Home From Hungary: Cutting My Umbilical Cord, Kicking and Screaming

10 Aug

 I have just returned to my kingdom from the hero journey that was my trip to Hungary.  With a bag of sajtost in hand and about seven pounds in smuggled culinary goods in my large duffel, I walked into JFK airport a week ago.  It was not a bad plane ride, considering that I had ample time during my Swiss layover to buy chocolate in addition to the fact that I ran into Mario Bitali.  Cool guy.  Nice clogs. 

  Anyway, its been a rough toss-back into the USA.  After being accustomed to so many Hungarian culinary traditions, I am no less than a freak at my family dinner table.  The first morning I woke up, I was craving my Hungarian Anya’s beigli, a rolled up pastry with jam inside.  Luckily, I had no trouble finding a recipe very similar to hers in my new viennese cookbook. 

When the beigli came out of the oven a few hours later, I was right back in my small Magyar village.  One filled with ground walnuts and raisins and the others with jam, the pastries beckoned me to try each of them.  Even though we never made the nut version when I was in Hungary, it was delicious. 

The following day, I woke up at four in the morning, ready for my Hungarian “szandwics,” which is the omnipresent snack and breakfast in my dear Eastern-European land.  However, my unfortunate trip to the bread drawer left me writhing in disgust at the floppy American paradox called “low carb bread,” which would not be worthy of kissing my boots if it had a mouth, let alone the privelage  of making the trip down my digestive track. 

But man invented the internet!  And someone had posted a recipe for Hungarian country white bread.  So I grabbed what yeast was left in my house, yanked a bag of flour from my pantry, and set to work, kneading dough like my life depended on it.  Around eight thirty, my beautiful oval loaf, about a kilogram in weight, emerged from the oven, brown and crisp.  When it was cool, I sliced it into the massive slabs to which I had become so accustomed.  The szandwics was perfect.  But unfortunately, I had no bacon for an afternoon snack. 

“Bacon?” my mother replied in inquiry.  She said that she could find some at the grocery store. 

No.  She could not.  Not my Hungarian bacon.

I called my butcher, who prompted me to visit the owner of a deli about a half hour from my house.  Did he have the smoked pork fat that I knew, loved, and missed terribly?  Even he, a Polish-Hungarian purveyor strange, cured meats, did not.  I have not found my so-called bacon yet.  I don’t know what I will do to find it, short of hiring a professional team, but sometimes life calls for these drastic measures. 

As for my pariah status earned by exhibiting strange diet habits, I have not redeemed myself yet.  Upon entering my friend’s recent party, I emptied the contents of my bag, in which I had brought some snacks.  Okay, they were typical of Hungary, but that is what I was used to.  The strange stares I received when I pulled out a half loaf of my bread, tomatoes, peppers, fatty bacon, and sausage were both foreign and priceless. 

In America, they point the finger at the food one eats to explain the person’s size.  Not the amount.  Therefore, if a rotund teenager eats a foot long Subway sandwich instead of a small piece of bread with butter, fat, tomatoes, and peppers, he or she made the right choice!  Even if it is twice as many calories…

I know that my friends wanted to sink their teeth into that glorious looking sandwich.  The American culture said no.  Fortunately for me, I had no problem consuming the delicious, openfaced palate of small-scale sin.  But hey, why not?

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