B.U.É.K.! That Great Hungarian Abbreviation!

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One day my first year in Budapest I was giving my third graders a lesson on abbreviations. Kids like abbreviations. When given a choice, they will always choose to abbreviate a word rather than write it all out. For children, it’s way more fun to write Jan. than January and U.S.A. than the United States of America. After making a list of abbreviations on the white board, I asked my students to tell me their favorites. Kids have favorite foods, sports, and subjects in school. Why not have a favorite abbreviation? Continue reading

Korhelyleves – Hungarian Drunkard’s Soup!

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Happy New Year from Hungary! Last night, Budapestis rang in 2014 all over the city. I went down to the river to watch the fireworks show. It was packed. I should have brought my umbrella with me. So many people were spraying each other with bottles of Törley (Hungarian bubbly) that it seemed like it was raining champagne. Hungarians surely know how to celebrate. And yesterday I was Hungarian. When I finally waddled home I had quite the headache. It’s a good thing that the Magyars have something special for a Hungarian Hangover. It’s called Korhelyleves or Drunkard’s Soup. Nope, it’s not made of strong black coffee. It contains sauerkraut, sausage, and sour cream. Today, I made myself a giant pot. I needed it. I’ve included the recipe in case you need it, too. Happy New Year! Or as they say in Hungary - Boldog Új Évet Kívánok! Continue reading

Pörkölt: Don’t Make When Hungry!

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Today, I decided to write a post about pörkölt - the popular Hungarian favorite in the goulash family. This slow-cooked stew-like dish is perfect fall fare. I chopped up the ingredients, sautéd the onion, added the paprika, and mixed everything in a big pan. When finished, I would take photos for the blog. Well, that was the plan. Continue reading

Freedom: The Flag with the Famous Hole

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October 23 is a national holiday in Hungary. On this day, Hungarians commemorate the 1956 uprising against Soviet domination which was led by students who wanted to change the political system. When the Soviet Union occupied Hungary after WWII and the Soviet-backed Hungarian communists won the election, the Soviet Union placed a new coat of arms with a communist red star and hammer on the Hungarian flag. Continue reading

Töltött Káposzta: The Coat of Arms of Hungary!

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In the 19th century, Róza Széppataki, Hungary’s first opera diva, waxed lyrical about the stuffed cabbage served at a banquet given in her honor. In fact, she was so delighted by the dish that she even published the recipe in her memoirs. Called töltött káposzta over here, stuffed cabbage is hugely popular in Hungary. You’ll find it on most restaurant menus. It’s often served on New Year’s Day and at wedding celebrations, too. The sauerkraut, they say, is good for a hangover. So beloved is this national dish that one old Hungarian saying proclaims meat and cabbage as “the coat of arms of Hungary.” Continue reading

Hungarian Stripes: Who Knew?!@#!

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We’ve all heard of coats of arms and crests to identify one’s family, but years ago in this part of Europe, when setting off to the miller – Hungarians used something I’d never heard of before. Stripes! Yes, in the days when farmers carted sacks of wheat or other grain to the miller’s to grind into flour, the miller needed some way to identify the sacks. So, each family’s sacks had their own, unique set of stripes. The women would weave them right into the home-spun cloth. One family might have wide red stripes, another narrow blue, a third a combination of both, etc. Sometimes, if two families’ stripes were similar, they’d even embroider their initials. I find this utterly charming, and ever since I discovered it have been trying to figure out what stripes I would have chosen. If you were dropping off sacks at the miller, what would your stripes look like?

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A Tribute to Hungarian Strudel!

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Fall’s here, and I miss Nora Ephron. Leukemia took the brilliant writer and humorist over a year ago. I don’t like to think about it. It’s at this time of year that I like to grab a quilt and curl up on the couch with one of her movies: When Harry Met SallySleepless in Seattle, or You’ve Got Mail. Hers are the only films that I rewind just to hear the writing. Always sharp and honest, Ephron lifted me with her wit; she was unmatched in delivering the punchline. One of my favorite Ephron essays is her New York Times piece about Hungarian strudel, called rétes here. After having eaten bakeries full over the years, I appreciate the essay even more now. If you’re not familiar with it, I’ll share it with you here. In fact, I think right after I post this, I’m going to go out and get myself a fresh, double-sized piece of rétes and eat it while I run one of Ephron’s films. Boy, do I miss her. Continue reading

Dobos Torta: The Cake with the Secret Recipe!

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When I was in kindergarten, my teacher put on a pageant for the parents, and I was part of the Angel Band. Nine of us little angels stood in a line with tinsel halos and cardboard wings covered with aluminum foil. Each held an instrument. After the other eight angels played their triangles and shook their rattles, I was to give my drum one giant wallop. Well, boy did I.  When my turn finally came, I banged that drum so hard, one cardboard wing snapped off and my halo went flying. It was one of my proudest moments. Continue reading

Tokaji: The Wine of Kings & King of Wines!

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What do Frederick the Great, Beethoven, and Thomas Jefferson all have in common? They all loved their Tokaji Aszú. This famous, full-bodied, amber-colored dessert wine comes from Hungary’s Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region, a World Heritage Site honored with the oldest classification of vineyards in the world. Tokaji Aszú is made from late-ripened grapes affected by a mold that concentrates sugars into marmalade-like sweetness. Highly esteemed, the region’s vines are even heralded in the Hungarian national anthem. Continue reading

Magyar

photo by Lennart Guillet

Magyar (MAHD-yar): n. Hungarian. The official language of Hungary. Like the Rubik’s cube, has 50 gazillion permutations. Synonym: mind-boggling.

In Hungary when something seems impossible they say it’s “an iron ring made out of wood.” I’m convinced that the Hungarian language is an iron ring made out of a redwood forest. Forget the term “language barrier.” The difference between English and Hungarian is more like the Grand Canyon.  Rosetta Stone doesn’t even offer Hungarian. If they did, they’d have to give their money back. Continue reading