Friday, January 30, 2009

Chowhounding for Strudel... with the original Chowhound

I had a interesting time running around Budapest recently with the tireless appetite of Jim Leff, the founder of the original Chowhound website and a great influence on a generation of hungry writers who find deliciousness a worthy cause in its own right. The Chowhound philosophy extolled in the original Chowhound site was a breath of fresh air in a world of stodgy chain foods and expensive restaurants. Which is to say, I don't think Jim was too impressed by Budapest, given the preponderence of stodgy franchises and expensive restaurants. He did, however, turn me on to one good thing: The Best Strudel in Budapest.
Jim had picked this tip up from John Farago, a New Yorker and frequent Chowhound forum contributor whom I had known through postings about Hungarian food over the years. John invited me to the dinner party where I met Jim, and had written on his own Budapest website about the discovery of a small hole in the wall strudel bakery way out in Pest near the Kika furniture store on Róbert Károly kőrút. John had commented "It’s a Chaplin-esque production line like the one that makes tiny hamburgers at White Castle in NYC (or perhaps like one from a long-ago I Love Lucy episode, if memory serves), and it’s no less greasy but 100 times more tasty" If you can make any comparison at all to White Castle burgers, I gotta go.
Living up to their reputation, this is what we like when we think retes in Hungarian: Simple, straightforward flaky pastry wrapped around fresh filling, a served hot out of the oven. It's not a fancy dessert - in fact, for most Hungarians it is not a dessert at all but a cheap and filling snack, a meal replacement in a culture that never really developed fast foods. This unimposing and virtually nameless place offers the usual suspects: sweet cheese (turos), poppy seed, apple, plum, apricot, cherry, pineapple (!?) and a more savoury cabbage strudel. Incidentally, Jim doesn't like having his picture taken - when he appears at book signings and for public speaking, he actually wears a hound dog mask. So no, you do not get to see the original Chow Dogg in action. Instead, he has been writing the history of the amazing series of events that led to the sale of Chowhound to Cnet... a lesson to anybody who takes an online passion for writing and ends up with a runaway success that takes over one's life and eventually... does OK. We hope.
This is the strudel to get when you have friends over for dinner and you really want to serve them something in the "Best of Hungary" category without having to take out a bank loan to do it (I'm talking to you, mangalitsa sausage makers!) The fun part is getting out there. The shop itself is on Lehel utca behind the Kika store... it is on the #1 tram line )which runs along Hungária kőrút, or the tram that runs out from Lehel ter towards Angyálfőld. Actually a short bike ride from where we live in Zugló.Been a bit busy with other projects lately and haven't been posting as much as I would like. Besides, it is January in Budapest, and not much is happening, a good time to stay inside and get stuff done... housecleaning is going around all over the world, even as we speak.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It even looks so much better than the yucko retes in Bosnyák téri piac.