Hungary

Szervusz! Hello from central Europe, where we spent the weekend exploring the culture and cuisine of Hungary. If the name of the country itself is enough to whet your appetite, just wait until you see what we cooked up!

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For breakfast on Saturday morning, Jess prepared a vegetarian version of hideytál, a tradition Hungarian cold plate with hard-cooked eggs, bell peppers, tomato, cucumber, cheeses, and rolls. She also whipped up a paprika cheese spread called körözött. Both recipes were from a book called Cooking the Hungarian Way, by Magdolna Hargittai.

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While I was busy grading some midterm exams for one of my music history courses (and listening to Brahms’ Hungarian Dances on the side) Jess prepared us a tasty lunch of vegetarian paprikash. This dumpling stew is one of Hungary’s most recognizable dishes.

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This wild episode of Geography Now gave us a brief introduction to the country. I didn’t know that Hungarians have more in common—genetically, if not historically—with the peoples of central Asia than they do with their neighbors in central Europe.

For dinner, Jess and I worked together to cook the national dish: goulash. I’m not sure what a true Hungarian would think of the vegan recipe that we followed, but it tasted pretty good to us.

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We also collaborated on the first steps of a Hungarian cookie called a kolach. Jess mixed the dough, while I boiled some dried apricots to make the traditional fruit filling. They are usually baked at Christmas, I learned, but Easter seemed worth some cookies, too…

Europe, What’s Next? is a documentary series that explores how people across the continent have fared as more and more countries join the European Union. In the episode that focuses on Hungary (below) we saw interviews with the same individuals in 1999 and again in 2009. Although people had expected big changes after Hungary joined the E.U. in 2004, the documentary showed that many Hungarians remained financially troubled.

We then watched a second film from a series called Savouring Europe, about some of the traditional culinary practices that are still hanging on, even as Hungary modernizes as part of the European Union.

The next morning, after another Hungarian breakfast of vegetables, cheese, and bread, we took a break from globetrotting to visit the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo’s primary art museum, which was hosting a number of interesting exhibits. I was surprised to realize that paintings by Degas and Van Gogh were hanging only a few blocks from our apartment in Elmwood Village!

It was time to finish making the kolach. After rolling out the dough and filling each little square with a spoonful of apricot filling, the kolach came out of the oven looking irresistible. The smell of the fresh-baked pastries actually reminded me of my grandparents, who are not Hungarian, but who used to have some bakery items waiting for me and my sister when we visited their house as children.

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On Sunday evening, we watched Fateless (2005), our feature film for the weekend. The story shows the events of the Holocaust from the perspective of a young Hungarian boy who is sent to the Nazi concentration camps because of his Jewish faith. Based on a novel by the late Hungarian Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertész, himself a survivor of the Holocaust, the film was brutal yet darkly poetic at the same time.

And what would a globetrot to Europe be without a wholesomely cheerful episode of Rick Steves’ Europe? In this episode from 2004, Rick introduced us to some of the sights and sounds of Budapest, the Hungarian capital:

Budapest certainly looks like a wonderful place to explore, from the glamorous architecture to the bustling produce markets. Jess and I knew that our armchair visit had given us only a glimpse (and a taste) of all that Hungary had to offer, but we still had a great time. Until our next adventure, viszontlátásra!

–Derek

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