I went on a field trip these past few days with my department(s) at the university. I was lucky because normally you only get to go on this trip your first year in Budapest. I am, as you may remember, heading into my second year of studies, so this was a particular treat for me. Why did I get to go? Well, the short of it is that the people that run the department like me. The long of it is that I was the student representative last year for the two-year masters' students and they asked me to come back to Budapest early to hang out with the new students. As a sort of bridging-the-gap between second years and first years. It's been awesome, and though it cut my summer vacation short by a few weeks, it has been totally worth it.
I'll have more photos to share in due time of the trip, and it was beautiful so I cannot wait to share them. But what really got me thinking today was the meal that we stopped for on the way back into Budapest today. In a small mom-and-pop Hungarian restaurant somewhere between Budapest and Lake Balaton we pulled the bus over and had what was considered to be "traditional Hungarian cuisine." This, like the traditional foods of many cultures, can be either hit or miss (hit: when it's actually cooked in the traditional manner with the traditional ingredients; miss: when it's a tourist trap). Fortunately, according to my colleagues, this was to be a hit sort of place.
Now, the Hungarians love their soup. Every lunch or dinner is always started off with a soup, well, that is if you eat traditionally (I can't handle that much soup!). And this lunch was no exception to that rule. A professor of mine, as we were waiting for the soup to arrive, commented on how he hoped that the traditional soup wouldn't be fish. Why? He claimed that fish, and the carp Hungarians prefer, should not be put into soup; especially with the amount of paprika Hungarians had the tendency to add. And also that the Hungarian fish soup was rarely, if ever appetizing.
The soup finally made its appearance on the table, and it was fish soup. Reluctantly I ladled a portion into my bowl, scooped out an over-sized portion of sour cream (another hungarian favorite) and crossed my fingers.
Let's just say, I'm glad I tried it. It was probably more of a fish ragout, if I were to be honest. The liquid was more of a stew-like consistency, infused with an abundance of paprika, a dash of dill and a hint of garlic mixed in for good measure. The sour cream highlighted the flavors, creating a creamier consistency for the soup while adding in a hint of its own flavor to the mix. The fish melted in the mouth quite unlike any other fish I have ever eaten. The soup encouraged you to savor every bite; to let the tastes of each ingredient wash over your tongue and through your body. Even my anti-fish soup colleague dipped the ladle in for seconds.
As a native New Englander, I'm no stranger to sea food (yes, I know carp is freshwater, but still, it's a fish), having grown up eating some form of it probably once a week (and if not that often, at very least, once a month). Clam chowder was a staple of my diet very often; many a can of Campbell's Clam Chowder was opened in our kitchen and simmered over our stove. It's a comfort food that I never really recognize as a comfort food because of its dominant role in my meal-eating history. I has been remarkably cold, rainy and windy over the days since I've come back to Budapest and this soup was like a warm blanket covering me.
Food can do that to you. It can waken the senses up from a dormant state. It can flood memories from childhood (or adulthood) back into your mind. It can comfort you when your down, or fuel you up when you're soaring.
The moral of the story is, don't pass up the soup.