This post is from a colleague of ours Balint who is our technical writer and a great home cook. Balint also helps out by proofreading most of our blog entries (and he will probably proof this intro as well!), he is too nice to use a red marker pen to show where we have erred from the correct usage. Instead he neatly notes the suggested changes in blue so as to be less confrontational and not offend our feelings. We jumped at the chance to let him share some of his more creative writing and beautiful photographs about his recent travels. We have also convinced him to do a follow-up recipe and share more of his native Hungary, so keep an eye out.
New Zealand is a great place to live, but immigrants from the Northern hemisphere like me will always wish it wasn’t at such a prohibitive distance from family, friends, and the memory-triggering sights, smells, sounds and tastes left behind in the homeland. But this year, I was fortunate enough to spend a wonderful month in my native Hungary, travelling around the country with my parents and sister.
I didn’t realise this at the time, but looking back at the hundreds of photos I took during our trip, I can now see that it wasn’t just an excursion taking in the natural and historical sights of the country: it was also a culinary and wine tour through a land whose iconic ‘Hungariana’—with the exception of folk music, embroidery, and Rubik’s cube—are all edible or drinkable, and whose people sing the praises of the sweet wine of Tokaj in their national anthem…
And, as though in honour of said anthem, Tokaj—a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2002—was exactly where our itinerary first took us. Then, following a four-day loop amongst the gentle hills of upper Hungary, we were bound for the flat horizons of the Great Plain and the riverside regions of the mighty Danube and Drava. After about a week, we headed back to the urban jungle and somewhat haughty sophistication of Budapest.
While passing through the ranges of the Mátra on our way towards Tokaj, we went for a three-hour tramp between the two highest-lying villages of the country (only 900 m above sea level, but that’s pretty high for Hungary). After an exhausting up-and-down track, we just had to reward ourselves with some rural fare. As the regional cuisine here is heavily influenced by ethnic Slovaks who populated the area in the 18th century, we decided to sample a classic Slovak dish, juhtúrós sztrapacska (bryndzové halušky in Slovakian): dumplings made from freshly grated potatoes, topped with salty and palate-tingling ewe’s milk cheese, sour cream and a generous sprinkling of crunchy, fried pieces of bacon. This rather calorie-rich affair is not for the faint-hearted, but then those shepherds and glass-blowers of old needed their nutritional value after a hard day in the mountains! As did we…
From this initial encounter with authentic rustic cooking, there was no stopping us. Everywhere we went in the provinces, we aimed to try fresh local food and locally produced wine, giving a wide berth to the menacingly mushrooming Tesco outlets and seeking out farmers’ markets, roadside vendors, village eateries and private wine cellars instead. From the unmatchable plum preserve of Szatmár—made from a small, blue variety of plum so sweet that no sugar needs adding—through the deep red, paprika-rich fish soup of the Danubian town of Solt, to the decadent gâteaux of the 150-year-old Gerbeaud confectionery in Budapest, no local specialty escaped our insatiable appetite for the diverse flavours of home.
Although that appetite showed its adverse effects at the post-trip weigh-in, I’m up for a repeat any day! Only with some fruit-picking, grape-stomping, or other hard physical labour thrown into the mix the next time around…
Don’t forget to check back next month for Balint’s Hungarian christmas recipe!
Balint, this is so beautiful. Your stories and your photos inspire me to visit your country. Hopefully one day I can travel there and see these things :).
After reading this beautiful story of your trip where at some point I was present too, I wish I could have been to all of these places trying all of these dishes on the photos and some more …….. but I hope I can read more of your enthusiastic adventures and about the delicious hungarian cusin 🙂 I`m already very curious of the christmas recipe.
i discovered your blog via the design*sponge. i love the way you present food and speak about food. your recipe on design*sponge is great also.
i’ve been to hungary only once: their cuisine is amazing! i just love it.
thank you for sharing,
GratulÃ¡lok, csodÃ¡latos Ã©s azt hiszem van mÃ©g annyi anyag amibÅ‘l egy ÃºtleÃrÃ¡s is kijÃ¶nne. Ã–rÃ¼lÃ¶k,hogy ezt bÃ¡rki lÃ¡thatja a vilÃ¡gon aki erre az oldalra kattint.Csak Ãgy tovÃ¡bb! MÃ©g legyen tÃ¶bb recept!
What a nice surprise to see a Hungarian post on this amazing site! Can’t wait to see what you pick for Christmas! Bejgli, maybe?
From Szolnok, Hungary
Congratulations, this is wonderful and I think there would even be enough material for a guidebook. I’m really happy that anyone clicking on this website can see this. Keep the recipes coming!
I’m glad you liked the post. We had no idea we had people checking out this blog from Hungary, that’s great! Well, good guess, but it’s not going to be bejgli. However, I can let you know it might feature some poppyseeds!
Best wishes/ minden jot,
Anytime I read a travel piece I am ready to book a ticket. I’m such a sucker for any cultural experience. Sounds amazing! I’ve done Europe, much of Asia, and North Africa. Hands down my favorite trip was a food and wine tour to Tuscany. Really had the time of my life and it’s like every local is there to help you enjoy. Next trip you should check it out.
I’m glad you’ve been inspired to go get a ticket! Tuscany is certainly something I would have on my list. Funnily enough, it’s the regions relatively close to Hungary that I have yet to explore… but at least that gives me a lot of options for travel plans!
Nagyon szépen köszönöm (I think that is correct!) Thank you for your comment 🙂
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