Day 94: Masa Culture

Day 94 shines some light on a common celebration here in Moldova: the masa. Masa is a Romanian word meaning “meal” and it is one of the first words that PC Volunteers become familiar with during their time here. Moldovans love to celebrate pretty much anything–these celebrations usually last for hours and include family, friends, and neighbors swinging by periodically throughout the day. Masas are often presented on birthdays, holidays, funerals, anniversaries of the death of family members, etc.

The food that can be found at masas depends on the time of year. During the summer and fall, there is a lot of fresh produce (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc.) whereas, in the winter and spring, the vegetables are more root-based and/or pickled (beets, pickles, potatoes, onions, carrots, etc.). Some common Moldovan foods that can be found at these meals includes sarmale (rice-filled cabbage rolls), prepared meat (pork, chicken, duck, rabbit), stuffed peppers, pîrjoale (little meatloaf-like patties), and various mayonnaise based salads. Wine and other homemade spirits are also ever-present at these celebrations as a family’s wine/alcohol is a major point of pride that they are eager to share with others.

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This photo was taken during a barbeque with my pre-service training host family. My favorite thing at this particular masa is the cabbage and pea salad in the white bowl. My host mom cut up a head of cabbage, added a large jar of drained peas, and then seasoned it with salt and tablespoons of vinegar. This is definitely something I am going to attempt to make when I get back to the States.

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This was one of the first masas that I had with my permanent host family in Șoldănești. It was held in the little gazebo in the front of my house with family friends and neighbors and it was dedicated to remembering the death of my host dad’s father who had passed years earlier. As you can see, this meal included rabbit, boiled potatoes and carrots, watermelon, stuffed peppers, grilled peppers, and a never-ending supply of bread.

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The masa above was one created by the cooks at the school where I work. My school hosted a raion-wide teacher’s meeting for technology teachers last year and it is tradition to prepare a masa for the teachers that attend. After they left, we were invited to enjoy the extra food that had been prepared. The neat thing about this meal was that it was hosted during post (lent) so most of the foods on the table are vegetarian since Moldovans try to abstain from eating meat during this time. Masas are also meticulously laid, dividing the food between multiple dishes that can easily be reached from anywhere on the table.

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And, lastly, this is the masa that my host mother prepared for Easter last year. There is a lot of meat prepared and eaten at this particular masa as it is the completion of the Easter season and Moldovans can finally end their post diets. Due to personal tastes, there are often more things I can’t/won’t eat at masas than there is foods that I enjoy so I often end up eating any meat that has been boiled, packaged salami, and fresh vegetables. Raw fish is a staple at my host family’s masas as is racituri, both of which are things that I absolutely cannot stomach…it is always a fun game for my host parents to offer me a variety of foods that they know I don’t like just to watch me laugh and refuse for the 2000th time.

Learning to navigate a masa is something that PC Moldova volunteers learn very early on and is something that they will continue to experience throughout their service. It is an opportunity to spend time with host country nationals from all walks of life as well as an excellent chance to practice our ever-evolving language skills. So many humorous and impactful memories have occurred for me over masas and I will remember them fondly after my time in Moldova comes to an end.

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