Eszter Baričević-Tamaskó: You don't eat hot in Hungary!
Eszter Baričević-Tamaskó is a lecturer of the Hungarian language at the University of Rijeka, who at the beginning of October 2021 designed a very interesting open-air exhibition. The exhibition "Not only rigojanči… Prominent values of Hungary" brought Hungarian culture and language closer to the people of Rijeka, especially gastronomy, which was the main reason why Mrs. Eszter and I hung out in the pleasant space of the Papalina restaurant on Trsat in Rijeka!
Mrs Eszter, the exhibition “Not only rigojanči... Prominent values of Hungary” has largely included Hungarian food. Is Hungarian cuisine a link between Croats and Hungarians?
Since last year, since I took over the lectureship at the Faculty of Philosophy, I have two goals in Rijeka. The first goal is for as few people as possible to say that Hungarian is extremely difficult to learn. The second goal is to bring Hungarian culture closer to the Croats. As nations, we are close and every year a very large number of Hungarians come to Croatia. And this exhibition somehow connected those two goals, first of all, to get as many Hungarian language students as possible. But when I thought about the topic, I definitely wanted to find bridges and connections between Hungarians and Croats. Hungarian language and Hungarian gastronomy are the flagships here. As far as gastronomy is concerned, however, there are still many inaccuracies about what Hungarian food is like, so I tried to give an emphasis here.
Many people from Rijeka will know about rigojanči, however, it can't be found so often today?
The title of the exhibition is "It's not just rigojanči", and I really like the story of rigojanči. Namely, in 2018 I was in Rijeka twice. I was once at a symposium at the University and another time at the Hungarian Days in the city centre. As part of the Hungarian Days, there was an exhibition in the Maritime Museum about rigojanči. To me, this cake is known as one of the many Hungarian desserts and I was interested in how it appeared in Rijeka! Then I read the whole story of forbidden love between a Hungarian musician and a Belgian princess, but I am much more interested in how that cake disappeared here (at least in pastry shops). On the occasion of this exhibition, rigojanči reappeared in Rijeka's patisseries and I wanted to follow up because it is the connection between Hungary and Rijeka, almost as sweet inspiration. By the way, I tried this cake for the first time in Rijeka!
There were twenty panels at the exhibition, ten of which were related to Hungarian gastronomy, and ten to various other Hungarian features and destinations. Many Croats will think how spicy Hungarian food is, as well as that there are wonderful cakes that have greatly influenced some of our regions, such as Slavonia. Anyone who has been through Hungary knows that this is not the case.
In Hungary, you don't eat spicy food, no fish stew, no stew, none of that. My family especially doesn’t eat spicy! However, in Hungary, restaurants always offer paprika sauce, hot drops, and everyone can spice it up as much as they want. It is very rare, almost impossible, to order food in Hungary and get it spicy. I have never experienced this in my life! Even Hungarian paprikas are not necessarily hot, because there are sweet and hot peppers. Sweet pepper is used more because it gives aroma and colour.
You come from an area where peppers are especially famous…
That's right, the two largest cities in Hungary where peppers are grown are Szeged and Kalocsa. Szeged is on the banks of the Tisza, and Kalocsa is close to the Danube. Of course, there is a certain dispute about whose peppers are better, as in all such examples. I come from Dušnok near Kalocsa, and paprika is grown in the surrounding villages. Interestingly, paprika comes from the Greek word piperi (which translates to Croatian as pepper), while the name for the vegetable came from Hungarian. In Hungary, paprika has several forms. Not only is it ground into a powder, but it also comes as a sweet, moderate and spicy sauce, and as paprika drops that are very popular. We add paprika to dishes such as goulash, paprikaš, but it is also used to make pálinka (brandy), paprika cakes (salty and sweet), we put it in cottage cheese, scrambled eggs and many other ways.
Is there a similar tradition in Baranja, especially among Hungarians? Are there any differences? How do you look at the paprika festival in the fall? Maybe they also encourage at their festivals that everything about Hungary is spicy.
I was only once in Baranja and I ate fish stew only once. Hungarians in Croatia cook hot and may support the idea that Hungarian food is hot. Probably the reason is that they are so connected to Croatian culture and way of life that their portrayal of Hungarian cuisine is accentuated with spiciness. This is not the case in Hungary itself.
You have lived in Croatia for many years. Given the connections you have with Croatian Hungarians, have you noticed that they have preserved their recipes, diet, or occasionally remember old dishes?
Yesterday I was in the company of Hungarian Erasmus students and we talked about making fish stew in Rijeka, but the question arose where we would get carp. One woman recommended that we go to a larger mall on Fridays because sometimes they have carp. For us Hungarians, carp is ready in every store, in every fish market, and we just buy it any day. Local Hungarians, therefore, do not always have all the ingredients. However, Hungarian and continental Croatian cuisine is relatively similar. It is difficult to determine which is the Hungarian and which is the Croatian influence. However, I think that Croatian cuisine has a greater impact on Hungarians in Croatia than vice versa. I come from the area where Croats immigrated more than 300 years ago from the area of today's Slavonia. My mother once baked strudels that I brought to my college colleagues. One girl tried them and immediately spat because the cheese strudel was salty. In other parts of Hungary, every cheese strudel is sweet, so this one was a shock at first taste! Therefore, the influence of Croatia has been present in my region for more than three centuries!
The exhibition at Trsat included the entire menu. What was all shown?
I made the gastronomic part as a journey from aperitifs to desserts. For the aperitif we presented Unicum and pálinka. Unicum is similar to Jägermeister, while pálinka is similar to brandy, but it can be much stronger or at least they tell me so because I personally do not drink brandy. In Hungary, pálinka is made from everything that can be jam, meaning all fruits, but also pálinka from chestnuts, peppers and various other products. There is also ágyas pálinka or brandy aged in bed. It is a fruit brandy made from at least three months of aged fruit.
Fish stew is also unavoidable?
That's right, with the Hungarian fish stew being divided into two types - one is from the Danube, and the other is from the Tisza, or fish stew from Baja and Szeged. In Baja the stew is cooked for fifty minutes, and in Szeged for several hours and the fish is mashed. In Baja it is served with pasta and in Szeged with bread. Every year there is a fish stew festival in Baja, which is also included in the Guinness Book of Records. There this dish is prepared in two to three thousand cauldrons at the same time, according to the same recipe, a huge smoke is created that hides everyone inside!
I believe that it was necessary to dissuade the Croats about what goulash is actually?
What surprised me the most was that Croats do not know what goulash means in Hungary. I was surprised when I got a "Hungarian goulash" in Croatia, which has nothing to do with our goulash! Namely, goulash is a rare ragout soup with vegetables and a lot of cumin. What is goulash in Croatia is pörkölt in Hungary or as it is called perkelt in Slavonia. One variation of this is paprikash, which, unlike pörkölt in which red meat goes, is made from chicken, catfish or such "white meat".
Was there dessert too?
In the end, we also presented sweets. We presented kürtőskalács or chimney cake, and a Dobos or drum cake. Both desserts are protected in Hungary. Dobos means drummer in Hungarian and many people think, even in Hungary, that it is because of the shape of the cake. But the first pastry chef was called Dobos and the cake was named after him. In Croatia, some have translated it as the "drum-cake", but it is certainly delicious, whatever its name!
What could be "drunk" from the billboards?
We presented soda water, which used to be popular in Croatia as well. There was also a gemišt or sprinkler, in which the Hungarians are masters! Namely, there are over 50 types of gemišt, depending on the ratio of water and wine. These are usually funny names such as "long step", "sports gemišt". When Hungary beat England in 1953 at Wembley, the score was 6: 3 so there is also a dose of six dcl of wine and three dlc of soda called Puskás-fröccs after the best footballer of the time, the star of the Hungarian national team and Real Madrid, as Luka Modrić today.
If you also introduced beer, did you make a toast?
It is not traditional to toast with a beer in Hungary. Namely, in 1849, the Habsburgs killed 13 generals and later toasted with beer. The Hungarians, therefore, said that they would not toast with beer for the next 150 years. That deadline has expired, but the tradition continues. Younger generations sometimes make toasts today, but this custom is always mentioned.
Your husband is Croatian and you live in Croatia, so what is the balance in your kitchen?
When I came to Croatia in 2012, they took us to Ston, and out of over a hundred guests, only three of us ordered a meat menu. For the last ten years, I have been cooking mussels, octopus and other seafood at home! When Croatian guests come to us, I often make Hungarian desserts. As an everyday kitchen, I may prefer the simplicity of the Croatian "gablec". I am also glad that Croats eat a lot more vegetables than Hungarians.
The exhibition on the Rijeka campus is funded by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade as part of the Visiting Professors for Hungarian Culture program. (Visiting Lecturers for Hungarian Culture Program)