Let’s be honest, finding a good souvenir isn’t easy. That is, if you’re looking for more than a fridge magnet, a keychain or a mug. While in Romania, there’s a big chance that half of them will be vampire-themed (thank you, Bram Stoker!), and although we can’t stop you from buying those, here’s our alternative: 10 souvenirs with a local touch—traditional products or items created by Romanian artists and craftsmen.
Rose petal jam or green walnut jam are two very exquisite options, but if you want something even more traditional, you can always opt for magiun de Topoloveni. It’s made from very ripe plum fruit, with 0 added sugar, and it takes about 10 hours to cook on low heat. The end result is a thick, dark-brown, yummy paste. You can find these jams in gourmet shops, different fairs and with some luck, even in supermarkets.
Pottery is an ancient craft and Romanians are real masters when it comes to it. Horezu (Vâlcea county), Corund (Harghita county), and Marginea (Suceava county) are the most esteemed ceramic manufacturers in the country. To produce Marginea ceramics—traditionally black— the craftsmen use a prehistoric technique, which requires the jars to be smouldered for almost 10 hours, in order to turn black. You can buy their products locally or at different fairs around Romania.
Ia, the Romanian traditional blouse, could be a wonderful souvenir, or you can opt for other complementary items, such as a hat, a scarf or a beaded bag. They are usually found in all traditional fairs and specific shops. Even better, perhaps you might want to try this sheepskin vest, which became famous in 2017, when Dior launched an identical model—without crediting the Romanian artisans— and sold it for many thousands of euros. The original vest can be bought from bihorcouture.com or locally, in Bihor county, from the craftsmen themselves.
Ever thought about replacing the prosaic postcard with something more original? Studio Receptor, illustration agency and micro-galery (inside Cărturești & Friends bookstore, at 9 Edgar Quinet Street, Bucharest), curates and sells artworks by Romanian graphic artists and illustrators, in the cosiest and friendliest ambiance you can imagine. (Yes, they do have a couch!)
Chicineta has some of the funniest tableware you’ve probably come across. With funny messages in Romanian, English, and Spanish, or cool designs, the plates are sure to brighten your mornings (or comfort your midnight snack, I’m not here to judge). You can find them in Bucharest, or online.
Țuica is probably the most famous drink in Romania. It is so common and so beloved that there’s hardly any village where people don’t make their own drinks, and each family has a grandpa or an uncle that makes the best țuică in the world. You can usually buy it in villages, country fairs or supermarkets, although rumour has it that the industrially produced one is not as good.
Copper coffee pots
Or other handcrafted goodies from Meșteshukar ButiQ (7, Edgar Quinet Street), a Bucharest-based network of social economy enterprises and craftsmen that promote traditional Roma craftsmanship in collaboration with contemporary designers. Their aim is to change the attitude towards the Roma community and help the families that live in poverty.
Bookmarks and notebooks are perfect souvenirs. They can fit in any bag and they can be pretty original, too. Contemporary artist Saddo created these vibrant and colourful notebook designs called Readers—perfect for your bookish friends— for ROD Cărturești, a project that aims to bring together Romanian contemporary designers and illustrators in order to create unique design objects and stationery. You can find them online or in the Cărturești chain of bookstores all over the country.
Kraftmade is a network of artisans and creative people whose aim is to protect, cultivate, and integrate Romanian heritage crafts in everyday life. Their products are unique pieces or limited series. About these bags, their creator, Marlene Stanciu, says: “People usually want minimalistic objects around them, to reduce the noise in their heads. I want just the opposite. I want my bags to scream. Scream about multiculturalism, about traditions, about heritage skills, about collective choices and consciousness, about memory.” Their products are to be found online or in concept stores.
From handmade beaded chokers made by countrywomen and earrings made by artisan coppersmiths and silversmiths to contemporary designers who use a wide range of unconventional materials, jewels make a perfect souvenir. Carla Szabo, who studied fine arts and started working in advertising and interior design, is already a well-known jeweller, and she loves creating unconventional, conceptual pieces. Find her work in her Bucharest showroom (4, Intrarea Erou Ioan Călin) or concept stores.
Featured image: Răzvan Narcis Ticu / Unsplash