Yesterday, when I was hurrying to my car after class, a freezing wind whipped my face. It instantly reminded me of wintering in dear old Budapest, which obviously made me think of piping hot, comforting Hungarian chili. I lived with a team of eight in Hungary, and this was one of my favorite dishes to cook for us because it’s pretty easy and consistently yummy. I have fond memories of gathering around the table with people from several nationalities and eating chili with hot paprika and mountains of bread.
Technically, the chili’s not totally Hungarian. I learned to make it from a Polish woman who combined recipes with her Macedonian husband to make a masterpiece influenced by their life in Hungary. However, I made it yesterday and strengthened the authenticity of my meal with stuffed peppers, which are a Hungarian staple. I’m not posting the picture because things like stuffed peppers and red beans look disgusting without the perfect lighting.
Hungary will always be cold to me. My short stint there was from January to March, and my poor Texan friend and I would walk around shivering and wiping away frozen tears. Even though I’ve been back twice in the summer, it’s the bone-chilling winter that sticks in my memory.
Perhaps it’s fitting, because the Hungarian people are sort of wintery, too. When you get to know them, they’re beautiful and witty and mischievous. But at first glance, Hungarians are very different than the natives of my hometown of Nashville. Cashiers avoid eye contact, public transport is hushed and secretive, and pedestrians return smiles with puzzled grimaces.
Budapest is a sprawling city with gorgeously imposing architecture and striking inhabitants. Overall, my experience there was chilly, but there were glowing spots of warmth. The elderly man who laughed at me, scandalized by my atrocious Hungarian. The woman on the bus who insisted on telling me her life’s story in a language I knew 15 words of. The group of boys in my English class who made me paper flowers for Women’s Day.
This chili gives me that warm feeling. When I eat it, I imagine Budapest from far away, a gray-tinted city without much detail. Then I zoom in and begin to see details – a woman waiting for the bus here, a child dipping his finger in the Danube there. I zoom in closer as the colors become more vibrant, and I find a group of people sitting around a table in the outskirts of Buda. It’s cold outside, but they’re laughing and sharing a huge pot of Polish-Macedonian-Hungarian chili. If that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, I don’t know what will!