Gastronomy Alumna: Hungry in Hungary

by Meg Jones Wall

The past few years have held some wonderful, life-changing experiences for me. I got married. I realized that working in retail does not suit my personality. I entered the BU Gastronomy program. I even had some food that I helped prepare and style published in the Boston Globe’s Thanksgiving cover story.

And as thankful as I am for these experiences, nothing quite compares to picking up your life, grabbing your crisp new master’s degree, and moving to Budapest for almost four months.

Crazy? Yup. Difficult? Incredibly. Worth it? Without a doubt.

As a foodie, a writer, and a photographer, having the opportunity to spend several months living in and traveling through Europe was something of a dream come true. This was my very first time in Europe, and I was determined to take advantage of it — particularly by using my blog to record all of our adventures. I traveled to incredible cities like Barcelona, Rome, Dublin, and Vienna. I took a road trip through Prague, Paris, Lyon, Nice, Venice… I even got to see the beautiful Alps.

But one of the coolest parts of our European adventure was the fact that we were living in a small apartment in Budapest, a city that I really never thought I would see. Most people talk about their dreams of visiting Western Europe (and trust me, I’m thrilled that we saw countries such as France, Italy, and Spain), but having the opportunity to live, work, and eat in Eastern Europe was something I’ll never forget.

Hungarian food is different than anything I’ve had in the States. Meat-based, creamy, rich, and filling, this cuisine focuses on poultry, pork, spices, and a lot of sour cream. Most of the more well-known dishes, like stuffed peppers, chicken paprikas, and potato stew, are fairly inexpensive to prepare, but are filling enough to feed a family for several meals — or in the case of my husband and I, almost a week. I had a blast collecting family recipes from people that I met, trying to get an “authentic” cooking experience in between sampling some of the city’s best restaurants. Of course, there were also plenty of American fast food chains – Burger King, Starbucks, and (to my surprise) T.G.I. Fridays.

Food shopping was such a joy. Beautiful farmer’s markets are everywhere, bursting with produce — huge potatoes, bright cabbage, and a surprising amount of fruit. The small market that I went to most often, just a mile from the apartment we were living in, even had a butcher shop, spice shop, and several cheese shops inside, making it easy for me to get most of the things I needed for any recipe I could come up with. Of course, certain things just aren’t available, and it’s odd what I found myself missing — peanut butter, spinach, and bagels were essentially impossible to find.

One unexpected benefit of being surrounded by meat and dairy products in almost every meal? I found myself spending a lot of time considering my own diet and food choices, especially after taking Warren Belasco’s The Many Meanings of Meat course in my last semester at BU. With such a severe language barrier, I found it extremely difficult to know where the food I was purchasing came from. Additionally, I found myself eating much more meat and dairy that I was used to, and wrestled with the plant-based diet that we had talked so much about in Belasco’s course. Food and diet considerations aren’t always reached overnight, or even over the course of several months, but I now find myself moving towards a vegetarian diet — something I may not have seriously considered before arriving in Budapest.

Now that I’m back in Boston, settled back at home and searching for the food career of my dreams, it seems a bit surreal that I lived in a country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know a soul for several months. But I made a few great friends, had some incredible adventures, and learned at least a few Hungarian words.

And now that I can easily buy peanut butter again, I find myself really missing spaetzle.

Meg Jones Wall is a recent graduate of Boston University’s MLA Gastronomy program, and worked as Communications Graduate Assistant and blog editor during the fall semester of 2011. You can find her recipes, photographs, and thoughts on food at her blog, ginger-snapped.

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