Today’s recipe, a memorable component of our summer picnic lunches in Hungary, is introduced by a guest contribution from your father, king of the holiday morning routine. He has thrown in as many original Hungarian words as he can muster – presumably in a bid to convince the Consulate that he knows enough of the language to qualify for citizenship:
“Mornings in Hungary always began with a trip to the shop, in Budapest to the supermarket Kaiser – whose arrival on the Rózsadomb in the late 90s symbolised and emphasised the rapid changes in economy and society – and in Zebegény to The Shop. I never knew its name and it was distinguished from the other shops only by not being The Paddling Pool Shop.
Zebegény is where the memories lie. Out of the car, into the shop, and it was always breakfast food first. Kifli, the crisp Magyar croissants selected from the big plastic bin through a porthole in the side, ever an opportunity for a quick counting lesson for the young. And the 0.9% milk in a bag, often at risk of already souring in the searing heat of the early post-communist days when Sam and Louis were babies. The pastries: csoki, meggy, barack, almás, mákos – pre-departure individual orders would have been issued. And drinks: the uniquely Hungarian taste of alma, őszibarack, or szőlő, in big cartons, and chocolate and strawberry milk. Sometimes we needed to re-up on bear honey in the squeezy bottle.
Then the lunch food: bezhlums, of course, one per person, [editor’s note: the correct name for these is zsömle] and bonfire cheese, eggs rattling in a small bag – no cartons here – and then szalámi and pink meat, párizsi, sliced with unsmiling precision by the crone behind the counter – unsmiling, that is, until one of the babies caught her eye, whereupon she would burst into a stream of unearthly cooing and heavily accented witch-language, only the word ‘baba’ recognisable amid the gibberish. I’d look proud, the baby would look scared.
Finally, day drinks to accompany the meat and bread and cheese: big bottles of szénsavas víz, and fizzy pop, and, of course, sör – sok sör. And once or twice a week we’d buy bigger cuts of meat, for a traditional goulash, perhaps, or some other homely Magyar dish, or lemon chicken; although, truth be told, with the exception of the ritual bográcsgulyás – always a magical night, making and stoking the fire and then gathering in the gloaming to sit on logs to eat around the cauldron – we looked forward to eating out at the Kenderes or in Nagymaros or, occasionally, at the Fekete Sas, as much as we did to cooking and eating at home in Zebegény.
The shopping bags, the big, industrial strength woven nylon bags, weighing a ton, would now be overflowing with the spoils of the day to be consumed, and I would stagger with them, sometimes with a child on shoulders, to get them into the back of the car and return to base to begin eating it all.
The ritual concluded as we arrived home, through the green metal gates, down the little hill to the parking place, and then unloading, the distinctive scent of Hungarian coffee in the air, the table laid by those who had stayed at home, and the sun rising higher over the Danube as we sat outside in the delicious heat to break bread together and discuss the plan for the day – a walk to the kis szikla, some kayaking on the river, perhaps even some rat-hunting in the undergrowth.”
Serves 6 as part of a picnic lunch
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped dill
Salt & pepper
Put the eggs in a pan of cold water. Cover the pan, bring to the boil and, once boiling, set your timer for 8 minutes. When the buzzer goes, drain the eggs, crack each one slightly to arrest the cooking process and then plunge into cold water for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients in a bowl.
Peel the cooled eggs and cut each one in half. Gently scoop out the yolks and mash into the mayonnaise mixture. Arrange the empty egg halves on a serving plate and re-fill each one generously with the herb mixture.