“Mititei” (mici), as a course, are not necessarily Romanian, as they are prepared all around the Balkan Peninsula, and in certain areas around the Mediterranean Sea. However, the mix of mince meat and spices varies from one region to another.
The story of the “mic” started in Bucharest, more than a century ago, when a great chef from the capital, Iordache Ionescu, prepared various meals on the grill for his guests. Ionescu the innkeeper, as he was known among the inn’s clients, had an exceptional sausage recipe, renown across town, that was the base of today’s “mic”, historian Dan Falcan explains. One day, as the innkeeper was making these grilled sausages, he ran out of guts to put the mince meat in. Seeing that the demand was growing, Iordache Ionescu took a piece of the “sausage batter” and grilled it without guts. The first to taste the innkeeper’s invention was impressed by it, and the new product became the start of the inn.
Bit by bit, most of the inns and taverns in Bucharest grilled “mititei”, and people seemed fascinated by the taste of the new product. “Before the Second World War, on nearly every street corner, there was a pub that served mici”, Dan Falcan relates.
There is plenty of mythology about this course that needs to be put aside – many believe the story claiming that a sausage maker in Bucharest had no guts left and threw the mix out the window, thus creating the Romanian “mic” – it is only an urban legend that can work as a marketing trick.
The recipe of the “mici” at “Caru cu Bere” from the beginning of the last century, perhaps one of the first to be written on paper, when compared to the other recipes of mince meat cooked on open fire that are part of the culinary “patrimony” of the peoples that came into contact with Romanians in the history of the past 500 years, it looks like the story is… a lot older and more complex.
The Lebanese have longer “mititei” than the Romanian ones, usually made from beef mixed with mutton. In Turkey, horse meat is often part of the mix and in Azerbaidjan the locals also use goat’s meat. In Romania, the stores generally sell “mititei” made of pork or beef. Even if this course has been known for a long time, the names vary in different regions and times.
The name of “mititei” is connected to the proclamation of independence of Romania. The story began in May 1877, when the Russian troops entered Romania’s territory in order to cast off the Ottoman armies in Bulgaria and to take this country under the tsar’s protectorate. The prince ruler Carol I and the tsar of Russia signed a secret convention that allowed the Russian troops to pass to the Balkan front in exchange for the independence and the guaranteed territorial integrity of Romania. “The Turks found out and, because Romania was officially under the suzerainty of the Porte, they considered Carol I a traitor and began bombarding the Romanian shore of the Danube. The Romanian artillery responded and bombarded Vidin.
Well, the Romanian artillery troops in Calafat had smaller cannons and their cannon shots, which were longer, were called “mititei”, says Calin Felezeu, a historian from Cluj. He claims that he discovered in the times’ documents that the name of the cannon shots was transferred to the “fried dumplings” by deputy Vasile Boerescu, the one who on the 24th of January 1859 proposed Alexandru Ioan Cuza as the ruler of Wallachia. On the 10th of May 1877, “Vasile Boerescu went to the “Capsa” restaurant in Bucharest with some friends to celebrate Romania’s proclamation of independence. To the waiter’s surprise, he asked for “mititei” and a “battery”. Then he explained the bon mot, that the messmates enjoyed very much.
The mundane press of the times took over the story, thus the fried dumplings became “mititei” and the “ensemble” of two bottles of wine and one of siphon became known as a “battery”, says the historian Calin Felezeu.
“Micul” or “mititelul” have a special place in the Romanian culinary encyclopedia. Even thought it is the most popular product among Romanians and it is known as the most “Romanian” course by foreigners, it is not considered a “traditional” product by culinary anthropology specialists.
Signing the “mic” on the list of traditional products would allow using baking soda as part of the “tradition” that must be kept.
Unfortunately, the specialists in culinary “traditions” who must bring the final argument for classifying the “mic” as a “patrimony good” in which “national spirit” manifests are not inclined towards supporting this endeavor.
The following accusations are brought to the “mic” across the academic community specializing in the study of the Romanian culinary culture:
a) it is not a product of traditional cuisine – it is not associated with any religious holidays or popular tradition;
b) it is not a product of rural cuisine – it is not part of the regular menu of any folkloric region.
The “mici” sales in Romania reach 50 million euros every year. Thus, when the three additives used in most recipes by the producers became illegal in the new European law, the subject became a national controversy.
It is said that for “mititiei”, the mix consists of veal sirloin, veal neck and lamb haunch. These were minced, then spices were added – salt, pepper and thyme, plus bones gravy for homogenization, as well as baking soda and siphon.
The mix is stirred and placed in the fridge. Siphon and bones gravy are added for 3-4 days and then the mix is stirred, oil is sprinkled over the “mici” and a foil is used to cover them – while they are in the fridge, and only after the 3-4 days they are grilled.
The way the “mici” are served differs, just like their mix, from one region to another. For example, in Apuseni they are made of goat’s cheese, while the Serbs only eat beef “mici” and add fried diced onion.
The famous “mici” in Dedulesti. This is the place where the biggest mici in Romania are found, and the grills are always sizzling, day and night. Even if they don’t contribute to the recipe of the mititei, the cooks pay great importance to one thing: the grams. For ten years, a mic sold on the Black Hill weights 80-100 grams, double comparing to a regular one. Only 12 mici are made from a kilogram of meat, in Dedulesti.
The giant mici in Cardinal, one of the culinary brands in Sibiu. There is no man from Sibiu who doesn’t know about the legendary mici in Cardinal. Along the unique taste, the mici here are especially known for the fact that they are not exactly small, measuring around 15 centimeters.
The specialists’ research lead to the conclusion that Romania has complex mici recipes that can be considered traditional and which were collected and presented by great Romanian gastronomy specialists, such as Radu Anton Roman, Sanda Marin or Pastorel.