Sunday, November 12, 2006

Where Food Comes From.

Our little bit of heaven is the fourteenth district, known as Zugló, which begins just outside the city park in the east of Pest. The end station (Mexikói ut) of the little yellow metro - the oldest Metro line in Europe - is just around the corner, meaning downtown is only seven minutes away, but the urban difference is huge. Zugló has trees, open spaces, single family houses. There are wild birds, ferrets, and hedghogs running around on my street. Until a few years ago there was still a guy with a donkey cart who delievered wood to homes that still used wood stoves. And Zugló has the huge Bosznák tér Market, where we usually go on Saturdays to do the week's shopping. On Saturday farmers come come to Bosznák tér to sell produce. The farm bred chickens are incredible - no comparison to the tasteless, watery birds available at supermarkets. And the slab bacon and sausages that are on sale here are homemade, ugly, and absolutely delicious. Screw supermarkets, this is where food comes from, unwrapped, unadulterated, and sometimes with the head and feet still attached. The Bosznák Market used to be the central magnet Market for all of Budapest before the Nagybáni Wholesale Market was opened around 1993. Although the name means "Bosnian Market" a large portion of the vendors here speak Slovak or Bulgarian. For the Slovaks, who live in the villages just east of Pest, it is the closest city market. The Bulgarians came to Hungary in the 1870s, and brought their own style of irrigated, raised-bed gardening with them, introducing previously unknown vegtables such as the eggplant and yellow pepper. Once, when Fumie and I were buying cabbage at the market one of these guys asked Fumie where she was from. "Japan? Really? Well, I'm Bulgarian!" He nearly shat himself when Fumie said "Da? Govorim, mnogo dobro..." and simply continued shopping for her vegetables in Bulgarian. The pickle man in the area behind the main market. We have pickled beets, cucmbers, peppers, watermelon, and squash, sourkraut, and whole pickled heads of cabbage are pickled for use in stuffed cabbage. I don't remember the last time I ate pickles that came out of a jar. It's become rather cold and stormy in Budapest, and after a summer of great fresh Turkish food I am back to eating nice hot Hungarian winter stodge. We were downtown earlier this week, and wound up at the old Bohémtanya for lunch, after running all around the seventh district trying to find a place that still serves plain old Hungarian food for less than the price of the down payment on a car. It is getting hard to find a decent bowl of gulyás in downtown pest. The Bohémtanya used to be one of the best chow houses in Pest back in the late 1980s - you knew it had to be good because all the police ate there - but then closed for a couple of years. Since reopeneing, nobody seems to pay it any mind. Portions are rather generous, and Ft 1000 (about US $ 5) gets an acre or so of veal paprikás (mislabled on the menu as veal pörkölt. Pörkölt would not have a cream sauce...) and galuska dumplings. Bean soup - bableves - for Ft 750 (about US $3.50) This baby has smoked pork knuckle, sausage, beans, carrots, and onion. Never has flatulence had a better excuse. I spent the rest of the afternoon imitating the sound of a a Serbian Gypsy brass band using only my tuches. And now the Big News: thanks to my brother Ron, I am headed back to New York in a few days for a month and a half. Ron hasn't been east in years and so both of us are going to chow down on the traditional New York foods of our mispent youths. Pastrami sandwiches, real pizza, chow foon noodles! Katz's Deli here I come! I've promised to take Ron to Louie and Ernie's Pizza in the east Bronx where we grew up - he was too young to remember the pizzas and needs a refresher course. White Castle hamburgers, not to mention the White Manna in Hackensack - which once owned by a clan chief of the Oklahoma Cherokee married to a Hungarian woman... Rugelach from the Puerto Rican bakers who speak Yiddish at the Hungarian Kosher pastry shop in Boro Park. Christmas eve at a Chinese restaurant! (actually... that's what I do here in Budapest every year anyway...) On the other hand, nobody in the US has actually seen a live, human butcher in years, the supermarkets are filled with fake, mass produced crap "gourmet" food, and you need a bank loan to buy a tomato that tastes like a tomato. But with the Republican Cylons on the run, my country needs me. There is much to do. And I must heed the call...

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