Who are we?
Born in 1974 in Budapest, Eszter is a journalist, cookbook author (two of which are on Jewish cuisine), and teaches cooking workshops, mainly to children. When her eldest son Dávid was born, Eszter began cooking at home and sharing her experiences on a Jewish food blog that gained great success in Hungary (https://www.fuszereslelek.hu). “Many people here have no idea what Judaism is. I enjoy having friends and acquaintances over for Shabbat dinner and telling them about our tradition through food,” Esther says.
Born in 1974 in Budapest, Gábor is a computer consultant. He grew up in a secular home and was first exposed to Judaism and Jewish cuisine when he met Eszter, who was the canteen manager at his workplace 22 years ago. “I saw that she was an excellent cook and that was the hook that ‘caught’ me,” he says with a smile. Even today, as “quite the epicurean and family food critic,” as he attests, Gábor is the biggest fan of Eszter’s cooking. He especially loves her lecsó- the Hungarian pepper stew – which she has mastered down to an art.
Born in 2004 in Budapest, Dávid is in 11th grade student at the Lauder Javne Jewish Community School in the city. Like his mother, Dávid loves to cook and can already prepare at least 20 dishes (“Mom taught me”). “The girls love it,” he says with a smile. His friends also request that he cook for them: “I really like shakshuka and I also make a salad called ‘Jewish eggs’ – hard-boiled egg salad with goose fat instead of mayonnaise.”
Born in 2012 in Budapest, Zali is a 3rd grade student at the same Jewish school Dávid attends. Zali, whose name was common among Jewish girls in the early 20th century, loves Sajtos tészta (noodles with yellow cheese and sour cream) as well as chicken soup with matzo balls. When she is not helping her mother in the kitchen, Zali likes to play the guitar and forage for mushrooms in the forest with her brother.
Where was the photo taken?
The family lives in Budapest’s 8th arrondissement, not far from the city center. “I always wanted a kitchen with a sofa,” Eszter says of the sofa in their spacious kitchen. Sometimes Gábor sits on it while I cook but most of the time it is Mázli, our dog, who stretches across it. It’s very cosy. ” The parents start the day in bed with a coffee and have breakfast after the children have left for school. ” we eat dinner together in the dining area of the living room, while Dávid usually eats in his room,” they say.
Our family kitchen
“The radio was always on at my parents’ kitchen and they would dance to music while they cooked,” says Eszter. “I was there with them and that is also how I learned to cook.” At home, the family often eats Jewish dishes – a combination recipes from Eszter’s mother, who grew up in Budapest, and from her father’s side, who grew up near Tokaj, in the north east of Hungary. “This is a local Jewish cuisine that is characterized by unique dishes prepared only in that area, such as Túrós csusza (noodles with cheese).” Eszter further explains: While Hungarians use animal fat to season and garnish dairy dishes, in the Tokaj Jewish cuisine these are substituted with browned butter flakes and sour cream, rendering them kosher while still reminiscent of the original dish’s flavor.
“My parents and many of their contemporaries born in Hungary after the Holocaust decided that they were no longer Jews,” says Eszter. “But they continued to eat Cholent and matzo balls. We, like their parents, identify as Jews, but our connection to Judaism is mainly through food – we are gastro-Jews.”
The house recipe: Hremzli
“Every year on Hanukkah, we fry these latkes in goose fat,” says Eszter. “In Hungary, up until 40 years ago or so, deep frying was mostly in animal fat, while the Jews used schmaltz- goose fat. Although there was access to vegetable oil, it was very expensive, and so it was not to be ‘wasted’ on frying. Even the the donuts were fried in fat. ”
Because the Festival of Lights is observed for eight days, the Hegedűs- Bodrogi family cooks a variety of fried latkes for the holiday: “We replace the potatoes with beets or pumpkin and fry them in sunflower oil,” says Eszter. “We serve these latkes with Roquefort cheese, sometimes with walnuts, a soft goat cheese, sour cream and garlic.”
Makes 8 latkes
500 grams (1.1 lb) potatoes for baking, peeled and finely grated
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
100 grams (3½ ounces) flour
Ground black pepper
100 grams (3½ ounces) goose fat (or oil), for frying
1 garlic clove
sour cream (optional)
soft goat cheese (optional)
- Squeeze well the grated potatoes and transfer to a bowl.
- Add the grated garlic, flour and egg, season with salt and black pepper and mix to combine.
- Melt the goose fat in a deep-frying pan.
- Using a spoon, gently place dollops of the potato mixture in the hot fat and lightly flatten. Fry on both sides until golden.
- Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Brush with garlic clove and serve hot.
Edited by Ofer Vardi, Photography bt Nelly Kis