A while back, after returning from a cruise of the Mediterranean, my mom and I decided to extend our tour, and spend a week exploring Eastern Europe.
The first stop was Budapest, Hungary and for a reason. My mother wished to share with me this exquisite city, where I was conceived and born.
Budapest is often named "The Paris of East Europe," and many consider it the most romantic city in the world. When I went back as a grown up, I found it enchantingly lovely. I understood why my parents and grandparents never lost their longing for the beauty, culture and superior gastronomic fare the city had to offer.
Before my parents moved to Israel, to be near my father’s parents, they spent enough of their youth in this city, to carry its influence with them, taking immense pride in their heritage.
My parents grew up in the Jewish section of the city, on Kazinczy and Dob streets, and despite the turmoil of their early lives, have retained a deep love of their roots.
The incredible Moorish and Turkish-Ottoman style architecture, mingled with Art deco and the lavishly ornate Austro-Hungarian Empire influences, are capable of creating a deep infatuation with the city, even if one is just a tourist, with nary a previous tie to the local history and culture. The ancient and mind blowing castles on the hills of Buda looked down glowingly on the more contemporary Pesht across. They were parted by the Blue Danube, the famous river, and had a multitude of exquisitely ornate bridges to connect the two parts of the city. It was indeed a feast to the eyes.
Budapest is unquestionably one of the most beautiful cities anywhere, a city that managed to rise from the ashes and destruction of the Second World War, the atrocities of the Nazis and their Hungarian Arrow collaborators, the multiple invasions by Russian armies and is, like a Phoenix, shiny and glorious.
Benjamin Herzl is only one of the famous Jewish personalities of note the city has produced, and the pride of the Hungarian Jews is lovely to see. Even after the horrific fate of much of the community during World War II, the Jewish population is the largest per capita in the world, numbering around 100,000.
I’ll keep the description of the city for another blog and focus this one on the a tour we took, spending most of the time exploring the famous Jewish section, situated mostly around Dobb utza, (street) and the stunning, newly renovated Great Dohany synagogue, the second largest synagogue in the world.
The streets, cobble stoned as they were before the wars, hold memories of the vast history of Jewish life in this city.
We spent many hours walking, visiting synagogues, Jewish museums and memorials and when we got hungry, we asked some local Jewish residents for recommendations of the best kosher restaurants. Hanna and Carmel Pince were mentioned, as well as the Kadar Etkezdö restaurant and the Salomon Glatt at Klausal Tér Park, once the center of the Jewish ghetto. We decided to try a few for different courses, a soup here, a main entree there and later in the afternoon a coffee and cake at the best kosher bakery in the district.
I must mention that I have a high standard when it comes to Hungarian food, having grown up in a family where impeccable cooking was a great priority. My grandfather owned a gourmet delicatessen and my grandmother, a cook of world class.
They weren’t with us then, but their influence on our taste buds was tangible.
We walked a ways to a restaurant, by the name of Hanna, with a nice dining room. A lady with a head cover was the cook and her bearded husband, greeted and seated us.
We ordered Chicken Paprikás with nockedli, stuffed cabbage leaves with ground meat and rice and schnitzel with roasted potatoes plus cucumber salad.
While the cooks made the main meal, we devoured Eier Mitt Tzibbel, the Hungarian Jewish version of egg salad and shared an order of Chopped liver. Both were perfectly seasoned, not too much onion but enough to give the appetizers the perfect, authentic flavor.
We all found it hard to not stuff ourselves with the bread and these initial offerings, and had to remember to leave space for the first entrée to come out: small and perfect rolls of cabbage leaves, stuffed with ground beef and rice, in a wonderful, tangy sauce – my favorite the Töltöt Káposzta.
They tasted almost as good as my grandmother’s. The Chicken Paprika with the traditional nokedli, and schnitzel were delicious, and filled with Yiddishe Taam. This was accompanied by perfectly oven roasted potato cubes.
The owner of the restaurant called his wife from the kitchen and she came out, her face red with delight at how much we appreciated her cooking.
I believe each of us finished every last bit of the food.
We abandoned the idea of having a course here another there. The food was so Heimish we just devoured it, and couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.
The owner insisted we have their traditional Kosher Para desert- a palacsinta filled with peach jam and ground walnuts. These thin, rolled up crepes tasted so good, I alone ate three of them.
I may be prejudiced, but to me there is no better food than this it reminds me of home and is the ultimate comfort food.
It makes one feel cradled by familiar flavors, no fancy presentation nor elaborations on the original recipes: only the taste of comfort and joy, that remained identical for centuries. There is great joy In that and when I get back to my computer I will send out the recipes.
We ate at Carmel, wonderful food, just have to know what to pick and tried the buffet at Salomon’s Glatt and lunch at Kadar. All were tasty, slightly expensive, but if you eat Kosher food, and want the best, it’s worth it. The Kosher Bakery nearby was full of delights, which we took in a box to the hotel, and had with tea in the evening.
Recipes are on their way. Visit this link to learn more about Kosher dining.