Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Hungarian Roots Taste Delicious

My parents settled in Stamford, Connecticut in 1957 after escaping from Hungary during the revolution and spending their honeymoon in Austria, crossing the Atlantic for eleven days on a navy ship and finally officially being admitted into the U.S. at New Jersey’s Camp Kilmer. When they arrived my mother could speak English pretty well , as she had studied it in Hungary, but my father could not. He quickly learned by attending English classes and watching TV, especially American Bandstand and the Mickey Mouse Club (he had a crush on Annette) and was able to get a good job as an electrical engineer. During the next six years my brother, sister and I were born.

Although they often spoke Hungarian to each other, particularly when they were talking about any of us kids, my parents didn’t push us to learn the language. I’ve realized that almost all of the words I did pick up over the years have to do with food! Each day my mother, who is an excellent cook, would call my father to dinner saying “Gyuri, vacsora” (“George, dinner”). She would serve us delicious meals consisting of things like lecsó (simmered peppers and tomatoes), paprikás csirke (chicken paprikash), töltött paprika (stuffed peppers), tyukhusleves (chicken soup) and on special occasions, rakott krumpli (a casserole of layered potatoes, eggs, sour cream, and lots of butter) or töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage rolls). Eventually my father took over the making of the körözött (a Hungarian cheese spread that we all love, made with cream cheese, paprika, caraway seeds and other little secrets) and now it’s become one of my sister’s specialities. I’m getting hungry now just thinking about it all.

More than 30 years ago my mother became a vegetarian and ten years later I followed in her footsteps. Lucky for me she’s been able to recreate many of our Hungarian favorites using meat substitutes and they’re equally delicious. Just the other day I asked if she could make me rakott káposzta (a Transylvanian layered sauerkraut dish) and she said she would the next time I come to Connecticut to visit. I can hardly wait!


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