Mămăligă (/mə.mə'li.gə/) is a traditional Romanian dish made out of yellow maize. It is commonly referred to by it's Italian name, polenta. Historically a peasant food, it was often used as a substitute for bread or even as a staple food in poor rural areas. However, in the last decades it has emerged as an upscale dish available in the finest restaurants.
Traditionally, mămăligă is cooked by boiling water, salt and cornmeal in a special-shaped cast iron pot called ceaun. In general, mămăligă is prepared to be soft with a consistency similar to that of porridge. However, when used as a bread substitute, mămăligă has a much denser consistency and can be cut in slices, like bread.
Mămăligă is often served with sour cream and cheese on the side (mămăligă cu brânză şi smântână) or crushed in a bowl of hot milk (mămăligă cu lapte). Sometimes slices of mămăligă are pan-fried in oil or in lard, the result being a sort of corn pones.
Since mămăligă is used as an alternate for bread, there are many Romanian dishes that include it in some way. Arguably, the most popular of them is sarmale (a type of cabbage rolls) with mămăligă. Another popular Romanian dish is called bulz, and consists of balls of mămăligă filled with cheese and butter and roasted in the oven.
Mămăligă is a very versatile food: various recipes of mămăligă-based dishes may include milk, butter, various types of cheese, eggs, sausages (usually fried, grilled or oven-roasted), bacon, mushrooms, ham, etc. Mămăliga is a fat-free, cholesterol-free, high-fiber food. It can be used as a healthy alternative to more refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta or hulled rice.