Archive for May, 2012

Two Restaurants

I was going to write about three restaurants, then four, then five…..And then I realized that two would be enough for one post!

I’ll start with a picture of the place Ingmar, Em and I ate that first day when we were touring on a vilamos (streetcar) around the Grand Boulevard. It’s a Turkish Bufé, which perhaps you had figured out from the words. In 2005 Paul and I saw them in the city for the first time and were slightly amused at their popularity given the 150 years that the Turks occupied Hungary. But the food is good……This is just a rather cheap bufé, but with good tasting food and a place to sit under an awning out on the sidewalk and watch the  Budapest world go by.  There were really no foreign restaurants in the 70s or even the early 80s, but by ’92 things had already changed a lot and there were many Asian places to eat and also places to buy food to cook yourself such as tofu and soy sauce. I remember in ’84 that I wanted sometimes to cook Chinese dishes which I enjoyed but only in the last month of our stay did I buy and taste something called “Cuban Flavoring” and realize it was the soy sauce I’d been searching for. Now there are lots of Turkish bufés, Chinese bufés and more upscale East Indian and Chinese restaurants. But most of the time I wanted to sample Hungarian food during this vacation.

A favorite place to eat, one with real Hungarian ambiance and delicious food and a very down to earth hospitable feeling is Nanci Néni’s. It has an enormous garden area wrapping around the building  where you can eat under the spreading chestnut trees, and there is a nice little playground there too, which we sat quite close to. It’s all enclosed by a fence so one doesn’t have to worry too much about the children rushing out. We were joined there by my nephew Miki who had biked over from the American school where he works. Nancsi (pronounced Nun’chi) Néni (prounced Nay’nee) means something like Aunt Nancy.  It’s been a family restaurant for quite a while and is well loved by Hungarians, but it’s a bit far out of the city and perhaps difficult if you don’t know the way.  But a taxi would work.

We all had delicious food, but do you think I can remember what it was? I checked my little diary, but see I didn’t get specific.  I think, now that I’ve looked at their menu online, (which you can do, in sometimes amusing English, here  http://www.diningcity.com/en/budapest/nancsi_neni_restaurant/menu) that I had the veal stew with gnocchi because I wanted to have what I think of as authentic  Hungarian food, and I believe Ingmar had the duck and really liked it.

(Vee, if you are reading this, I have you to thank for letting me know about alt letters so that I could once again get the accents into my writing. Thanks!!!)

I leave you with pictures of Sofia and Clara in the playground, Emily and her Cousin Miki whose wife and two children were visiting in the US  and not back by that day, and Ingmar with Clara.

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I think food in Hungary is the most delicious I’ve had anywhere, though I enjoy many different cuisines. I may be prejudiced here, (;->) but I find it simply wonderful, full of flavor, true comfort food.  There isn’t enough time here to talk about all the different Hungarian dishes I love, but paprikash is a technique that makes everything wonderful!

Most of you are familiar with chicken paprikash, at least by name. In Hungarian it’s Paprikás Csirke.

The evening I arrived Ingmar had made a delicious dish with this method. It had pork, I think, and other ingredients I was a little too tired to recall and was copied from a meal cooked for them by Emily’s ecologist colleague from the city of Pécs. His name is Robi and so they call it “Robikash”.

The basic idea with paprikás is to slowly sauté chopped onions in oil (lard if you are being really traditional, but I don’t know anyone who cooks this way anymore) until they are transparent but not browned. Then one adds a HEAPING tablespoon of sweet Hungarian paprika (it HAS to be Hungarian Édes Nemes with its intense wonderful fragrance)  and an equal amount of salt and stirs it all together……Then stir in the main ingredient, whatever you wish to cook. Two traditional favorites are  cut up chicken or sliced mushrooms. (But potatoes are also traditionally cooked with this method adding water right after the potatoes and only water until they soften.) You may have to watch this quite carefully in the beginning and stir often so it doesn’t burn, but soon they will bring their own juices into play and it won’t be so critical….When they have cooked enough (for chicken about an hour) you mix perhaps two tablespoons of flour and 3/4 of a cup of milk together and add this (strain it through a tea strainer if it seems lumpy) and continue cooking about ten minutes until the sauce is thickened and the flour no longer has that raw taste….Then turn off the heat (or turn it very low) and add some of the sauce into about a half a cup of sour cream and when it’s smooth stir it into the pot. Don’t let this get too hot or the sour cream may separate.

This is a very sketchy recipe, for people who have some sense of cooking already. I was lucky enough to learn it from the mother of one of my future sisters in law the summer before I married. Margit neni was considered the best cook in the family and I found her one of the kindest people ever.  Paprikás Csirke was the mainstay of company dinners for the early years of my married life.

In Hungary and Hungarian homes all over the world, this is usually eaten with a small dumpling called galushka (the real spelling doesn’t have the “h” since “s” is pronounced “sh”, but I’m just trying to get you to hear it properly) or nokedli, another name for the same thing. I think “nokedli” comes from Italian gnocchi. The “li” at the end means they are smaller. (Hungarian cookbooks often mention that their famous King Mátyás married an Italian princess from Naples, Beatrice, who came with her own chefs and ideas about food and greatly influenced Hungarian cuisine.)  I also believe Austrian nockerl is from the same origin. You need a spaetzle maker of some sort to make these unless you want to make many small rolls of very soft dough and cut them off into a pot of boiling water. Some people put the dough into a colander with large holes and move it back and forth with a spatula as it drops into the water and quickly cooks.

Amazon has various types available under “spaetzle maker”.

Galushka is made with flour, eggs and milk, generally. One recipe uses 1 cup of flour, 2 eggs and 1/4 cup of milk. I was taught to add as much milk as I could and still have the dough stick slightly and reluctantly pull away from the sides of the bowl. This makes a very light dumpling. Some people like to have more flour, and some sauté the galushka in butter which can be gilding the lily but is wonderful, too.

This meal is often eaten with a cucumber salad such as our American mothers and grandmothers used to make. Cucumbers are sliced into thin slices and sprinkled liberally with salt and left to stand for an hour or so. Then all the liquid is squeezed out of them and they are put in a bowl with thinly sliced onion and a dressing of water, white vinegar and sugar. I’ve seen people suggest a half a cup of water and 2 table spoons each of vinegar and sugar. I think I use more of all three ingredients, but do it to taste and to please yourselves. And serve it forth!

(Oh, My! The question from Librarian with Secrets made me realize I left a most important ingredient from the cucumber salad  recipe! Not the one she asked about, but DILL! I use a very large amount of chopped dill in this. It’s not at all the same without it.  I don’t use  pepper nor paprika in it, but my American mother did.)

This wasn’t quite what I planned to write about the restaurants I liked best in this trip. That can be another day.

And one piece of non culinary advice for those who might like to visit this city. Apparently in the last few years  there are lots of problems with taxis and Emily’s Fulbright orientation warned them not to get into any taxi they had not called. The one with the phone number that begins 666 is the safest and those numbers are on the taxi.

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I left for Budapest on Wednesday, May 2nd, but it was an overnight flight and by the time I arrived on the 3rd it was dinner time. So my first real day there was a Friday.

I came with a list of all the things I hoped to do. A ridiculous list, quite unrealistic! But I did manage to do some of them, even though I came down with a bad cold for four days in the middle.

Tuesday of the full week there Emily and I visited one of my favorite museums, The Ethnographic Museum, which has a wonderful permanent collection of Hungarian folk life in all the different regions of the country during the last half of the 19th century and early 20th century. They have a lovely collection of folk costumes which were different from village to village, and of the many crafts practiced by the people. For $3.00 extra I was able to buy a ticket which allowed me to photograph anything I wished as long as I didn’t use flash. I didn’t and was happy that the photos seemed to turn out even though the lighting was not very good.

I first saw this museum in ’73 and it has slowly improved. Now I hear that these collections will be moved somewhere else and the building which now houses them returned to the Judiciary for whom it was originally built in the 1870s. Here are some pictures of the beautiful things I saw that day. You can click on them to enlarge the images.

I am going to stop uploading pictures now, though I have lots and lots more! I don’t know if any of my dear readers have as much interest in such things as I do. I was interested before I met my husband, though I’m not Hungarian. I had friends who founded a Hungarian folk dance group and first introduced me to the music and arts of this fascinating country. Wherever it is in the future, if any of you are ever in Budapest this museum is well worth seeing – even in a city with wonderful museums.

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I’ve been back since very late on Wednesday and am just now feeling more normal! I’m not sure it was jet lag, but I certainly was tired.

This morning I worked at the Crown Point Organic Plant Sale during the most perfect weather and surroundings imaginable:  blue skies,  the sweet greens of May on a farm, warm weather and a good breeze. The sale was very successful and continues tomorrow. The company around the information table was wonderful. I was able to catch up with lots of people I haven’t seen since before my surgery in mid-December. I heard that Larry, our bee-keeper has two new swarms to add to the hives he already has, which made it through the winter in good shape. All these local moments contribute to a fine sense of well being.

Perhaps I begin to feel I’m back at home after two magical weeks in Budapest hanging out with Emily, Ingmar, Sofia and Clara. I returned with 435  photos! And a fair amount of the time I didn’t have my camera with me.

The pictures, for the most part, are not of famous tourist views of the city. I still regret that the first day when I was taking a streetcar ride on the Great Boulevard with Em and Ingmar and he suggested getting off at the Margaret Island stop, I declined and said I’d do that another day. What is that wise saying about not being able to bathe in the same stream twice? It is a lovely place to take photos from because you get a view down the Danube of several bridges and the buildings  on both sides of the river. But I didn’t get any of those pictures this time……..

Most of my pictures were granddaughters on playgrounds, at the puppet theater, getting tickets for the Nagy Cirkusz, or eating in charming out of door restaurants under horse chestnut trees, visiting friends and relatives.

The Kolibri Puppet Theater is small and we were very early. Grownups sit on regular theater chairs (regular except that they can fold over to make them higher for children to be tall enough for a good view if they don’t want to sit on the cushions) and children (and parents) can sit on the cushions on the floor and be very close to the action. On the left side, just where the chairs and cushions come together, sat a wonderful musician who had a variety of instruments and sound makers  as well as a sweet smile for all the children.

The first Sunday we took the cog wheel railway up to Swab Hegy (Swabian Hill) and after the kids had played for a good while not at the main crowded playground but at a charming smaller not crowded one, we had lunch at a restaurant specializing in Bajai Fish Soup (Halaszle).  Alas, it only convinced me that Fish Soup will never be my favorite. The flavor is good, but I seem to live in fear of fishbones. Otherwise, everything we ate was delicious and the terrace where we ate was charming. Sofia and Clara were fascinated by a lemon tree at the door which had real lemons growing on it.

I think I will end this post with a picture of my son in law’s appetizer that first Sunday dinner. It was fried goose liver alternating with rows of apple and cherries and more……Hungarian goose liver is famous. They are the largest producer of it in the world and apparently a lot that is sold as French goose liver actually originates in Hungary.

Tomorrow  perhaps I will write more about Hungarian food. Or perhaps about the wonderful Ethnographic Museum I visited on Monday after our fish soup adventures. Two weeks was not at all enough time to do all I wanted to do. I’ve been so spoiled. We usually lived nine months in Budapest, or six. Our last short time there in 2005 was two months. But even though I was not able to do all I wished, I certainly enjoyed every minute of every day there.

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