Poppy Seeds and Paprika. Remember these two, they will be a trend. In Hungary, my favorite bagel topping found its way into most desserts and a few savory dishes. You could buy 'mákos' loose or as a paste. Hungarians' affinity for paprika was more expected, but was still surprising. I mean, two paprika museums in one small town is pretty impressive - being as there's only so much one can say about these two seasonings, let's move on.
Setting Up Shop in Unlikely Places. There was a go kart raceway set up in a supermarket parking lot, more melon and fruit stands than you can count on the roadsides and this pop-up bakery on a corner in Baja. She sold strudel, savory scones, small pizzas and tarts. The fold up table out front gave customers a place to enjoy their purchase and a very official receipt of purchase dispelled any question that she wasn't fully licensed.
Of course, our rétes was filled with poppy seed. A few black cherries were added in for variation, but mostly it was just a billion mákos stuck together with honey. Neither one of us would have passed a drug test after sharing just one.
Bogrács, Traditional Goulash Cauldrons. We saw these first in Slovakia, nearing the Hungarian border. Once over, into Magyarország, lawns were filled with shiny, new ones for sale. Silver and black, they stood next to garden gnomes and other figurines. In Eger, the public parks had fire pits with cauldrons hanging above them. Benches were pulled into a semi-circle around them. At a campsite in Csongrád, we were awoken by the smell of a morning goulash stirring. This picture was taken in Baja. We camped next to a large group of kids on a kayak trip. They were all lined up with bowls and pots in hand, clanging their spoons against the bottoms in excitement like a scene out of a revisionist Oliver Twist. The ladling chaperone seemed nervous that he may run out and was horrified that we may want a taste. "No, no, just a picture," we assured. We wondered if the bogrács were available for rent from reception. What makes the gulyás so red? Paprika.
Bibs. Poppy seeds may get stuck in your teeth, but paprika stains. There's really no getting around baby-ate-spaghettios mouth when slurping bright red halászlé and gulyás, however it's pretty easy not spill spoonfuls on yourself. This was not the opinion of at least two restaurants, where Merlin and I were handed bibs. It made me crave lobster. I guess a slightly embarrassed diner is better than an angry, stained one.
Hamburgers. Just one week before Hungary, in Slovakia, Merlin couldn't find ground beef to barbecue hamburgers. Ground pork, yes, but cow, no. Then, we entered a country that loved beef patties. That's not to say that it wasn't still behind goose, duck, chicken and pork in abundance on menus, but beef in hamburger form was incredibly popular. In fact, we saw the word 'hamburger' in every town and city, at every snack stand or roadstop. They were always microwaved, thin patties with varying multitudes of condiments, but hamburgers all the same. We've seen a lot of hot dogs in Europe, but this was our first hamburger-crazy country and we were happy to be here for the fourth of July.
'Live Gypsy Music.' These three words were scrawled on chalkboards and printed on posters just about everywhere we went. If a restaurant declared anything in English, it would be this and you could hear some four or fivesome's tunes travel through the air from somewhere on a still weekend evening. The use of the word 'gypsy ' was off-putting to us, so we never actively sought the entertainment out. However, we found ourselves serenaded over dinner more than once by a string instrumented band playing lively folk music. This young band had a particular pep and drew an adoring, mostly female, crowd of listeners on a street in Eger.
Wearing Overalls. This was a strictly male thing and extended beyond the neon variety worn by construction, maintenance and sanitation workers. Denim and khaki sets were popular all around the country. Shirt underneath, optional.
Seltzer Bottles. Between the fiddles, overalls and seltzer bottles, sometimes scenes felt downright vaudevillian. Seriously, though, seltzer bottles caught my attention early on. They were in every refrigerator and on ever bar or cafe counter. Okay, I thought, people like to make their own seltzer here. Then, I began to notice them outside antique shops and in pieces of art. It turns out, consumable soda water was actually invented by a Hungarian scientist named Ányos Jedlik and the Hungarian invention of wine spritzers quickly followed. So, you can say that seltzer bottles have a good deal of cultural iconography.
Saying "Hello" as Goodbye. This is popular slang and was confusing at first, but we got used to waving farewell while smiling and saying 'hello!'
Lemonade. At first, I thought they must be spiked. Bars and restaurants had entire menus made up of lemonade. We were often surrounded by people sipping pale, yellow liquid through colorful straws. Most people seemed to opt for traditional lemonade, as opposed to the kiwi, mint, cherry or other variations.