Mamaliga is a version of polenta, in that it is cornmeal cooked in a hot liquid until it has thickened up like porridge.
It can also be compared to grits or cornmeal mush.
It uses a more finely ground corn used than is used for polenta, a grind more like what North Americans would called “corn flour” than “corn meal/”
It is made in Romania, Moldova and Georgia, and by Jews in Italy for Shavuot holiday, at which time they use white cornmeal to symbolize the purity of the Torah.
It is bland, but it is meant to be, because it’s often served along with spicy foods, as rice would be.
It can be eaten hot or cold, served as a main dish or as a side-dish. It may be served with sour cream, milk or cheese.
Often more is done to it, such as baking, frying or moulding it. Or, after being cooked, it can be rolled up into balls with cheese in the middle, then steamed to reheat.
Leftovers can be fried or baked. It is very popular baked with cheese on top until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the edges start to brown.
Really, any topping from stewed fruit to pork cracklings is used.
Recipes vary from place to place and from cook to cook.
Sometimes it is made thick enough to cut on a board. It is usually cut with a thread or a special dedicated wood knife. In making a thick one, a good cook is supposed to be able to invert the pot on a board and have it all slide out holding the shape of the pot.
Sometimes, though, it is cooked thin enough to pour.
The Jewish way of preparing it is with milk and butter stirred in while cooking, and then topping it with cottage cheese, yoghurt or sour cream.
Mamaliga became a popular dish in Moldova because when Moldova was ruled by the Turks, because the Turks didn’t tax corn.
The Romanians call the stirring stick a “facalet.”