2013 Grateful 30

Back in 2002, I was in Carlow in the Dinn Rí nightclub. This fellah with a very fla’ (read: flat!) midlands accent asked me out to dance. When the song was over, he turned to me and said in his fla’est of tones: ‘I can see by ya, dah ya like a bi’ a chocola’. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he then added: ‘jus’ like me mammy’.

Yes, I like my food and there are few things I enjoy more than a good meal in good company. Strangely though, I can get enough of eating out and prefer, more often than not, to cook for people who bring an appetite and some good conversation to the table. Last week, driving around the Balaton, I had no kitchen and had to (sigh!) resign myself to eating public fare.

Friday night, I dined with the inimitable BA at the Kővirág Panzió és Étterem in Köveskál. I was a little worried when my fish arrived that I wouldn’t have enough to eat but fortified by the ragout soup I’d had to start, there was plenty and it was all good. On Saturday, I had some more of the ragout soup, but this time at the Szent György Panzió és Étterem in Tapolca. This quaint spot next door to the Lake Cave is a warren of reasonable-sized dining rooms, one of which we had to ourselves. IMG_4406 (800x600)It wasn’t all that difficult to imagine the hands of the clock spinning in reverse,  transporting us back 20 or 30 years when the place surely had its heyday. The wine was good, the food was grand, and the service was prompt and friendly. Add to that the luxury of having a whole dining room to yourself and you start to think you’ve died and gone to restaurant heaven. Or better still, have actually gone back 20 years and are part of the upper echelons of society!

IMG_4542 (800x400)I was on a ragout frenzy at this stage and in Héviz on Sunday couldn’t pass up the boar ragout at Liget Étterem és Pizzéria as a frontrunner to the grilled trout.  Perched on a height overlooking the town, we ate to the orchestral strains of some classic music that wafted our way. It was a tad surreal trying to IMG_4539 (800x583)speak Hungarian with a mouthful of pisztráng while listening to the theme song to the Pink Panther!

I border on the obsessive when it comes to eating, particularly when I’m away. No sooner does one meal end that I mentally envision the next. It doesn’t need to be haute cuisine. It doesn’t need to be silver service and linen napkins. All I ask of food is that it delivers on its promise and fulfills whatever deep and irrational expectation I have of it.

Some people eat for the sake of eating. Other eat at every opportunity because at some stage in their lives they had nothing at all to eat and something inside them switched to permanent survival mode. I know of an holocaust survivor who is first to the table every time, regardless of what’s on offer.

On those occasions when I eat just to eat, I don’t feel satisfied. I fixate on food: if I have Thai in my head then the most luscious leg of lamb just won’t cut it. I think of only once in my life (in Rome, craving some Chinese noodles!) when the meal I finally got surpassed all cravings and expectations. Even when I’m on my own, I cook a full dinner.  I almost always eat for the pure pleasure of eating – and this week, I’m grateful that life has afforded me the luxury of being able to do so.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Fish fantasies

I never liked fish, until I went to live in Valdez, Alaska, and fish was practically all we had to eat in the summer. I could cook salmon 23 different ways at last count and was quite inventive when it came to halibut, too. I even learned to fillet a fish and got over my squeamishness about blood and guts and scales and slime. I had to be dragged off the beach in clamming season and have been known to eat as many as two dozen digger clams in one sitting. But to my shame, until Swaney took me shrimping one day, I never knew shrimp had eyes. That took some getting used to.

Way back when, as a mere toddler in Waterford, the highlight of the summer would be to go to Dunmore East to choose our mackerel from the fishing trawlers as they tied up at the pier.  I was more than a little disturbed when I heard that in Alaska, mackerel were used as bait.

Here in Budapest, since Ocean has closed, there really isn’t any place in town that has good fish all the time (or at least anywhere that I know about) – and truth be told, after years of fishing for my own or enjoying fish so fresh you’d swear it was still breathing, for free, I can’t bring myself to pay high prices for fish that has travelled cross-country to land on my plate.

So, out and about on Saturday, our whole day had but one objective – to end up in Dunabogdány when it was time to eat so that we could have some friss pisztráng (fresh trout) at Siesta Café. Considering they only serve trout, potatoes and salad it still took a while to choose a topping  – I finally went with pesto  and was delighted to see that they used pine nuts. Thankfully, we went for a half salad/half spuds option as the servings are huge. Open from 12 noon each day to just after 8pm, it’s well worth the journey. It’s on the right, just as you leave the village coming from Budapest. And, if you time it well, you just might catch a game of cricket.

Sitting by the banks of the Danube, having picked my fish clean, still ruminating over Round 1 of the Gift of the Gab, I was reminded of the old Hemingway quote: ‘To me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where  I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them.’ Who ever would have thought that I’d be talking about monogamy and trout in a public forum in the same week. You gotta love this country!