So This is Why They Call it Hungary


Been in Budapest two whole days and starting to adjust to the time difference. We board the riverboat today and spend a week winding our way to Nuremberg, and then to Prague. If it’s anything like the last couple of cruises it will be great. Plus — Christmas markets!! I can’t wait.

So far my view of Budapest looks mostly like outdoor markets and crowded bead shops, with a touch of leftover soviet style architecture. It gets dark around 4 pm and then it smells like grilling meats and mulled wine in cold crisp air. There are worse things, I suppose.

And although we haven’t ventured into the lavish and enticing world of street food yet, there have definitely been some culinary high points. My lunch
Thursday featured lecso, which is billed as a Hungarian ratatouille.


It’s really an injustice to both lecso and ratatouille to call it that. Ratatouille is the concentrated essence of summer. Lecso in November is a very nice pepperonata. Excellent in its way but not so sun-filled.

While I mopped up the buttery, peppery sauce my dining companions were eating barbecued ribs and “traditional” Hungarian fried chicken. And no,
we didn’t detour through. Nashville. It was all great.

Oh, and strudel!


Dinner that night was Italian and the only must-mention was the most fabulous, light, creamy, not-too-sweet “cheesecake” I have ever had. More like a panna cotta with cheese and cream. The waiter said it was unforgettable and he may be right — and I don’t as a rule love cheese cake.


I got something that can loosely be construed as a recipe. Let’s see if Its unforgettable enough that I can remember how to make it when I get home.

The food highlight of the trip so far, for me, anyway, was dinner last night at Aszu. It was just across the park from the Meridien — a quick stroll past the really lovely Ferris wheel. The place was lovely. Soft music from violins and something that looked
like a xylophone on steroids but I am sure was more sophisticated than that. Decorative mirrors (meaning they opened up the room but you didn’t actually have to watch yourself chewing) and gorgeous chandeliers. The smelly cigarette smokers next to us were a small price to pay for a lovely ambiance and at least they had to go outside into the frigid air to indulge.

The first sign of good things to come was the amuse bouche — a concentrated mouthful of caramelized onion that as our friend said, tasted just like onion soup without the soup.


My starter was a brûléed goat cheese with chopped pistachio — savory, sweet, creamy and brittley. Halleluliah!! A winner and a keeper.


Can’t wait to try it with Judy Schaad’s amazing cheese. Jer had a goose liver pate with “red fruits” and wine jelly (and really luscious wine to drink as well, he says.)


For mains I had a sweet and herby gnocchi with grilled veg and basil and lots of arugula in tomato sauce — a great
balance of bitter flavors on a sweet palate.


Jer had braised and caramelized wild boar on a cheesy polenta


and our friend had pork tenderloin with potato croquettes that tasted more like crispy bread stuffing, and some
fabulous and silky kohlrabi purée. A few vinegary tart cherries stopped the whole thing from being too rich.


Nobody but me had dessert (surprise) but I ordered a something-or-other “evolution” that looked like a brandy snifter
of vanilla pudding.


I guess the evolution is that as you dug deeper you hit chocolate, then cookie, then jam as it came into full deliciousness.


Then a brisk and frosty walk back past the Ferris wheel, and a hot bath (in which I fell, briefly, asleep.)


This afternoon, on to the AmaBella!

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