Monday, 16 March 2009

From Budapest To Birregurra

Budapest to Birregurra

Each year we do an event for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
This year I have been particularly nostalgic for my Hungarian heritage and decided to present this seldom seen cuisine for our special event. For the first seven years of my life I only ate traditional Hungarian food and I believe it has influenced the way I cook everything. How we cook onions? How we balance sweet with sour? respect for the seasons, a love of offal:
I have proud heritage.
If you go to Hungary, try to get invited to a Hungarian home it is where the real cooking survives.
I can still remember when we first arrived rushing home to my parents in dismay telling them Australians eat Birds’ Eyes and Fishes’ Fingers. But it was OK as it looked just like schnitzel.
Most people when they think of Hungarian food believe that paprika and goulash is all there is, but behind this myth there is a rich culinary tradition with many regional specialities and many historical influences. For the menu over the weekend I tried to incorporate the seminal ingredients that make up the Magyar Konyha.

First the Bread

Light Rye and potato Bread
Hungary is well known for the quality of its wheat. This bread is made with about 15% rye, 15% potato and 70% wheat flour

A wet biga is made from a sourdough starter the night before.
I over-proved it on Saturday but really nailed it on the Sunday.

We Began with
Paprika Cured trout
Sorrel and sour cream and martas [sauce]
Sorrel is an often used and much loved ingredient in the Hungarian kitchen and is growing well in our dry garden. A Magyar would have smoked the trout a lot more. We used smoked paprika for the cure but merely seared the surface.

Next came
Smoked Farmhouse cheese with Cucumber Pickles
For the pickles you need small gherkins which are in season now. They are cut into the core and left in a brine with dill garlic and spices in the sun to naturally ferment for 5 days. A piece of rye bread is placed on top of the open jar to help begin the fermentation. The cucumber pickle water is also often served as a refreshing summer drink mixed with soda water. We did remember to offer it on the Sunday. These pickles are mandatory for a good Hungarian larder.
The Cheese is like a farmhouse stracchino in style and we simply smoked it in the wood oven for a couple of minutes with the door shut. Also in this course was...
Grilled spicy kolbasz [sausage], white pudding, chicken liver pate and air dried ham
Garlic and tomato salad

Smallgoods are a must-have addition to many Hungarian meals and for breakfast today we feasted on the leftovers of the white pudding. This feher hurka as its known is made from white offal and rice it proved to be one of the highlights of the day. The pate comes from the strong Jewish influence in Hungarian food. The tomato and garlic salad both fresh from the garden provided the sweet and acidic relief to the rich meats. I sourced a lot of the meats for this menu from Peter Gruner in Barkly Street St.Kilda. A shop I have been going to for over 5 decades!. Peter's father and my father were mates and sadly Gruner's is the last link to a time when there were at least 8 continental butchers in the Belle as we called it.

We concluded the entrees with
Kohlrabi, leek and parsnip retes [strudel] with letcho
Kohlrabi is my favourite brassica, with leeks and parsnips they make they an extraordinary trilogy for this savoury strudel. Letcho is like a Hungarian ratatouille, a given for any self-respecting Magyar cook.
The big question [ world peace and global warning are mere distractions from real Hungarian issues which all revolve around the kitchen ] was whether to serve it with egg or not. We opted for the egg lightly fried in the fat from the grilled sausage.
At this point most tables went for a stroll to discuss issues like whether their mother would have added the caraway to the bread? or if the trout was really just sashimi?
For the main course
Porkolt of Glenloth Chicken
Cabbage with beetroot with golden raisins
Cucumber and lettuce salad with dill
The Hungarian kitchen has numerous well defined ways of making stews or ragout.

A Porkolt, a Tokany a Gulyas, a Paprikas; it would require a treatise to describe them and then I would get a barrage of contradictory comments from this particular diaspora telling me what’s what.
But basically a Gulyas is a soup cooked in a special kettle, a paprikas has sour cream, a Tokany makes it own juice and a Porkolt is seared and also makes it own gravy. But I am sure you can tell me more.
The nokedli is like spatzle but better and is made with or without eggs depending on the stock market.
The vegetable or fozelek had fresh red and pickled white cabbage with grated beetroot all cooked at the last minute with a horseradish seasoning and golden sultanas.
The cucumber and lettuce salad is about as far from a French salad as you can get.
The dressing of sugar, water, vinegar, dill and garlic is heated and the cucumber and lettuce is placed into the hot dressing and then chilled. Perfect to cut the richness of the porkolt.

The specials were a beef Tokany, an oven roasted pork dish, a cured and smoked turkey dish, stuffed cabbages, hare with wild mushrooms, breaded veal liver and fish with dill and mustard.

With the desserts we had seven chances to show the diversity of this cuisine

Veronica’ s Chocolate Walnut cake with Mocha ice cream
Poopyseed and apple palacinta [pancake] with an apple and lemon sorbet
Rosehippanna cotta” with chestnut and vanilla cream and Ice cream
Morello cherry retes with brandied morelos and a tokai borsodo
Desert noodles with cream cheese and fragrant grapes [variety not known]
Prune gomboc with poached apricots and plums
Black pudding with quince paste
Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2002
Coffee with Hazelnut and Morello Palinka truffles

The cake is my mother’s standard always in the cupboard for visitors and family. The chocolate filling is special as it uses whole eggs,
Pancakes are another must have in a Hungarian cooks repertoire. The poppy seeds must be freshly ground as they go rancid very quickly [Gruners again]
I could not leave out Rosehips or chestnuts and the vanilla ice cream was made with bay leaves that created a bit of a hum amongst the true believers.
Morello cherries again are just a must along with strudel. My mother had a strudel shop [Retesbolt] in the old market in Acland Street in 1957. It was where the supermarket is now, a tiny market with a trading floor and a group of shops around the sides and a gallery with more shops on the first floor. With 2 Early Kooka ovens and a big wooden table she stretched her special dough and filled some with apple, or nuts, or cabbages but the cherry strudel was my favourite. Borsodo is a zabaione? Or sabayon it can be made with sweet or dry wine.
Dessert noodles are a unique feature of Hungarian cooking and I can remember a great article by Sui Ling Hui in the weekend supplements a few years ago. Sui Ling is Malaysian and to her this was as exotic as you could get given her own noodle culture. So we added 2 from this category.
A simple egg noodle with sour cream cottage cheese and fresh grapes and the most popular dessert ordered during the weekend, the Gombc or dumplings.
These are like a sweet gnocchi made with 2/3 potato and 1/3 flour some eggs. They were filled with prunes that themselves were filled with a melon and bitter almond marzipan. Poached and rolled in fried breadcrumbs, hazelnuts and sugar.
And for the true believers a very soft Black Pudding with quince paste
All perfect with the Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos
Some had Megy Palinka with the chocolate truffle and some saw the Unicum in the bar and had a Proustian moment with which to depart..
To top it off it rained
Koszonom sepen
I apologise for omitting all the umlauts and other accents.


steve said...

Wow George, at risk of sounding like a sycophant, you should really write a book & record all of your historical culinary heritage.
I have always questioned why the immense contributions made by so many Middle Europeans in this state especially in its boom years (the 50's & 60's) have had been largely ignored & especially in the area of food? You look at the carved names in the ageing plaques at all of the hydro sites & to a name they are mostly Mitteleuropa.
Their combined influence on our culinary landscape seems curiously & shamefully absent in Australia's retrospective reflection. Why do you think this is the case?

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Hi Steve

I guess the mittel European shtick is, and always was, seen as a bit nerdy? and not quite as cool as the Mediterranean influence in Australia. In Amerika and in particular New Yoik the Magyar food mafia was extremely influential in the development of culinary matters. One of the best books on Hungarian cuisine is by George Lang, its available in a Penguin edition and pretty well covers it. I was lucky enough to meet him in New York in the eighties. He started his brilliant career in my favourite "modern" restaurant the Four Seasons in Mies van der Rhoe's Seagram building. His generosity opened many doors to us including to another made man member of the goulash gang Adam Tihany he of le Cirque etc etc etc etc.....

I lost my mother over the new year and I am not quite ready to write about it yet but am doing so on the back burner.

stickyfingers said...

Oh George, so sorry to hear your sad news. If ever you decide to write a book on Hungarian food I will be first in line to buy it.

I wanted so much to be at Sunnybrae for that day of Magyar treats but had to attend an awful function where really horrid food served. You know where I would have rather been.

Your post filled me with nostalgia, you mentioned so many of my childhood comfort foods. It brought back a memory of my 'Uncle Tomi' tucking into FatanyƩros at The Hungaria Restaurant in the 70s and reminded me where my habit of drinking pickle water came from. Most people think that's mad but I love it.

neil said...

What a lovely meal, even I would have been hard pressed to stick it out to the end though. Peter Gruner is such a lovely warm man, it's been sad to watch the decline of the shops of his generation, even Peter's shop is only half of what it used to be. Ever been out the back? It's a real rabbit warren.

Sorry to hear of your sad news.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Even You?

Thermie said...

Hi George and SB team

Sorry very sorry not to have been able to attend - my father-in-law would have loved it. We had to go to a wedding in the country. Next year hopefully, but there is another wedding on 20/3/2010 - so hope it is not that weekend.

Very sad news about your mother.

Hope to catch up as soon as the world slows to its former pace. Take care. Jeff

Jeremy said...

wow! That, everything looks so delicious!

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...


Guess that was the Birregurra conection...

Jeremy said...

George, I keep coming back for more, a friend of mine made some flodni?(a pastry of dough and various fillings)it reminded me of the dishes of the former Austrian Empire, how some many various cuisines from the corners of the mittel Europe are so closely connected. When I was little before moving to America, we lived in Alsace, another region that straddles borders of other lands and share common food cultures,etc...
Please write a book, as with most places, including NY where I reside have lost or are losing the great food traditions and neighborhoods of the first flood of immigrants from Europe, Italian, Jewish, German,Hungarian, etc..
Most of all I keep coming back and make my mouth water looking at such delicious food!

Thermomixer said...

Congratulations on the AGT "award" - you really are a living "treasure".

Anonymous said...


The dessert dumplings.....oh I wish I had been there. As you know, I have always been fascinated by this particular part of Hungarian cuisine.

You've made me very hungry just looking at all of this.

Siu Ling

Karina said...

Wow, what a feast!
Just reading about it was fabulous, hope to be there for the next occasion.

Anonymous said...

I'm Hungarian, Romanian and Slavonic, and still can't figure out the diff between Tokany, Paprikas, Gulyas, etc... but I think it has to do with how you prepare the meat and what cut of meat you use. For instance, since I can read hungarian, I'm discovering that hungarian recipes tell you to slice the meat into "csikok" or ribbons whenever the title says "tokany." The meat is in large pieces like whole drumsticks etc, whenever the title says "paprikas." I think you're right about searing the meat being the key to "porkolt" because the other day, I saw there was too much liquid on the cubes of pork, and poured it off (adding it back later) so the meat would brown. Somehow I just knew that what I was making was porkolt, even though I was using a memorized recipe that has no actual name. It's just safer to call it "goulash" in English and make it easier on everybody. But it's important not to lose the detail behind that too. Thanks for your blog.