Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fröhlich Cukrászda: Kosher Pastry and Flodni-gate

I may love the Auguszt Cukrászda for their cream cakes, but deep down, when my yiddishe kishkes craves heavier pastry only a flodni will do, so I head for the Fröhlich Cukrászda on Dob utca 22 in the heart of Budapest's Jewish Ghetto in the seveth district. The Fröhlich is the last of a breed: the kosher pastry cafe.There used to be dozens of kosher cafes in Budapest, but today only the tiny Fröhlich Cukrászda, founded in 1953, remains. Unlike most Jewish pastry bakeries, Fröhlich specializes in kosher versions of real humanoid tasty pastries. Mention Jewish and pastry in the same sentence in New York and you will get all kinds of heavy weaponry: rugelach, babkas, hamentashen. If you shop at the glatt kosher bakery in Boro Park owned by Yiddish speaking Puerto Rican brothers who serve mainly Hungarian Satmar and Vizhnitzer hasids, you can try the ever popular "cocosh torte" which is what kakas torta morphed into on its trip to Brooklyn. In short, you get heavy pastries reflecting a predominantly Galicianer culinary tradition. At Fröhlich you get exceptionally good, light Hungarian pastry in a kosher version. No lard in the flour, for one thing, and often prepared without milk or eggs so that the result is pareve and can be eaten with any meal. Behold: plum tart and fresh croissant! And no, you can't get a ham and cheese croissant here.Fröhlich is exceptional because all of its goods are made daily on site, not trucked in from a central confectionary depot (although I am all for anything trucked in from the Perity bakeries, anywhere, any time. The cakes at the Muvesz Coffehouse on Andrassy? All delivered from Perity. And it is pronounced peritch as in yum.) Every now and then the baker, an elderly gent, emerges from the back room, covered head to toe in flour, to kibbitz a bit with the patrons until he is shooed back into the kitchen by his wife. On a good day, nursing a cup of coffee and reading through the stack of Jewish magazines available for browsing, one can meet nearly everybody in the local Jewish scene - rabbis, writers, musicians, artists, tourists, old hasids visiting from Bnei Brak or Williamsburg. Not everybody comes because Fröhlich Cukrászda is kosher. Most come because Fröhlich is the social hub of the neighborhood. And also the home of the world's best flodni.Flodni is considered the emblematic Hungarian Jewish cake: a triple sandwich of nuts, poppy seeds, and apple in a pite dough cover. You don't find flodni outside of Budapest very much, although flodni from Fröhlich's is de rigeur at any Budapest Jewish reception or wedding banquet. Flodni was at the center of last year's contentious argument between the established Hungarian Jewish community office at Sip utca and the upstart independant alternativo young Hebes who congregate at Siraly and other watering holes along Kiraly utca. "Flodni-Gate" as it came to be known, started when the Sip utca Jewish community office disinvited Hungarian President László Sólyom to their chanukah dinner, claiming offense because Sólyom had not publicly denounced the emerging Hungarian Guard (annoyingly fascistoid costumed historical re-creators of the pro-Nazi WWII Hungarian Arrow Cross) - something which Solyom has since done, resoundingly. President Sólyom responded by saying "That's a pity, because I really love the flodni.Stepping up to the challenge, local group blog Judapest offered to send the President a flodni, or at least a virtual flodni as a sign of respect to his office. [Update: They sent him a real flodni and he brought the leftovers home to his wife. Thanks Bruno!] The official monolithic and none-too-reformed-since-Communist-times Jewish Mazsihisz community office at Sip utca saw this as breaking ranks - democratic process is still kind of a distant idea among the Hungarian Jewish administrative bureaucracy, and the president of the Jewish community attacked Judapest.org for being an illegitimate representative of the Hungarian Jewish community. "If they were legitimate, they would be funded by us. And then we could de-fund them!" Um... yes. What was it that a rabbi I know once said? "I love Jews. It's their community organizations that I hate."Now, I'm not the world's biggest fan of kosher food - it isn't that I like eating birds of prey or anything, but most kosherei is handled as fuel, not food. It fills you up so you can wait a few days until you find another kosher food outlet. I travel all around Europe with an orthodox kosher klezmer clarinet player, and the stuff that keeps him going can sometimes give me the willies. Being in a Hungarian klezmer band has some strange benefits: we once packed into a mini bus on tour supplied with one carton of kosher salamis from Budapest's best kosher butcher for Yankl:and one big carboard box of extremely fresh Transylvanian bacon and kolbasz that came from this little feller, hand raised by Toni Árpád, the last of the great Transylvanian cimbalom virtuosos who still plays a repertoire of older Jewish music (he plays with Muzsikás on this CD.)Árpi bacsi never travels anywhere without his own home made bacon, and Yankl never travels anywhere without his kosher goose kolbász. The problem started when Uncle Árpi discovered the box of kosher smoked goose sausage: it was like discovering meat crack. He couldn't help himself. Yankl, on the other hand, would never be able to dig into those delicious Berkshire hog goodies - he's a good frummer yid. I'm sure we are not the first Klezmer band to experience this problem. I'd love to know what these guys ate:Sometimes you just gotta eat what the Angels eat. For my forint... I'd go for flodni.

16 comments:

Bruno said...

Excellent article, kolhakavod!
The flódni we sent was no virtual flódni: it was the real thing. The President liked it, he even took the leftovers home to share at dinner with his wife.

Cheers,
Shadai (Bruno)

Gadjo Dilo said...

I must get that recording by the Transylvanian cimbalom virtuoso you mention - I love the sound. Here in Cluj/Kolozsvár I'd almost resigned myself to the instrument's demise in Transylvania, but then I heard a ţambal playing very nicely in a band a few weeks ago.

Shit, I didn't know that some Hungarians had started a uniformed militia.

dumneazu said...

Gadjo:
The main cimbalom player in Cluj/K-var is Aladar "Ali" Puskas. Arpi bacsi is from Vajdaszentivany, or Voivodeni, west of Tirgu Mures. And tambal mici from the Hora factory are pretty damn cheap if you want to start learning...

Gadjo Dilo said...

Yes?? Do you mean the one hung around the neck? I'd heard that those were confined to Wallachia and nearing extinction even there. Can you tell me where the Hora factory is?

The greatest player I've heard must be Balogh Kalman, with Toni Iordache and Ion Miu the best of the Romanians; but I'm sure you know more about it. I'd love to hear this Ali Puskas play if I can find out where and when. Is this instrument ever used in klezmer?

dumneazu said...

Uncle Arpi knew Iordache, who was amazing but developed some bad drug habits and wound up in jail in the 1980s. Puskas Aladar? Ask around, or ask at the musicians' "bursa" friday afternoons at the Ursus Bar on the sqaure across from the Magyar Church. He plays for the folk orchestra (Urszui Kalman on fiddle) that rehearses at the Conservatory / Philharmonia building.

The hora factory is in Reghin, near tirgu mures. the problem is that they are pretty unplayable as they come out of the factory, in need of radical set up by somebody with know-how for tunings and minor hardware skills. I've written about this in the past on this blog. The music shop in CLuj located on the corner of Str. Iuliu Maniu and Str. Bolyai (behind the Melody Hotel on money changing street) can order them as well.

Small tambal in klezmer? We call it tsimbl in yiddish, go to youtube and search the user name Dumneazu (or the term 'tsimbl') and you can find some klezmer tsimbl clips.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Ach, poor Iordache - I never realised that there were drugs in the "epoca de aur". I was in the museum in Reghin just last month, but I can't remember seeing tambals there; but I will ask at the music shop that you mention - I know it. And I'll look for that bar - I'm assuming you mean it's on Piata Unirii, with the Magyar Catholic church? I really appreciate this info you've given me - I came here to live here a year ago with my Romanian wife, and had hoped to encounter a lot of the music which I love (of various ethnicities) but have found it more elusive than I expected. Nice clip of you and your band - you are on the violin? I must catch up with your old blog entries.

By the way, I came to your blog via Andy Hockley's Csíkszereda Musings :-)

dumneazu said...

Gadjo: There is actually a lot of good music hidden in Cluj/K-var. The Laguna Club (behind the River Cafe on the Somes) used to have live manele and local style, electrified Gypsy fiddle music on Saturday nights in their basements. The Tranzit house hosts a lot of dance houses, and often the guest bands are from villages. Csilla, the director at Tranzit, is an ethnomusicologist. Heck, you want authentic, the younger lead fiddler from Palatka lives next door to the Oblomov bar. Mera has a kicking young band. Bihor is an hour up the road for trumpet fiddlers. There's a mici and beer joint on the highway in Apahida that often has a live folk fiddle trio band playing outside on Saturday afternoons.

If you do get a small tambal... email me. "zaelic AT gmail DOT com. Ali can probably help you set it up - he also has made small cimbaloms and refurbished big ones, but the tambal from Reghin are so cheap... think of it as a "rebuild-it-yourself kit". (Aladar's family are the Puskas musician clan from Bonchida - a mezoseg band that used to have a cimbalom in it.)

The Hora factory shop is smack dab in the center of Reghin. They sell all kinds of instrumnets, all of questionbable quality, and there is no guarantee they will have a tambal for sale if you drop in. Best to call or have the CLuj music store call and inquire first. If you want a quality fiddle (still cheap - it's all they make) go to the Gliga Factory shop just north of Reghin.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Hi, I was hoping to check some of these out before I got back to you - I haven't had time, but I will, and I'll get back to you. In the mean time, thanks a lot for the invaluable info. You can always visit us in Cluj if you ae passing by. Cheers. My email: fchantree AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk

pgifford said...

I had heard the rumors about Iordache's drug smuggling, but those are only rumors. My friend was close to him and went to the trial that put him in prison. Apparently, after the big earthquake in Bucharest (1977?), police found dollars in his damaged building and placed the blame on him. They tried him and he served a prison term.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Ah, that does sound an unfair way to convict a man. But many things were unfair back then. He certainly was a wonderful player.

I got to that shop, Dumneazu, and they actualy had a Hora ţambal in stock. You're right, a good price and it looks fine, though I can see that tuning the close-to-one-hundred strings could be a major headache. I'll have to think about it. It may simply take too much time to learn than I realistically have available.

There's no longer folk music at the Ursus Bar, according to the waitress - but one often needs to ask more than one person ;-) I'll try the other places you mentioned soon.

dumneazu said...

Gadjo: the Ursus bar is the friday afternoon "bursa"... not a performance. the Bursa (i.e. "stock market") is where musicians go on fridays so people organizing weddings on the weekend can find them and hire them for saturday and sunday. About fiftty musicians hang around in front of the Ursus Bar or inside drinking beer waiting for somebody to offer them gigs.

dumneazu said...

Paul: what Arpibacsi told me was that Iordache had been playing for a long stint in China, and had been arrested at Otopeni Airport on his return to Romania. Supposedly he had hollowed out the legs of his cimbalom and filled them with "drugs." Arpi says that Iordache had picked up a heroin habit abroad, but that could just be his opinion. He was sent to jail, but released after about a year when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and died soon afterwards.

I can't be too sure this is accurate. But Arpi knew Iordache well. RIP... a damn fine tambalist.

pgifford said...

I enjoy your blog, Bob. It makes me hungry.

Gus Horvath, a U.S.-born Gypsy cimbalom player in Detroit, told me (?early '80s) a similar story about the hollowed-out leg blocks and importing drugs. He probably heard it from a touring Hungarian musician. When I asked Nicolae Feraru about this, in 1989 or so, who was in a much better position to know, he told me what the story that I related.

Toni had diabetes and died from its causes. He supposedly had a leg or two amputated shortly before his death. I'm guessing that the heroin rumor might have developed because someone probably misinterpreted an insulin shot.

He clearly was in jail for a time, after the earthquake, and I heard that he was sprung from jail in 1979 or so in time to record two LPs in preparation for a tour to France with Zamfir. Incidentally, the Iordache home was a little village near Gaesti. Zamfir was also from nearby, and Vasile Pandelescu lived in Gaesti, and they were all about the same age, so they started playing together when young. Pandelescu died a few years ago, but his widow was running a little bakery in Gaesti a few years ago, in the t,iganie there, if you ever get down that way.

Blue Electirc Monkey said...

Hey, great blog here.
One question...
The "daughter of zion" picture, is not copyrighted by anyone, right ? It's from more than 70 years ago.
Am I correct ?

karib said...

I agree that there should be no organization such as the Hungarian Guard but I find it even more sad that there are circumstances because of which some people found it necessary to start such an organization. I am NOT racist, but it is true that in Hungary presently there are serious problems caused by Gipsies. It is not the solution to start any far-left-wing organization. What the problem is that the police cannot protect the people and also that if one says something about the Gipsies or the growing number of crimes they commit, one is labelled as racist. The government is also at fault here. The majority of the non-Gipsies are NOT racist. But they had enough of living in fear and of being called racist. They are not against any minority groups - they are only against crimes. At this time no one can refute that an enormous number of very violent crimes are committed by Gipsies and the government should do something about it. Once again I emphasize that I am not racist and do not have anything against any minorities (including of course Jewish people - I have even learnt their language and have written a thesis about the Bekennende Kirche and the Barmen Erklärung as part of my aim to remind people of the terrible crimes the Nazis in Germany had committed between the two world wars and onwards).
The answer would be the cooperation of different minorities in the country but the government's policy to instigate one group against the other does not seem to make it possible.
Thank you for the information on Fröhlich Cukrászda.

karib said...

I meant far-right-wing in my previous comment. My apologies.
Karib.