwards we got to taste all the products. The table was filled with different products and equally many flavours and aromas, some of which paired nicely with the Slovenian wine and Romanian Pălincă (plum brandy).

The first week consisted of lectures from teachers from the different universities participating in the IP. For instance, Petra Derkzen from Wageningen UR gave a lecture on the sociological perspective of food culture and customs and miss Defrancesco, from the University of Padua (Italy), discussed consumers’ attitudes and willingness to pay price premiums for traditional food products.

Luckily the IP not only consisted of lectures but also included group assignments and field trips. In the first week I was assigned to a multicultural group to work on an report on the subject of sensory analysis and its usefulness in relation to the evaluation of traditional food products. The other groups worked on similar assignments. We also visited a nearby NGO The ratiu center for democracy which might sound a little bit peculiar, as at first glance it may appear this NGO has nothing to do with traditional food products. I would suggest to take a look at their website and their website of Transilvania fest and discover for yourselves why we paid a visit to this centre. All I will give away is that the traditional lunch we had there was very nice! One more remark, try and google the traditional Romanian apple-cake we had there Prajitura con mere rase.

Of course the IP was not only about lectures and group work, but also a way for the participating students to learn from the different cultures participating in the IP. Besides spending time together during breakfast, lunch and dinner there was enough time for let’s describe them as ‘after dinner activities’… I think I can speak for everyone and say we had a lot fun playing games from other countries, learning each other’s language (the French students were exceptionally interested in learning Dutch) and experience the local night life. We also spend some time visiting the city centre and local bars / clubs. Did I mention that almost one hundred thousand students live in Cluj?

The second and final week passed even faster than the first and before we knew it we had to say goodbye to our new friends. I want to use this opportunity to not only thank the Romanian students for all their efforts in ensuring that all of us had the best possible stay in their lovely country. I also want to thank the other students from all the different countries who made the IP what it was: Exciting, Delicious, Educational, Positive, Fun and Heart-warming! Despite the low temperatures I can’t remember feeling cold!