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Eating Around the World, Part 9, Eating in Hungary

My introduction to Hungary came before we went to Romania, and it lasted all the time we were in Romania, for eight years. You see, when we went to Romania, many people had forgotten it even existed because it had been so closed off because of Communism. We had been told that we would be living in Transylvania, and when my son told his teacher at school that we were moving to Transylvania, she laughed because she thought he was kidding. When she figured out he wasn’t, she tried to convince him that it was a mythical place, a place of monster stories like Dracula and Frankenstein, but it really didn’t exist, but she was wrong. Transylvania is a real place. She wasn’t the only one who made a mistake. Back then, we used a travel agent for our plane tickets, and she accidently routed us into Budapest, the capital city of Hungary rather than Bucharești (Bucharesht), the capital city of Romania. When we realized the mistake, we decided it didn’t make any difference because we were 12 hours by car from Bucharești and also 12 hours by car from Budapest, so we could go to either city. We flew into Budapest where there were missionaries, and a missionary met us at the airport. She took us to a couple of rooms she had rented for us rather than a hotel.

I was in love with the rooms!! They were huge. The walls were covered with what I thought was beautiful wall paper, but later, in Romania, I learned that in that part of the world they have special painters that come in and paint beautiful designs on the walls. There were chandeliers in every room and brocade couches to sleep on. It felt like a room for royalty, but it was a normal eastern European room. After we slept the night, the next morning, I was awakened because my husband had decided we would drive into Romania rather than take the train. He had found some taxi cab drivers, and they were in our room negotiating the price to drive us and all our luggage into Romania. I don’t remember much about what we ate, but we went to the grocery store to find the food we needed, and everything we needed for breakfast was there. It wasn’t like Romania where there was a huge lack of food. From what I understand, they had already been out of Communism a few years, and it was showing in their stores. As we drove toward Romania, these taxi cab drivers kept telling us we really didn’t want to live in Romania because they thought everyone there were gypsies and drunkards, and they thought Romania was very primitive, but we had come to do a job, and we were going to do it.

The next time we went into Hungary, we went because there was nothing in the stores in Romania, but we knew there was food in Hungary. My husband had negotiated to buy a second hand car from one of the German Romanians who was leaving Romania to go to Germany. The Germans and Hungarians who were in Romania were left there from the days of the Austro/Hungarian Empire, and the Germans were really Austrian rather than German, but they still all went “back” to Germany. My son began calling Germany “the great homeland.” Germany was accepting them as citizens and even giving them pensions. So, we bought a car from one of these Germans who were leaving and wen to Hungary just to get groceries. We drove into Szeged because it was the closest to the border. We bought powdered milk, flour, sugar, eggs, cereal, toilet paper, etc. We did a really big grocery shopping that would last at least a month, and from then on, we went back periodically to shop.

Often, at Christmas, we headed for Hungary. We spent a couple of nights in a big, nice hotel in Szeged. We could make sure I had all the flour, sugar, eggs, etc. that I needed for baking and go Christmas shopping for our kids because the Hungarian stores were full. The breakfasts served at the hotel were just normal scrambled eggs, toast, jam, and tea. Initially. We couldn’t find McDonald’s in Romania, but we ate at McDonalds in Szeged. There was no difference between American McDonald’s and Hungarian McDonald’s. There was a Santa Claus at the McDonald’s in Hungary, and he was the skinniest Sant Claus I had ever seen!!. In America and in other places, Santa is known as having a big tummy, but this guy not only didn’t have a big tummy, but he looked like he was starving. We laughed and kept saying the Hungarian Santa Claus was hungry. We were watching Hungary change too because the first time we flew into Hungary, the only foreign language anyone spoke was German. There was no English in Hungary, and I was surprised because I thought you could go anywhere in the world and find an English speaker. However, one one of our trips into Hungary, we met a man at McDonald’s who could speak English. He told us that he was a student at the university there, and that they had begun teaching English at the university, and he was one of the first to take the class. We also found hot dogs on one of those trips into Hungary, but when we got home, we learned they weren’t actually hot dogs like we were used to. They had chili spice in them, and didn’t taste like we expected at all.

At times, we drove into Budapest to shop, and I found a health food, natural store in Budapest. I was really into trying to eat and feed my kids a healthy died, so I frequented the shop. I bought graham flour and made my kids homemade graham crackers. We bought oatmeal, and I made oatmeal back in Romania every morning for breakfast. I also bought honey and used the oatmeal and honey and made my kids granola bars to eat. At one point, my husband had eaten so much meat and so many goodies from eating with the Romanians that he had gotten gout, so I bought a lot of soy meat at the healthy food store in Budapest and fed him soy meat rather than the pork that was so readily available in Romania. Gout is a condition that comes to your joints. They swell up and are very painful, and he had it in his knees and could hardly walk. The doctor said it came from eating too much rich food, and he needed to change the way he was eating. He always thought my push for healthy foods was silly until he got gout.

The time I actually lived in Hungary was when I was pregnant. I had had trouble finding a doctor in Romania to take care of me while I was pregnant. I finally found a doctor who did an ultra sound and then told me the baby was fine, but he wasn’t ready to have regular appointments like an American doctor. My husband had traveled to Budapest and was visiting with the missionaries there. One of the missionary wives had had a baby there in Budapest, so she took him to talk to her doctor. The doctor was Hungarian/Romanian, and he suggested that I come to Hungary to have the baby. I had a friend in Romania who was the head pharmacist at the Tuberculosis Hospital. She recommended that I go and not have the baby in Romania. She thought if I could have the baby anywhere other than Romania, it would be better. I had another friend who was a Romanian married to a Hungarian/Romanian, and they both urged me to leave the country to have the baby. She told me that she didn’t trust the Romanian medical system because her dad was only sixty something, and he had gotten sick, and she called an ambulance, and the refused to come, and her dad died in her arms. A couple of American women came to visit us, and they toured the hospital. They were so upset by the condition of the hospital!! They said there was mold on the walls of the operating room. They urged me to have the baby somewhere else too. This Hungarian/Romanian doctor from Budapest came to see me in Romania, and he recommended that I come to Hungary. I went there a couple of months before the baby was born and took my youngest son with me. My other kids didn’t want to initially come because they were going to have an all Romania church fellowship in Bucharești, and they didn’t want to miss it. I initially stayed with the missionaries, and then they helped me find a couple of very large rooms, a bathroom, and a shared kitchen in an apartment building close to them. They were like the rooms we had initially stayed in when we first got off the plane in Hungary several years earlier.

I frequented several places that sold food. What one store didn’t have, the other one did. Close to us, there was a grocery store in a basement, and it usually had the best cold cereal, and my son was enjoying the cold cereal. He ate a lot of Frosted Flakes. Both grocery stores I frequented had the basics like milk, sugar, eggs, flour, and toilet paper, the kinds of things I couldn’t get easily in Romania. I drank a lot of fruit juice, and I could get things like peach juice, pineapple juice, orange juice, and I really enjoyed them. We had been unable to get Coca Cola in Romania, but it existed in Hungary. One thing I really liked about Hungary was that there were fruit stands everywhere!! My transportation in Budapest was either the subway or the tram. The fruit stands were usually set up at the subway stations or close to the tram stops. Anyone who walked and took public transportation who was most of the population, could buy fresh fruit to eat as they went about the city easily. There was a Hungarian goulash restaurant close to where I lived. I was bent on trying it out!! I wanted to try something that was ethnically Hungarian. Everything I had eaten until that point in Hungary, I could have bought in several countries, but I wanted something that was considered Hungarian. I went into the Goulash restaurant and tried it. It looked similar to the goulash they serve in America, but not exactly, and it didn’t taste like the goulash they serve in America either. It had its own unique taste. Often, what I had eaten in America was just like eating spaghetti made with bigger noodles, but this was not taste just spaghetti with bigger noodles. It was good, but I really can’t describe the taste because it was a very unique taste. I had never tasted anything like, and I still haven’t eaten anything else that tasted like it.

Budapest, Hungary had all the fast food restaurants from the west that anyone would want. We frequented a McDonald’s there that was huge!! It had one room that was as big as a foot ball field, and then it had a balcony full of tables all around on the upper level. As in many countries, McDonald’s was popular in Budapest, and the place was full of customers. After my baby was born and they let me out of the hospital, we stopped at a Wendy’s Restaurant on the way home and had bowls of chili. The things we ate at the Wendy’s were actually better than the things I had eaten at Wendy’s in America. In my travels, I have learned that for some reason, these fast food restaurants that are all over America and end up getting exported to other countries too are often better in other countries. I am not sure if it is because the people who work at them in other countries are better at their jobs or if I am just so happy to see some American food I have an opportunity to eat while I am going through culture shock, but I seem to enjoy them better away from America than in America.

Like in Romania, in Czechoslovakia, there was nothing on the shelves in the stores.

One one of our trips into Budapest, we decided to travel north a bit and go and see what it was like in Czechoslovakia. Czech and Slovakia had just come out from under Communism and had just split into two countries. We didn’t get far inside the country when we stopped at a grocery store and went in. Their shops were bare just like in Romania. Communism had also treated them badly. Communism hadn’t done any favors for any of the countries in eastern Europe where it had been so strong.

I

read a book about living in Hungary under Communism while I was in Romania, and it was a nightmare. One story was about a woman who had offended someone at her job. Under Communism, they can’t fire you. You always have a job, so they just transfer you somewhere else if you offend someone. This woman had offended someone and been sent out of the city to work at a research place in the country. She had to take the train there and was given very little time to prepare, so she hadn’t done any cooking to take food with her. The train had a bit of a layover, and she got off the train and went into a store to get something to eat. The only thing they had was moldy salami and dry bread, but she bought it, and she ate it because she was starving. It was the only thing to eat. It was actually an extremely sad story, and that part was sad, but the story got worse. In the same book, there was a story about a couple of Hungarian guys who couldn’t get married because they didn’t have enough money. The began a chicken farm in the country together and were selling eggs and chickens to make extra money so they could get married. The secret police learned what they were doing and arrested them. Communism treated all the countries in eastern Europe terrible!! By the time I went into Hungary, they had begun to recover, and we could leave Romania where there was no food and go to Hungary to buy food, but just a few years before, Hungary had been in the same shape that Romania and Czechoslovakia were while we were there. It takes time to recover from Communism, and the people who were in Romania when I was there were calling themselves “the sacrifice generation.” They were starving hoping for a better future which they have now.

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