The Long Way Home


Hurka and Other Food Discoveries

I read fancy cookbooks with complicated recipes while I eat simple foods such as ramen noodles (doused in Sriracha sauce), or buttered egg noodles with pepper. My friend Roya calls it ‘food pornography’ because it is fantasizing  about and longing for the dish on the page while eating something comforting and familiar. It is the best of both worlds. And when I can’t have either, I think about the foods that have shaped my eclectic palate.

1. hurka (pronounced ‘who’r-kuh’)

This is a Hungarian water-cooked sausage filled with various pork offal, rice, and onions. It was a staple in my grandmother’s kitchen, although I don’t remember the taste of it or even what it looks like too much. My mother said I loved it though, and would split open the casing and dig out all the rice and piggy products, drowning them in ketchup. Years later in my 20s, I met another Lisa of Hungarian descent who not only remembered eating hurka, but also dowsing it with ketchup. Ketchup may be the only way to make hurka palatable to a kid.

2. pickles and cheese sandwiches (worst sandwich)

When the food cupboard was bare, my mother would whip up this little number for a lunchbox treat: sliced dill pickles, Kraft American cheese slices, and white bread. I tried trading these with other kids in the lunchroom, but nobody wanted to eat them.

3. Prekmurje ham sandwich (best sandwich)

In 2003, Bill Fulmer and I did a cross-country trip to the Prekmurje region of Slovenia with our friend Tamara. We stayed at the Flisar family farm. Our rooms overlooked vineyards dotted with thatch-roofed sheds. The mailman only stopped once a week on his bicycle to pick up mail. We didn’t have time to eat breakfast the next morning because we were headed to Lake Balaton in Hungary, so the owner packed us a lunch: fresh baked bread, ham made straight from the pigs on her own farm, and a poppyseed gibanica, a seven-layer strudel popular in that region. We didn’t find all these goodies until later, when the three of us sat by the shallow water of Lake Balaton eating what she had given us: bread, ham, butter, and tomato. A really simple meal that I still crave.

4. lima beans and milk

Not necessarily together (although that would be my nightmare). I don’t like lima beans because of their texture – squooshy, like I imagine beetles would be if they were crushed between my teeth. I will pick them out of my meal if I spot them in there, which I know is childish, but they really gross me out. I will cook with milk, and drink chocolate milk, but regular white milk is disgusting. I declared my war on this foul juice when I was five years old, and it continues to this day.

5. egg noodles with butter and black pepper

Simply the best comfort food ever. My mother would make this often when were kids, when she was too tired to cook after working all day. It also tastes good sprinkled with poppy seeds, making it Hungarian comfort food.

6. McCountries and mini hamburgers

I know McDonalds is widely disputed and considered evil, but I really grew fond of this Eastern European pork patty version of the Quarter Pounder. When I desperately needed something “American,” I’d get this “Menu’ item (Croatia’s equivalent to “Value”). Pecs, Hungary has a bakery near the old pharmacy that sells mini-hamburgers, which are tiny versions of the McCountry: pork patty, lettuce and mustard on a freshly baked lilliputian bun, 2 for $1 USD. Perfect for wrapping in a napkin and eating on the go.

7. my sister’s chocolate chip cookies

She could win a bake-off with these babies. She has been baking them since she was 10 years old, so she has a lot of practice. The secret to her cookie is just the right balance of salt and sweet, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The perfect cookie.

8. muttar paneer

My favorite North Indian meal of  peas and cubes of tofu-like cheese. I used to eat this dish for many a dinner when I was a sophomore in college (sometimes 3 or 4 days in a row) since I worked at Delhi Grill. I love the sweetness and slight bite to the peas with the chewy paneer following right after. I could eat a whole shit-load of this stuff right now.

9. mussels

These made me a more adventurous eater. When I was first introduced to them, I swallowed them whole because I was afraid to bite into the little suckers. But now I can’t imagine them without plain garlic butter on a warm summer night (sorry, Jeff, I know this is killing you to read this part, ever since you ate a bad one and spent the one night wondering whether you should puke or sit on the pot all night. One bad mussel is dangerous indeed).

10. Jeff’s fried chicken

He has made the recipe his own: something with panko crumbs, cornmeal, buttermilk and fried in canola oil. I don’t know the exact recipe and if I did I wouldn’t tell anyone, but then he puts a few shakes of buffalo sauce on top and it’s amazing. It reminds me of why I married him in the first place.

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On the Train to Ljlubljana
March 4, 2009, 8:27 PM
Filed under: Croatia, Slovenia | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

leaving osijek

Leaving Osijek feels more unreal to me than when I left the States back in the Fall. I spent this last week teaching and hanging out with Andrija and Ivana, and Rebecca, the girl from Belfast. Rebecca helped me teach by reading to the class. Her accent is so sing-song and beautiful. I asked her to keep reading because it gave me comfort, and because the students weren’t accustomed to Irish-English. These last lessons were held in Tenja. Goran, the local teacher, told me I had a gift for teaching, that I was a natural at it. I realized how much I love my language, trying to break it down for others to understand.

Andrija had Rebecca and I to his house for dinner yesterday. Plates piled high with cabbage slaw, roasted chicken, lamb cuts, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, and krempita for dessert. Andrija showed us his insect collection from his studies at the agricultural college. He told me that he loves talking with me, we never run out of things to say. And I thought this is how it was with C, and why I thought I was falling in love with him. Someday I will get it right.

What do I do now? About my family, finding more money, getting my shit together when it comes to relationships. I still don’t know what I want to do when I return to the States in April. I think it feels strange leaving Osijek because until today, I had a plan about where I was going. Now the months are wide open. Complete freedom. The Croatian fields outside the train window are still covered in snow. Blank sheets of white paper. I’m going to miss the border patrol at Magyarboly, who always remembered me because of my Magyar surname, who waved to Rebecca and me as they checked our passports and the train pulled over the border into Beli Manastir. I’m going to miss Goran and his impeccable English. Ketchup flips, Riki bars, and even the cold walks to the Centre za mir, waiting at Gundilica for the traffic cop to wave pedestrians through blinking street lights. I’m going to miss Ivana, her seven brothers, and especially Andrija, who left me with a copy of his favorite childhood book on the train. When I opened it, dinar from the war fluttered into my lap, now worth nothing but to mark the place in my reading.

We just crossed the border into Slovenia, en route to the capital. My heart swelled at the sight of the Alps, houses built into the mountainside. Clouds hugging the peaks. The Soca River is running quick, snow melting from the mountains and into the river bed. There is hardly any snow in the valley, but the land is dry like hay. I imagine myself on the side of one of these roads that I’m watching from the train window, standing at the base of the mountain, staring up at its enormity, feeling small and alive in the face of it. I’m one step closer to home.




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