One of the nicest things in life is home-cooking. And of all the home-cooking there is, Sunday lunch is probably the most special. That time when two, three or four generations come to the table and stay a little longer than usual, talking about the week just gone and the one about to unfold. In Ireland, when I’m home, we have roast lamb (my mother spoils me). In Hungary, when I cook Sunday lunch, I, too, have roast lamb (if I’ve been lucky enough to find some). Last Sunday, for the first time, I ate rooster.
The poor thing can rest in peace knowing that his every last morsel was cooked and eaten – from his comb to his feet to his balls – nothing was wasted. Many moons ago, an eco-friendly cook urged me to buy whole poultry and not just legs and breasts and thighs – she pointed out the wanton waste involved in piece-mealing chickens and geese and ducks. And it never really hit home to me until I saw this rooster, in his entirety, sitting atop a bed of boiled carrots, parsnips, celeriac, and swede. He was the basis for the soup, which we put together ourselves by adding some noodles, some veg, some meat, and then covering it all with broth and a tiny piece of hot paprika.
Next up was the pörkölt – with yet some more of our friendly rooster, served with homemade noodles and pickled vegetables, cucumber salads, and beets. Everything from the garden – including the homemade horseradish (the best I’ve ever tasted). I’ve seen the effort that goes into making these noodles and I’ve suffered the resultant pains from trying (once!) to make them myself. Respect Mrs Sz. Respect. I bet if I’d sneaked a look in the kitchen bin last Sunday, there’d have been nothing much to see in the way of packaging. I could literally taste the freshness.
At this stage I was wondering where it would all fit. I toyed with the idea of a quick jog up the street to make room for more, but it was raining. So I suffered blissfully through the rántott hús (breaded meat) flattened to within a centimetre of its life (poor chicken). Served alongside delicious shredded potato cakes and a gorgeous salad with eggs straight from the chickens in the yard – possibly even from the same chicken! Look at how yellow those yolks are. I could have quite contentedly plopped myself on the couch with this bowl on my lap and whiled away the afternoon idly contemplating the meaning of life between scoops. But I’d seen the heaped plates covered in tinfoil that Annus néni had brought with her and I had a sneaking suspicion
that dessert lay just ahead.
And I was right. Coconut squares and apple tart. Coconut is somewhat of a novelty here in the pastry business (as in this is only the second time I’ve come across it: there’s a pastry shop in District VIII that is quite famous for its coconut somethings). But it was the apple pie that made me think I’d died and gone to heaven. For once I was glad that Hungarians add tejföl to everything. Now, my pigeon Hungarian meant that my direct questioning of the cooks was limited to listing out the ingredients I recognised, and then adding a stray és (and) and looking quizzical when I needed some blanks filling in. It worked. I have the recipes. What I don’t have is access to their back yard and garden.
This week, I’m grateful for the fact that even though I’m 1894 kilometres from my mother’s Sunday lunch table, there are those in Hungary willing to open their homes and invite me to pull up a seat to join them at theirs. Ezer köszönöm.
[Note: Post Grateful 52 explains the Grateful concept]