Hungary: Cooking over open fires, drinking to excess and the most peculiar film I ever did see

Armchair traveller
5 min readDec 21, 2023

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Putting on a brave face as I leave Birmingham and venture into Sutton Coldfield.

With a fascist leader and a troubled past, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Hungary beyond lashings of goulash and unicum — a peculiar drink I bought in Budapest and had been waiting more than a year to drink. Luckily I was able to complement this beverage with treats from the Hungarian Market a specialist shop in the not-quite-Birmingham town of Royal Sutton Coldfield. Despite my misgivings about leaving Brum-proper, I put on a brave face and made the journey… Even though it was less traumatic that I’d imagined, I still felt like a battle-weary hunter when I hurried home, kicked open the door and displayed my treasures to my expectant family. “Behold: odd-looking frozen dumplings, strange frozen dough, weird frozen chocolate wheels, plastic-bottled cherry brandy, mysterious wine, goulash crème and a box of fruit flavoured black teas!” They couldn’t believe their eyes, the winter was saved…

Grandmother’s flame

A quick Google told me that the dough would make something called “Grandmother’s Flame” and the woman in the shop told me that Hungarian food was best cooked over a fire. So I proposed a new and baffling addition to our weekly challenge — we would cook and eat out doors in the middle of winter! Their excitement was palpable, but it sadly turned out they had other plans for the evening so instead I conducted the Hungarian experiment with foolhardy friends.

Grandmother’s flame on a flame.

The Hungarian wine Egri Bikaver was delicious — a reminder of the 1980s when Hungarian wine was available in many a supermarket. The cherry brandy was a wonderful way to warm your cockles. Unicum was, however, hard to swallow — I won’t be trying that again.

Nothing is wrong with this.

To a certain extent, the food was a triumph. You roll the Grandmother’s flame dough out flat and then fry till it bubbles. The dumplings you boil until they float. The chocolate spirals you bake and eat for breakfast — even nicer than pain-au-chocolate and vegan too! Goulash crème however is more complicated. First you need to battle the internet demons telling you that a goulash has to have beef, then the ones telling you that no-one can afford to make beef goulash, then finally those who tell you that goulash crème is a horrific hangover from Soviet times and that it is only worth spreading on bread — like marmite! And so it was that I took the veganising of goulash into my own hands based on what goulash looks like on the internet. I used goulash crème, two kinds of paprika, caraway seeds, red wine, beans and Hungarian peppers. I then mashed potatoes (adding more Hungarian paprika) and spooned it round the bowl like pastry — the result was incredible — truly one of the best things I’ve made so far.

Lashings of goulash.

Strangely, goulash did not appear too often in this week’s book, The Door. It’s a kind of sinister Mary Poppins… a story in which a peculiar woman with a mysterious back-story wheedles her way into the life of a couple in need of help. With magical realist tendencies, it touched on the traumas suffered by a nation coming to terms with its history. I had to supplement the story by Googling important events that I really should have known about. But despite, or perhaps because of all this, it was a riveting read which left me mourning for more.

Breakfast — not cooked on the fire…

This was not the case with this week’s film On Body and Soul. It’s the kind of film that makes you scream “what have I just watched and why”… the kind of film that your wife gives up on, the kind of film that haunts your dreams… as well as your days. For this is the story of a couple of strangers working in a slaughterhouse — cue shot after shot of cows being tortured, slaughtered and mutilated for food. Someone steals their supply of Bull Viagra and they bring in a psychiatrist to find out who it was. It turns out, of course, that these strangers both dream at night of being deer, living in a snowy forest. And so they embark on a plan to meet each other in their dreams. Cue some awkward sex and a gut churning suicide attempt and voila, your evening’s viewing is sorted.

Super fancy Hungarian desert wine

I quite enjoyed it.

Fire dumplings and desert wine.

So that just leaves the music. I only had the chance to make a three-song playlist (recommendations much appreciated) so instead we listened to the playlist Hungarian Folk. And most enjoyable it was too. And with that I pack my bags and head North to Iceland.

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Armchair traveller

Near-zero carbon travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.