Sunday, June 16, 2024

Waiting for the Kádár Rebirth

Solet: The Jewish bean stew that launched and empire

So the news is that the Kádár Ékezde, the tiny traditional Hungarian lunch place that has been serving honest, real Hungarian food, is set to reopen soon. The buyer is Gerendai Károly, founder of the Sziget Festival, who also runs a string of successful restaurants such as the Michelin starred Costes. But according to press reports, they are going to keep the Kádár's atmosphere and menu much the same. The only difference is that the place will not shut after lunch, and they probably will not replicate the arcane payment ritual of reciting what you ate at the door (slices of bread and self serve glasses of seltzer included) and tipping your waitress personally by slipping money in her apron. 

Raspberry soda and beet salad with horseradish at Kádár 

The Kádár closed in April 2020 at the beginning of the COVID lockdowns. The owners were getting old and and the Kádár was not the kind of place that was going to flourish using Doordash deliveries. Usually this spells the end of small family run lunch spots we know as "étkezde"... although the famed Roma Étkezde in Buda Roma Étkezde in Buda did fly from the ashes after covid, which may have given the new owners the inspiration to revive the Kádár. As a resident of the neighborhood, though, I am only hoping that Kádár will not become yet another victim of the mass tourism that blights the 7th district. Its a tiny space, and it was always a refuge for neighborhood regulars. Keeping it open late might take some of the pressure off, but it will never have the table space for a stag party of a dozen drunk Brits. Hopefully, the new place will not serve beer. Its a sad truth, but it is increasingly hard to find good Hungarian food in Budapest. The traditional dishes - gulyás soup, pork stew with dumplings, stuffed cabbage - have pretty well disappeared in a sea of pizza places, trendy burger joints (serving weird ground meat things that have little relation to anything this Bronx nationalist would call a "burger") A few months ago a friend of mine from Romania called asking if I could suggest something near the Opera House that served simple pork cutlets - schnitzel. It took me an hour to find a local spot. The true horror of eating in Budapest, however, is the satanic abomination known as "Street Food".

Lángos: As God intended, plain with garlic water and salt

"Street Food" is, at best, an Insta Influencer marketing term gleefully and parasitically adopted by locals eager to milk ignorant tourists for everything they can. Let's be frank here: Hungary doesn't have a street food culture. People do not eat on the street, and traditionally food was not sold on the street for this purpose., unless , of course, you wanted to eat a live unplucked goose or chicken while sitting on the kerb. People often eat outside... but sitting down. Some often have a piece of pastry after lunch at a cafe and consider it a meal. Two slices of strudel can sub for lunch. You could walk into almost any butcher shop and eat hot sausages and pork ribs from a hot table near the counter. You could buy a lángos - fried potato dough bread - at a stand at any open market. You could eat an ice cream on the street while walking, but that was about it. 

Garay tér market

But if the herds of mass tourism want street food, then street food they shall have. Walk around the 7th district and half the store fronts shout "Street Food!" at the punters. there are kolbász in a pita bread cone. There are endless interpretations of "burger" for the hungry twentysomethings. And for a taste of hungary... lángos. And burgers! Lángos burgers! A chunk of ground mystery meat sandwiched between two thick, fat, greasy potato pancakes. Hey - your cardiologist has to pay for that Tahitian vacation somehow, right? 

Satan's favorite burger

A normal lángos is a simple piece of fried dough, known to any resident of an American Indian reservation as "frybread." It is usually eaten with a sprinkle of salt, and a good lángos stand has a jar of garlic chopped in water to brush onto the hot dough. Or you could have it slathered in apricot jam, in which case it became a heavenly ideal of a donut. to sum up: Salt. Garlic. Or apricot. Full stop. Anything else is heresy against all that is good and holy!  

Play it safe: make your own!

Since the end of communism, however, lángos started to get creative: sour cream and cheese appeared as toppings, and a jizz of cloyingly sweet Hungarian Globus ketchup turned it into something of a "Hungarian Pizza." Ham and salami started showing up as toppings, and now the poor lángos has become a baroque satire of the simple peasant market snack it once was.
Downtown Budapest: USD $10-17 for a piece of fried dough

While a normal plain lángos at an open market runs about Forint 600 these days (about $1.75) the price goes up exponentially as it comes in proximity to the tourist crowds. Also: Greek salad on a platform of fried dough? Chicken paprikás? Just how many extra clean shirts did you bring? Tofu stew... appears only in the biblical story of Job when the devil tries to tempt sinless vegans. The worst offender is the lángos stand at the Vámház Ter market, which is actually a great market for buying meat but doubles as a tourist trap. The lángos stand on the upper level offers a lángos topped with banana and brown sugar for Ft 4800. That's like buying a twenty dollar Dunkin Donut.

The Petro Butcher Shop- Szell Kalman ter. 

You want a taste of Hungarian street food? You can do what Hungarians do. Either sit down at an étkezde - like the Kádár - and ask the waitress to bring you a plate of classic beef pőrkőlt or strapacska and eat it at your table like a civilized person, or go to a butcher shop and stand up at one of the counters and enjoy a kolbász or a chunk of smoked pork.

Lunch chez Petro

But if you do insist on ordering an overpriced lángos covered in liquid paprika stew, remember to bring an extra clean shirt. You'll thank me.


Anonymous said...

Jo ét, Bobi!

Ghost of Szechenyi said...

Langos perversity. Who knew?

Anonymous said...

You are so hilarious - & on target. Please never ever stop writing blog posts