Thursday, November 29, 2007
Lunch Again at Kadar's
I'm heading back to the Land of the Falling Dollar soon. When you are coming from Europe, the prices in the US seem downright cheap when you translate them into Euros, which is great if you are raking in lots of Euros and ind of terrifying if you are earning money in US dollars, which is what I have been doing recently. The Hungarian forint is artificially overvalued, at present, but notice the rates listed below. The US dollar sits a bit behind the Canadian dollar (the "loonie") for the first time in decades. While Hungary is still a bargain for travellers, it isn't quite cheap anymore if you are coming from the US. Remember: the US dollar was 310 Forints to the dollar just before Bush became Appointed Dictator... and then sat around 220 for a long time... before diving in the last two years. This is the first time I have ever spent a "week vacation" in Budapest, and I really have to wonder how all those tourists do it. I hardly got here and already i know how much I am going to miss the place ... although I'll be back in January. And yeah, I heart New York, and definately prefer Hebrew National Beef Frankfurters to all-pig virsli, but... does NY have strudel stands on the main drags? I think not. Where am I going to get my cherry and cheese strudel fix?Not to mention markets. I usually hit Hunyadi ter, near Oktagon, because it's closest. But unlike an American supermarket, here I actually know my butcher. The guys at the chicken stall are as close as it comes to a stand-up comedy team in Central Europe, the bacon stand owner is an old style noble gentlemen, and everybody knows that the vegetable seller is the middle of the market is an absolute, unbearable dick. Who can say that about the folks who work in your local Whole Foods?When I need stuff for my kitchen, I don't usually head for some yuppified cookwares franchise at the mall. I go to the market, and somebody is always set up at one of the stalls outside to take care of everything you need to make galushka noodles, plum dumplings, or blood sausage. If I am in the 7th district, I would normally stop in at the Klauzal ter market, but more likely, I would have lunch at Kadar's. The Kadar Etkezde is to Budapest what Katz's deli is to New York: anachronistic, comfortably Jewish, and full of oddball quirks such as a payment system every bit as arcance as Katz's. At Kadar's you pay the white jacketed concierge guy when you leave, by telling him what you ate, how many slices of bread, and how many glasses of seltzer you drank.Like a lot of strange Hungarian customs, it comes down to "it may be a strange idea, but it was the first one we came up with, and also the only one." This is the 7th district, the old Jewish ghetto, and Kadar's is the culinary heart and soul of the place with no pretensions. Fridays are the day for solet - the Hungarian version of the Jewish cholent, but at Kadar it is usually served with a bit of smoked pork. Unkosher and yet very Jewish, like most of the 7th district. Kadar's drink options are seltzer, or seltzer with raspberry syrup (malna.) If you are not very careful, or experienced with seltzer bottles (and few modern humans are) you can easily end up spraying half the dining room by trying to squirt a glass for yourself. The secret is to go easy on the lever...Chicken soup as it should be... served with lots of nodles in a big bowl of the type that used to be used at old communist era factory cafeterias that also used aluminium forks and spoons that would bend as you ate. This is what we mean by "comfort food" in Hungary.Stuffed peppers... possibly the world's best stuffed peppers, in a sweet tomato and paprika sauce. At about US $4.00 a serving, this takes the edge of the fact that my pocket is filled with nearly worthless dollars.A "small portion" of beef stew (marha pörkölt) with tarhonya pasta cooked in gravy. This is one of the Best Foods I Have Ever Eaten, and ever since I was a kid on vacation at lake Balaton I have loved tarhonya, which they used to serve from bowls at the beachside snack bars with absolutely no sauce or other accompaniment, and we still loved it. Usually you fry the tarhonya - which are pasta "grains" - in a bit of butter and then add water, or in this case, some beef stew diluted with stock. I'm bringing home a few bags to get me through the winter...
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oh, Budapest... feeling of pang of nostalgia. and I can't believe we've never tried Kadar's even though we lived steps away from there! just one more reason to go back...
see you back in New York!
p.s. strudel fix - Hungarian Pastry Shop is pretty good for cherry strudels, methinks
and what about Zabar's for strudel?
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