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Wishes do come true

Back when I was still wearing a school uniform, I popped into the village butcher’s with my mother. Their conversation bordered on the inane. The pair of them were in raptures over a leg of lamb.  A lump of meat. Talk about gagging on superlatives.

Fast forward about 15 years to the only butcher’s shop in Anchorage, Alaska. I’d spotted it driving by and begged my then boyfriend to stop. I went inside and saw a beautiful leg of lamb. I nearly swooned. Delighted by my reaction, the butcher walked into the cold room and brought out a gorgeous rack.  I heard my mother speaking through me and got the land of my life. Mind you, now that I’m older, and wiser, and have come to appreciate my mother’s eccentricities, I’ve come to realise what a wonderful woman she is,. Turning out like her would be no bad thing at all.

Close to the top of my wish list for nearly five years now  has been ready access to fresh lamb. It’s not asking much, is it? Just three hours away in Vienna, market stalls have some fantastic looking lamb. But here in Budapest, I have to resort to scouring the deepfreezers around Easter and bagging what I can. The other day, on the No. 4 tram between Mester utca and Corvin Negyed, I caught sight of  a shop window emblazoned with the B word. Baranyi. Today I went to investigate.

I was like a kid in a candy store. The poor chap behind the counter didn’t know quite what to make of my orgasmic-like exuberance. And when I asked to take a photo, I know he officially wrote me off as being a couple of cutlets short of a rack. The shop is bright, airy, clean, and fresh. The meat is beaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuutiful. And it’s just around the corner. Ferenc Korut 39.  No prizes for guessing what’s on the menu  this Saturday night.

Why I love living in Budapest No. 7

folk fest 160

Meat is meat is meat. The Hungarian diet is loaded with meat. Not just the Irish ‘meat-and-potatoes’ meat but proper, honest-to-goodness meat. Meat cooked as meat.  Not meat cooked to accompany vegetables, or to provide a vehicle for some fancy sauce. Simply meat. And nothing but meat.  Deep fried, shallowfried, spit-roasted or grilled…meat and its fat are well-respected. And on state holidays, when the folkartists are selling their wares, the meat lads are frying up a storm. You buy it, not by the piece, but by the kilo. I made that mistake once and never again (I really  need to learn this language!)  …even I, with half-a-day’s hunger on me, couldn’t make a dent in the huge piece of beef I’d mistakenly ordered.

And is it good? Good doesn’t even come close. It’s melt-in-your-mouth stuff. Pork is best; that’s the meat that’s been mastered here. Chicken next. Then duck and goose, followed by beef, with lamb limping along behind. ‘Tis hard to get good lamb outside of Ireland or New Zealand. (This morning, a Saturday morning no less, I was up at 7am to chase down a rumour that Lidl was stocking lamb cutlets! Not the Lidl nearest me though.) But sausage is king. Long, thick sausages, swimming in hot oil, register on your olfactory nerves from a 1000 metres! Smoked horse sausage from Eastern Hungary is nearly as good as the moose sausage I enjoyed so much in Alaska.

But best of all is the crackling! Before moving here, I hadn’t had crackling since my days at BoI Coolock. Across the road in the Sheaf o’ Wheat pub, Tony would roast a side of pork on Thursdays. I’d order a plate of crackling with a side of apply sauce. Them were the days! Here in Budapest you can buy crackling by the kilo (it can be pork or goose). I drive my local shopkeeper mad by asking for just három darab (three pieces), apologetically holding up three fingers (not the middle three as in the rest of the world, but the thumb, index, and middle – the Hungarian way). Three pieces? It’s like asking for one square of chocolate. No. It’s like asking for a half a square of chocolate….or a shaving from half a square! Unheard of!  On Monday last, driven to the edge of frustration, having been misplaced in a lower-intermediate Hungarian lanugage class (when I’m clearly just a baby-step removed from being a complete beginnger), I was having a bad day. Frustration is one of those emotions that I don’t do well with. Anger I can handle. Frustration I have yet to master! And, on the Frustration Scale, I was almost at the upper limit; past the chocolate cure; past the G&T cure. I had reached a place I’d not been to before in Budapest so I had no measure of solace. And then it came to me… crackling! Not just három darab but egy kicsit taska (one small bag). And it worked.

Mind you, my gallbladder woke up quicklyand refused to go back to sleep for two days. I could practically hear it putting those gallstones together! I kid you not – I couldn’t sleep on my right side for nearly a week! But at least  nowI know what shape and form the cure for almost maxing out on the Frustration Scale takes!

I have some good friends who happen to also be vegetarian. VS won’t eat anything that has a face. I heard during the week that down the country,  bacon fat is considered a vegetable (as in it’s not meat – there’s no meat on it – it’s simply fat). I’m still laughing at that! I fully respect their choices. And I won’t roast potatoes alongside the leg of lamb if they’re coming to dinner. And if I stay at theirs, I won’t cook meat in their pans; and if I store it in their fridges, it’s triple wrapped! And then there’s my fellow meat-lovers. WZs is blessed with those skinny genes that fat leaves alone! No matter how much she eats, she doesn’t gain a pound. Whereas yours truly is beginning to show the signs. Where’s the justice????