Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ardeal Meals

I am seized by a hunger to post about food and drink here, and so to kick off I thought I'd do a little bit about meals and what they involve. As ever, I am not 100% sure if my cultural commentary is on Hungarian, Romanian, or just Transylvanian norms, so it may be up to my commenters to fill in some of the details.

Before actually getting to the food itself, then, the first thing the foreigner notices (or the first thing this foreigner noticed, to be honest), is the meal times themselves. The day begins early (at least on work days) and many people start work at 7 or at the latest 8. So breakfast is an early affair, and seemingly not very important. Many people seem not to eat it at all, and instead have a coffee and a pastry at work at sometime during the morning. The meal (really the only substantial meal of the day) is lunch.

Lunch involves soup and a main course. Always. OK, maybe not for everyone, but for most people, and for many people if it doesn't involve soup and a main course they haven't actually had lunch. My father-in-law definitely needs to have both of those two elements in order to feel like he's eaten, and not to react like Shirley Valentine's husband does in the first half of that film. It also involves palinka as a kind of appetite inducer, or something (I suspect it's just an excuse to drink palinka since there's no actual need to induce an appetite by the time lunch comes around). The other thing the outsider needs to know about lunch is that it doesn't really get eaten until 3pm. Occasionally you'll see lightweights having it at 2, but anytime before 3 is really a little bit fainthearted. This makes it apparent why the workday starts so early - you see most people actually work something like 7-3 and then go home for lunch and be done for the day. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I actually like it a lot now. In fact, I've started wondering why nobody else has come up with this excellent work-day-system.

So, there is this late lunch, and then the rest of the day is free (or you know, you fill it with the other chores of everyday life, so it's not free in the sense of you get to do whatever the hell you want, but it's not sold to the man). Dinner, such as it is, tends to be a light snack at around 8pm, just to keep the wolf from the door. This snack is usually zsiros kenyer and red onions. Zsiros kenyer is what used to be called "bread and dripping" when I was growing up, and is now almost certainly consigned to the memories of the elderly (like me) as a cholesterol cluster bomb. In short it is bread (sometimes toasted) spread with animal fat, and then sprinkled with paprika (the red powder not the peppers themselves). The red onion is peeled and chopped and the diners take bits of it, dip it in salt and eat it. It's very good, but you have to check with your partner as to whether any kissing might be on the menu for the later evening before you tuck in, as either you both eat the onion, or neither of you, or the kissing opportunity is lost.

And there you have it - basically one big meal a day and two lightish snacks. It makes me wonder how I've ended up putting on weight here.

Some of the actual foods served for lunch will follow in a later post, when I can be arsed writing it. (Tad busy at the mo' so blogging is liable to be light for the next couple fo weeks)

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