Friday, April 18, 2008


The weather here has turned warm. The last laggardly trees finally have some leaves. And yet the only culinary signs of spring are some pretty heads of lettuce. Instead of strawberries and asparagus, I'll give you a recipe made up entirely of dry things that have been sitting in your pantry for months.

Poor barley! Everybody's pantry contains rice--probably several varieties, even--but nobody's contains barley, except maybe in the form of beer. Plain boiled barley is every bit as good as plain rice. It takes about twenty minutes longer and you should use three times as much water as barley. This recipe is a bit more elaborate, but not very. It takes an hour or so and serves four. And it makes better leftovers than rice.

  • 1 cup barley
  • 2/3 cup dried mushrooms
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 large onion, chopped roughly
  • 1 tsp. plus a bit more salt
  • 1 tbs. duck fat or olive oil

Bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat, and put the mushrooms in it. Let them re-hydrate while you chop the onion. Choose a pot big enough to hold all the ingredients and heat it over medium-low heat. After a minute, add the onions and some salt, and cover the pot. Cook for about ten minutes, stirring every two or three minutes and making sure the onions don't burn. After these ten minutes, add the oil or other fat and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook the onions until they are very brown, stirring nearly constantly to keep them from burning. (I heard that cooking onions initially without fat causes them to carmelize more quickly, but I don't really know if it's true. If you don't believe in this, then just cook with fat from the beginning.) Add the barley and cook for another minute, stirring. Add the mushrooms along with the water to the pot. Add the tsp. of salt. Cover, bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down. Cook until the barley is tender, 30-40 minutes. You may need to add more water.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

  • breakfast: challah
  • lunch: ham & cheese burek; cabbage strudel; squash and poppy seed strudel; layered strudel
  • dinner: fogas (pike-perch) with mushroom sauce

This day's burek, from Rétes Háza, was good but didn't compare to yesterday's. It just didn't taste as fresh. The cabbage strudel tasted like a spring roll. The squash and poppy seed strudel, on the other hand, was a dessert, and a good one. Try some poppy seeds in your pie at Thanksgiving! At the very least you'll get a colorful dessert.

The place next door, Virág Cukrászda, was a highly touted bakery. I tried their layered strudel, which was made of all the greatest hits of Hungarian pastries: sour cherry, poppy seed, and túró. They combined to exactly the sum of their parts, which was enough. The bakery had a sign advertising "cooked ice cream," and we were expecting something like baked Alaska, but it turned out just to mean their ice cream was homemade. Giovanna had some, and it was top-notch.

For dinner we went to the Roosevelt Téri Halászcsárda for some more fish. My fogas--a mild white fish always translated as pike-perch--wasn't very good. I didn't know then that fogas isn't a river fish! Giovanna did better with catfish, which was delicious and must have come from the Tisza, the river that flows through Szeged.

Roosevelt Téri Halászcsárda
Roosevelt tér 14

Rétes Háza
Klauzál tér 2

Virág Cukrászda
Klauzál tér 1

Friday, April 04, 2008

Saturday, March 22, 2008

  • breakfast: túrós burek
  • snack: fruit and poppy seed candy; apple-cinnamon mulled white wine; orange mulled red wine
  • lunch: chicken soup with noodles and carrots (csontleves)
  • dinner: peas and paneer; basmati rice; naan; a mango lassi; tea

As we studied the pastry case at Burek Pékség, a man walked in and ordered what turned out to be a burek. It was made up of layers of dough. In the burek's moist interior they tasted like pasta, but on its outside they were crisp and brown. They came in six flavors: túró (a fresh curd cheese), meat, ham and cheese, cabbage, sour cherry, and apple. We got túró, which unusually was savoury rather than sweet. It was an unusual pastry for Hungary. Not so atypical was the portion size: even though Giovanna and I shared it, it was about twice as much as I wanted.

We guessed that the burek was Serbian since we had never heard of it before and its name doesn't sound Hungarian (it breaks vowel harmony rules, for you linguists out there). Wikipedia informed me that the burek can be found in different forms everywhere that was once part of the Ottoman empire. It was good, rich, but at least for me a bit overwhelming at breakfast. We also bought a loaf of challah for future eating, since it seemed to be a specialty of the place. (Challah is ubiquitous in Hungary, and nobody associates it with Judaism.)

In town we found a spring fair with lots of booths. I made a bee line to the honey stand. The honey there was more expensive than my beloved Gyöngyösi honey, but it came in many intriguing varieties (honey from wild garlic flowers, anyone?). I got a little jar of chestnut honey. It's less sweet than most honey; in fact, you can even taste a bit of sourness in it, and the aftertaste is slightly bitter. At the same booth, I bought a bottle of squash seed oil. It's a traditional Hungarian salad topping that we had only ever had eating lunch with the Kiss family (their name sounds like quiche, not like a smooch). At another booth we got a candy made of fruit condensed till it weighed twice as much as you thought possible and covered with poppy seeds. It had a pleasantly sticky and chewy consistency and tasted really fruity even though I couldn't distinguish any one fruit. It was nice, though probably not worth the shocking 600 forints we paid for it. At the mulled wine booth prices reverted to the Hungarian norm, and 120 forints bought a glass of white wine mulled with apples and cinnamon that was the best mulled wine I've ever had. The mulled red wine was fine but nothing special.

Szeged is famous for its sausage and paprika, which come together at the Pick sausage factory's sausage and paprika museum. We ate lunch at the museum's restaurant. After some soup, which like all Hungarian soup was good, we tried to get a plate of Pick salami with toast. The waiter returned from the kitchen with the news that there was no toast. We reacted to this improbable news by telling him that plain bread would be fine. He looked sheepish and told us that actually they were out of salami. Luckily upon entrance to the museum, we were told that our tickets entitled us to a free plate of winter salami, Pick's most famous. The exhibit was much more informative than factory exhibits usually are. I learned that Márk Pick, the founder, was a Jew; that Hungarian meat consumption has doubled since the fall of Communism; and that winter salami is called that because before refrigeration, it could only be made then.

For dinner we went to a restaurant called Taj Mahal. The Indian food was as typical as the restaurant's name suggests (but still good!), and it was a wonderful break from Hungarian food.

Burek Pékség
Petőfi Sándor sgt. 27

Pick Salami and Szeged Paprika Museum
Felső Tisza-part 10

Taj Mahal
Gutenberg u. 12

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

  • dinner: Szegedi filézett pontyhalászzlé (Szeged sliced carp soup); a palacsinta filled with black currant jam

We departed Gyöngyös in the afternoon with the help of our new friend Tibi, who works in the power plant in Visonta. Fifteen minutes out of Gyöngyös the terrain was flat as a palacsinta. We had made it to the Puszta, the great Hungarian plain. Tibi drove us from Gyöngyös to Kiskunfélegyháza, and after a short train ride we were in Szeged. At our pension, the son of the owner was eager to talk to us in English. He sent us off to dinner with some recommendations. We ate at Matusalem, or possibly at Matuzsalem: they used both spellings in different signs around the restaurant.

Not being very hungry, we just ordered soup. Each serving of soup, however, came in a little pot that held three bowlfuls. My carp soup had big chunks of fish and little shreds too. The broth was stained red with paprika. It was the first time I had carp soup and liked it wholeheartedly. Giovanna had a rich bean soup with ham and sour cream. We ended the meal with a palacsinta filled with black currant jam. It was the typical, delicious Hungarian palacsinta.

Matusalem Étterem
Széchenyi tér 13