23 October 2012

Budapest, Day 2

After fueling up on sour cream and cheese covered langòs and a spicy Hungarian sausage smothered in pickled vegetables from the Great Market Hall, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking. Across the Liberty Bridge to the Pest side of the Danube, through the majestic Gellèrt bathouse, up the river, across the traffic-free-for-the-day Chain Bridge, through a festival in the square touting alternative energy and transportation plus the engineering feet of a bridge made of spaghetti, stopping for a pastrami sandwich and some lemonade at a repurposed VW bus (walking is hungry-making), we continued up the also closed-to-traffic Andràssy utca. And we encountered the strangest street fair I’d ever seen.

There was performance art. There was a sandbox with toys for kids to play in. there were live models changing poses every thirty seconds while people with sketchpads and charcoal immortalized them. There was a guy on stilts playing drum major to the kilt-clad Budapest Highland Pipe and Drum band. Re-purposed three-wheeled Apes fitted with espresso machines and chimney cake grills, all of which were good but my most favorite thing was Titus.

Titus was running a food and drink stand, a rustic wooden shack with chalkboards and utensils hanging from it, selling pàlinkas and goulash and lecsò and stuff. There were café tables and chairs off to one side and small, tall tables out front. We stopped to try some pàlinka.

The biggest problem in Hungary when trying new things is that if you don’t all ready know what you want and how to say it, you will never deduce from its Hungarian name what it is. Pàlinka is kind of like a brandy, I guess, made from fermented fruit or herbs and water. They come in all kinds of fruit flavors, like apple, pear and plum. But Hungarian is not a Latin or Germanic-based language so “mele” or “apfel” wouldn’t help when searching out the apple one which was irrelevant since I wanted to try plum. Turns out, the Hungarian word for plum is szilva.  Don’t ask me how to pronounce it. Anyway, because of this, ordering pàlinka in the little basement bar full of locals next to our hotel was behind my capability. At a street fair though, I could give it a whirl.

Titus said they had plum, apple, pear, apricot and some of those also with honey but to truly be pàlinka, it is made with fruit only. I wanted the plum and V. asked to try one of the honey ones. Titus made a face. “Those are for pussies.”

V. was undeterred. Titus looked a little suprised.

We took our small plastic cups over and stood at one of the high tables, sipping the clear, fiery liquid and declaring it a far superior drink to Italian grappa, though the honey one did taste a bit more like cough syrup and, really, wasn't that good.

Titus came over to smoke a cigarette and we chatted, commending him on his English as he explained about pàlinka and brought us other flavors to try.

He explained that there was true pàlinka, made from only fruit or herbs and water, as well as the more profitable but less authentic bastardization szeszes ital or “spirit drinks” (pàlinka to which honey has been added).

We asked him about one of the dishes listed on the chalkboard as “tripes with knuckles and nails”.

“You know, the stomachs of beef with the feet and fingers of the pig. We only have one word in Hungarian for both the cow animal and the cow meat. We do have many ways to describe other things that I cannot even translate,” he explained.

“Interesting. Like, in Italian, they have fingers on their hands and fingers of the feet—dita del piede—but in English, we’ve got a separate word for each--fingers and toes. Though with pigs, the toes are the hoof. Of course, if we’re eating them, we just call them feet.” Clearly, I’d reached my Hungarian brandy limit. “You could change your sign to read ‘tripe with pig feet’.”

“Oh, this is good. You help me with my English.”

He had to get back to work but suggested we come back later in the evening, they’d be there ‘til ten or eleven o’clock. Sadly, we didn’t.

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