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.