Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kádár Étkezde Redux

I've written about the Kádár Étkezde before, but one can't overstate the obvious: the Kádár is simply one of the best places in Budapest to find honest, home-style Hungarian food at a decent price. While my parents were here we hit the place twice, and there is simply no competition. The last time they visited Budapest, I found myself appalled at the quality and cost of Hungarian style restaurants in the downtown areas. This time, I simply put the 'rents in a cab and hauled them over to the heart of the Jewish Ghetto, Klauzal ter, and sat them down in Kádár. No complaints, no problems, just simple, good Hungarian food.Kádár gets crowded at lunch time, which is the point: it is only open for lunch. The food is fresh - prepared in the morning - shoots out of the kitchen, and then they close at 3 pm. The place is a treasure chest of odd peccadillos, such as the payment system: you finish your meal, and then go to the doorman and recite a litany of what you've eaten, including glasses of seltzer water and slices of bread, pay, and then slip your waitress a nice tip. But in terms of "old-fashioned" it doesn't get better. My Father was in the midst of dental restructuring, and so he was obviously pleased with good old Magyar meat soup, beef boiled to the point of agreeable gummability.They even serve pink tall glasses of malna, the old rasberry syrup and soda soft drink that was the staple soft drink of pre Coca-Cola communist times (before the advent of traubisoda, even!) My Mom found the daily special was tőkfözelék - creamed squash mush with a slice of pork - which (without the pork slice) is what she had been feeding me and my siblings for decades in New York before we ever saw it on a restaurant menu. I used to eat this for breakfast when I was a kid. Mom loved it.I went for the meat: below is the pork ribs and red cabbage lunch. Next to it is a plate of beet salad with fresh horseradish piled on top - strong enough to knock you to the floor and bring floods of tears to your eyes. Khreyn heaven...
A lot of customers come in to the Kádár and only order the filling, cheap soup and a dessert. It's an older way of dealing with lunch - soup and sweets. The desserts are an edible museum of old Magyar home style sweets, from back in the day when the dessert course was just as important as the main course in filling you up with cheap starch. Our choice was fánk, which is, essentially, donuts, except the Hungarian donut is a ball of sweet fried yeast dough dusted in sugar and the jam is spooned over it. Doh!Other Kádár options might include várgabéles, sweet bread cubes swimming in vanilla sauce, or any of a load of grandma era afters like mákos tészta, poppy seed and sugar sprinkled on spaghetti, which is usually eaten as a main course (and was the source of Primo Levi's disdain when, after being released from Auschwitz, the pasta loving Italian Jewish writer was interned for a year in a transit camp with Hungarian Jewish cooks.) Or, you can stroll three blocks away down Dob utca for a visit to Frölich Cukrászda, the last of the old style kosher pastry and coffee shops in the Ghetto.Frölich's is famous for flodni, the ultimate Budapest Jewish pastry: poppy seeds, apple, and nuts sandwiched in a pite pastry sandwich. This is the stuff that was the cause of the famous flodni-gate episode two years ago during which local bloggers mercilessly mocked the officially recognized Jewish community organization by presenting a flodni to Hungarian president Sólyom László .This isn't the Jewish pastry that we know from growing up in Galicianer-influenced New York City, but I'll soon be on the road looking into the origins of some of that. I am heading out to the fabulous Republic of Moldova on friday... palm trees... tropical drinks... sandy beaches... Aloha Moldova! I'll be with a lot of the teaching staff from the Weimar Yiddish Culture weeks with whom I worked in the summer - Alan Bern, Zev Feldman, Kalman Balogh - visiting lautar musicians in Edinets and Chisinau, and basically spending a week in the poorest nation in Europe - the birthplace of my paternal grandparents, and hopefully, get a chance to visit the shtetls where they were born. More soon... gibt mir Bessarabia!


Gadjo Dilo said...

Yes, I'd heard that Moldova had overtaken Albania as Europe's poorest nation. Aloha, indeed! Is there some sort of festival there? I'd try to come to something like that, especially if the likes of Kalman Balogh are playing.

emil lime said...

Bob, very interested to read that you are off to Moldova/Bessarabia.
My family came from Briceni/Brichany, a town in the top lefthand corner, now quite large I think. You mention your intention to visit shtetlch with family connexions and if you do make it to Briceni, do put some info in the blog. Bon Voyage and good wishes!
Philip Windsor