Tag Archives: Hungary

Hungarian-ish chili for the chilly

20 Nov

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. 

I will post this picture of myself in Budapest, double-jacketed. My friend didn't quite understand the concept of focusing!

I am posting this picture of me in Budapest with bad lighting, though…If you look close, you can see I’m wearing two coats.  Because it was COLD.

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.

Even cold people can be happy.

My friends and I braving the sleety Gellert Hill.

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!

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McLame or McLegit?

13 Nov

Think about your favorite restaurant. Somewhere you go to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or special events – probably expensive, possibly Italian, right?

One day in Budapest my Hungarian friend told me something strange. He said, “If I take a girl out on a date, I take her to McDonalds.”

And he meant it. Because Mickey D’s is legit over there in Europedom – y’all, we’re missing out! We are missing out on gorgeous lattes in real cups made by a barista who has never touched a fry in his life. We are missing out on watching business meetings unfold amidst brightly colored chairs and carefully avoiding the official-looking man guarding the fountain drinks (why must everyone deny me free refills?!).

Not even Starbucks makes it that pretty.

Alas, there is a caveat to all this goodness. As far as I can tell, the U.S. has the only McDonald’s restaurants with dollar menus. When I was in Budapest, a dollar was equal to about 200 Hungarian forint, and the cheapest thing I could find was at least 500 forint.

Plus, you have to pay for the bathroom. Unless you, ahem, happen to find a receipt on a random tray to show to the bathroom attendant. I hear that works.

In my opinion, McDonald’s didn’t deserve the bad rap it got after the whole Super Size Me escapade. Many Americans were terrified to eat there or stuck up their nose at those who did. Did they think it was the healthiest option available?!

But I also don’t think McDonald’s worthy of date night. Even date night in Budapest!

Neither is the pastry shop down the road from McDonald’s. Although the cinnamon bun makes it tempting.

Donuts: an ode and lament

1 Nov

I just want to start out by saying that normally, I eat pretty healthy. Lots of veggies (lima beans are my favorite!) and fruit, yogurt, oatmeal and the like. But I do have a sweet tooth.

Do I ever!

One of the most glorious sweet things in the entire world is the American donut.

OH YUM

My adoration for this kind of donut might be a small factor in why I’m consistently disappointed by “foreign donuts.” I know, that makes me racist or stuck up or whatever, and one of the first things I made myself learn about new food is to never compare. I’ve stuck with this rule for almost everything I’ve eaten overseas. BUT. I simply cannot hear the word donut without picturing and then craving these above delicacies.

I have two donut stories for you. The first takes place in Budapest. It was there a beautiful Polish lady took me out for a donut one day, having heard of my adoration for the sugary rounds of dough. We ventured across the Danube to the Hungarian Market, a huge open-air building bustling with vendors and shoppers.

We came to a pastry stand and asked for a donut in broken Hungarian. The elderly man inside smiled and pointed at a large pastry totally devoid of a hole.

“No,” I whispered to Edyta,”that’s not a donut. Ask him for a donut.” But after a few confused minutes, we were assured that was indeed a Hungarian donut and that I could choose from either chocolate or “yellow” filling. Okay. Chocolate it is.

Who knows what my finger is doing…

It was a very nice pastry. Puffy but substantial, filled with a cross between hot fudge and pudding. But as I ate it, all I saw was the conveyor belt of donuts at Krispy Kreme, freshly baked and shining with glaze.

Strike one.

My second story is far more depressing. It took place last spring in Tokyo. One early morning, my friends and I were crammed into the metro full of commuters on their Nokia phones and Nintendo DS’s. We’d had a late night and missed breakfast that day.

In order to boost moral, someone suggested a trip to Mr. Donut. My tired self perked up immediately. HECK TO THE YES, MR. DONUT.

I don’t have a picture of the donut I bought there, possibly because I was crying too hard to find my camera. But it looked like a donut. No sprinkles, mind you, but icing, yes. Glaze, even. Yet this poor donut had no discernible sugar to my overly saturated taste buds. The icing was even a bitter dark chocolate. I ate it because I was hungry, but it meant nothing to me but energy for walking the streets of downtown Tokyo.

Here’s to you, Japan: I ate some of the best food I’ve ever tasted among your alleyways. Your ramen is to die for. I mean, you’re the birthplace of sushi! But your donuts?

Strike two.

Disclaimer: this post is meant to be humorous. My apologies if you are offended. Go buy yourself a donut.

The gyro debate: what say you?

13 Aug

I have a question for y’all: how do you say the word gyro?

Before I went to Hungary, I wobbled between “jai-row” and “gee-row.” I got nervous about which version to use, so I would pretend to choke a little bit when ordering one. The poor guy behind the counter would ask, confused, “So, one gyro with fries?” at which time I would nod winsomely and graciously overlook his hearing defect. After I went to Hungary and ordered them on the street a million times, I started calling them “gee-roesh” and never stopped. I don’t know why this gives me confidence while ordering now, because I’ve never heard anyone say it this way in the South. Yet, it does.

I’ve asked people who’ve been to or are from Greece, North Africa and the Middle East about gyros. They all say the word differently, each assured that his or her’s pronunciation is the correct version.

So I’m curious if any of you out there eat these mysterious wraps, and how you call them. Especially if you live in Iceland. Surely you guys have some long, awe-inducing way of pronouncing the word. Yes, I’ll take a grjálaðurlenyrð, please. And make it snappy!

Me being happy with my gyro because my friend Marko ordered it FOR me. I know. It’s a problem.