A Taste of Hungary 2017

The day was excessively hot when you consider that it is mid-September and the heat unexpected. My thoughts went completely to an outdoor pool.

That wasn’t happening.

The early afternoon was at a Memorial Service for a neighbor who suddenly, unexpectedly, passed away, leaving behind two children and two twin granddaughters. It was a beautiful moment of memory of her and a gathering of neighbors who have had no cause for meeting for ages. Carpe Diem!

On the docket was the Taste of Hungary in Norridge, Illinois. For a $20 fee, you were entitled to two entrées (albeit small) from the following choices:

Traditional Hungarian dishes:
• The World Renowned Gulyás – Hungarian goulash (rich meat stew)
• Halászlé – Fisherman’s Soup
• Csirkepaprikás – Chicken paprikash
• Töltött káposzta – Stuffed cabage
• Friss sült kolbász – Fried sausage

Vegetarian Dishes:
• Meggyleves – Chilled sour/tart cherry soup
• Lecsó – vegetable stew with paprika and tomato with rice

Also available were:

sweet (and salty) options:
• Kürtőskalács – Chimney Cake
• Lángos – Deep Fried Flat Bread / Elephant Ears
• Palacsinta – Crêpes
• Rétes – Strudel
• Beigli (diós, mákos) – Poppy seed and walnut roll

We went with our son Mikey and his wife Diana. The day was sweltering and given that this event was taking place at a venue we knew, in back of a Hungarian Reformed Church in Norridge, Illinois, and our last event there in the summer was crazy packed with people, we were wondering how it would be. This was a little less packed, although we should have brought our chairs, as there never are enough tables free.

We started out with Lángos, something my family never made, but that Mikey was very interested in, from his chef status, to experience. We were not disappointed as we shared the huge piece of fried bread (it sounds weird, but it is delicious) that had what seemed to be mozzarella cheese and cubes of ham (our choice). That was a great start to the event.

There is always entertainment and there was a musical group with women dressed in beautiful long white dresses with typical Hungarian embroidery. We passed all kinds of food being made in a traditional outdoor way, over a wood fire, sausages being fried, and goulash being made in a huge pot. We had two tickets each and so we decided to do somewhat of a smorgasbord, sharing all the items. We got Kolbasz sausage, Meggyleves (Cold sour cherry soup), Lecsó (Vegetable ragout), Bread to accompany the food items, Gulyás (Goulash), Babgulyás (Bean Goulash), • Csirkepaprikás (Chicken Paprikash), and Töltött káposzta (Stuffed Cabbage).

The Kolbasz was a step back in time for me, my not being able to find it for years. It reminded Mike and me of our favorite French sausage with North African roots, Merguez. The cold cherry soup was amazing, it is something I had always thought of as sounding unappetizing and I could not have been more wrong, it was delicious. The Lecsó was not anyone’s favorite and I couldn’t help thinking, since I had never had it before, if it could have been better made. My family never made Goulash, or at least never called it that, but we made a stew that had less liquid and the same taste. Their Goulash was wonderful, although I really thought it was lacking in sufficient Szeged paprika to give it a better color and flavor. The Bean Goulash was delicious and the Chicken Paprikash was a well, although it was served over elbow macaroni instead of the wonderful Nokedli (Spätzle or dumplings) that I grew up with. Finally, the Stuffed Cabbage was really quite good as well.

For dessert, we had had a taste of the Kürtőskalács (Chimney cake) at the very beginning. We all agreed that this Hungarian dessert (originally from ethnic Hungarians in Romania where my grandfather Koerner (Kornya) was from), baked in spiral over a wood fire, was intriguing but not our favorite. We bought some Diós & Mákos kalács (walnut and poppy seed rolls) for later. It was good, did not seem to be the freshest, but memory-wise it was quite effective. I had always hated poppy seed roll, but in my senior years it tastes wonderful. We warmed it up for breakfast on Sunday.

I wish we had tried the Rétes (strudel), which my grandmother always made, but that is for next time.

I have to make Palacsinta, Hungarian crêpes, as I have never experienced them. MK and Mike decided that they have to get together (with me) to make the nut roll and our cheese variation. Mikey couldn’t help holding down his culinary creativity by thinking of ways of making connections between Korean and Hungarian cuisine and Diana agreed.

It was a great event taking us back in time and also provided me with a lead for learning Hungarian in Palatine. We shall see if that pans out.

About Richard Koerner

Sixty something, father, papi, educator, organizer, Francophile, traveler, amateur photographer, gardener, cyclist, kayaker, calligrapher, cinephile, reader, and overall renaissance type human being.

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