Culinary adventures in Hungary

I’ve discovered my reasons for visiting places are usually motivated by two things – boys and food.

And since I’ve given up on chasing boys around Europe after recent successes, it’s now all about the food.

So on weighing up day trip options from Budapest, I picked Szentendre – not for its cute narrow winding cobblestoned lanes, but for its marzipan museum.

Yes, marzipan museum.

I love marzipan, it’s by far my favourite part of Christmas cake and it’s dairy free – something I’m currently failing miserably at.

I’m not sure if you can really classify it as a museum though, it’s more of a shop which houses the Madame Tussauds’ of marzipan Michael Jackson and Princess Diana upstairs.

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And, just in time for Christmas…

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As for the rest of the town, it was a typically beautiful European day trip village, brimming with souvenirs I don’t have room in my pack to stuff, nor money in my wallet to buy.

And, I’m beginning to think the only real souvenir of my year in Europe will be the lump of lard around my waist from living off things like these.

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Meet Langos – a savoury fried donut type object topped with sour cream, garlic and cheese.

Never since my childhood days of melting plates of grated cheese into lava has cheese given me so much joy.

After that I was satisfied I’d seen Szentendre, so I decided to do a daytrip within my daytrip to Visegrad – a sleepy town which houses ruins of a 13th century citadel high on a hill overlooking the Danube.

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Logistically speaking, Lonely Planet described getting up there as ‘a bit of a climb.’

‘Bit of a climb’ my arse and I was clearly unprepared in my knee length dress and jandals.

Sadly, foggy mist obscured the vista from the top, but it was worth the sweaty clamber to be in the freshest crispest air I’ve tasted since leaving New Zealand.

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Thankfully, getting down was a lot easier, though I did freak out somewhat when I bumped into two locals chaps who looked freakishly like the real-life versions of these 13th century characters inside the castle in Blair Witch-esk forest.

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So when they asked if I was alone I lied and said my imaginery gaggle of friends were straggling just behind me.

By the time I navigated my way back to Budapest it was dark, I was cold to the bone and the numerous stares and whispers I endured on the train about my inappropriate attire culminated with an old man yelling in my face.

I don’t speak Hungarian so I translated it to mean one of two things – he was concerned I might catch a cold or he was calling me a slut.

But it’s amazing what a hot shower and comfort food can do to bring one back to life – meet Kürtőskalács – cylinder shaped sweet bread coated in coconut, hazelnut, cinnamon or vanilla and rotisseried over an open fire.

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And while I’m at it – meet Turo Rudi – chilled orange flavoured cream cheese covered in chocolate.

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As for my final Hungarian sojourn out of Budapest, it was to Eger – pronounced ‘Egg Air’ – which I remembered how to say primarily by thinking it sounds like Rotorua smells.

Eger is Hungarian wine country and given Hungary isn’t known for its wine, it’s dirt cheap, meaning I can actually afford to drink it.

It’s also surprisingly good and clearly the Hungarians think so given they’ve called the valley where all the cellars are:

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Expectation and reality are different things though.

Expectation – swirling wine while sitting near an open fire grazing off a platter of cheese and crackers.

Reality – dining solo at practically the only open restaurant in the company of taxidermied animals.

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That given, I hurriedly downed my goulash and began my meander around the valley, finally plucking up the courage to go inside this cellar, emerging shortly afterwards with a 2 litre vat of the vintner’s medium sweet red.

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I put a bloody big dent in it later that evening too, celebrating the luxury of having my own room, marked by a marathon Skype session home and mini dance party.

Overall I really enjoyed Eger, I just wouldn’t recommend going there by yourself and in late Autumn, much in the same way as I wouldn’t recommend going to Greece in Spring and when their elections are on.

I’ll add my next journey – a night train to Poland – to that list as well.

Firstly, the guard seated me not only in the wrong seat but the carriage destined for Germany when I was going to Poland.

Secondly, he got all yelly, blaming me for his mistake before shooing me in the direction of my actual seat – seven locked carriages away.

Thirdly, opposed to just escorting me there I had to go and find the guard for each carriage to unlock the door to the next one.

And fourthly, by the time I got to the correct couchette the five people I was sharing the battery farm hen compartment with were all in bed with the lights off – at 8.30pm.

But I soon discovered why.

The cabins were so cramped you couldn’t even sit half upright to read or watch something on your laptop and I actually hit the roof every time I went to roll over.

It was also about 40 degrees in the cage but I couldn’t bring myself to drink water, as the morbid fear of falling off the top of the triple bunk bed trying to climb down to go to the WC was worse than the fear of death by dehydration.

Then when I got to Krakow my first impressions told me to get right back on the train and bypass Poland altogether.

It was pissing down, the directions to my hostel mise well have been in Arabic, the 30 people I asked for directions were about as helpful as the lady at the train information counter who told me – ‘I only answer tourist questions about trains’ – and when I pleaded with her that the general tourist information didn’t open until 9am and it was 6.30am she just shooed me off with her hand.

So I sat in the corner of the train station feeling sorry for myself until a homeless man meowing in my face freaked me into action, which consisted of me walking around in the sideways rain until I found the street, leading to the street, leading to the dodgy side street that my hostel was on.

But I’m glad I stuck it out, because over the next week I found Poland to be the home of amazing food, heartbreaking history and a handful of very cool travellers to graft myself to.

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One thought on “Culinary adventures in Hungary

  1. Pingback: My year in review | Today I ate a baguette

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