Kalocsa and Hungary
Last Updated: 25-Sep-03
Hungary lies just East of Austria, and is an easy drive from Unterpremstätten
No kidding: as we walked into Kalocsa's Paprika Days festival grounds, the big brass band was playing Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire. Seven years old, the festival is primarily a goulash cook-off, mixed with a bit of harvest festival and county fair. Kalocsa (pronounced kah-lo-sha) is in the heart of Hungary's paprika (chile pepper) country, rivalled only by the neighboring city of Szeged. (In fact, much of Hungary's powdered paprika, sweet or hot, is branded as "Szeged" paprika, even though the predominant variety is Kalocsa.)
We found about 55 cook stalls, representing various companies and organizations. Almost every one had a large pot hanging from a hook, simmering over a fire of some sort, ranging from gas jets to simple wood campfires. Cooks were dumping massive quantities of onions, garlic, paprika (both powdered and fresh) into the pots, along with various meats. Some shoveled in chunks of beef or pork meat, while others used sausages. A cook's school included brains in theirs. We found one which had a high proportion of pig snouts - you know, the flat, fatty thing which surrounds the nostrils. (Yum - we'd certainly have to try that one...not.) And, quite a few were also pouring in sauerkraut.
Most of the stalls had decorated their places with local details, including (of course) strands of chiles, paprika powder, clothing, and so on. Many of the teams were dressed in costume as well, including one group of men who were dressed as...well...uh...we were never able to quite translate it, but it involved dark, decorated clothing (perfect for a hot day), black hats, and shiny boots. Every once in a while, one of them would give a whip-cracking demonstration, apparently to re-light one of their cook fires or something.
Normal stands were also scattered about, selling sausages, roasted ox and pork (from a big, burly pig that had been roasted there over a fire pit), soft drinks, beer, the local variation of funnel cakes (batter cooked on poles over a fire), and so on. Trinket vendors had pottery, candy, toys, pictures of Jesus and horses (sorry, no Elvis), African jewelry, local spices, cooking utensils, and more. To top it all off, there were carnival rides and kids' inflated slides and jumping castles. And, the obligatory Peruvian band was there with pipes, drums, and guitars.
While the German language helped a little to communicate, and English less so, the predominant language was, not surprisingly, Hungarian. We found it rather challenging to communicate with folks beyond what could be done with simple international words, pointing, and pantomime. "Foto?" "Coke." "Kösönöm! (thank you)"
The festival grew more crowded as the day progressed, and as the various goulashes matured. Runners started picking up dishes of goulash and a local fish soup for judging at the Zsüri (jury?) tent. Five judges work their way through the entries, announce winners, and award trophies.
It was time for us to try some goulash. Roswitha figured out (another long story) that we had to select the numbers of the booths we were interested in, wait in a long, slow line, and pay for tickets and bowls (including some bread). The thing which made it slow was that they had to look up each number, log the purchase, and hand write the ticket. We then took the tickets to the booths, where they filled our bowl with their entry. Most places had set up tables in front of their booths, along with tablecloths and more decorations. We settled on one each, and sat down to try them. Like random selection at most chili cook-offs, we were rather disappointed; we typically get better goulash at restaurants in Austria. Still, they were quite edible.
Fine entertainment spiced the whole day. The Ring of Fire brass band gave way to an accordion orchestra, and they did not once play Lady of Spain. Local children danced folk dances and acted out a variety of sketches. We missed the magician. And, in the evening, after the cook stalls were dismantled (we never found out who won), there were fireworks, and the teenagers wandered over to the carousel, bumper cars, and the puke-a-whirl.
If you plan to go in the future, it will take a bit of research to find out exactly when to go. There is very little that we found published in English, and the bit we did find showed a 3-day event, from Friday through Sunday. It turned out that there was a folk dance on Friday night, the cook-off on Saturday, and nothing on Sunday. The only schedule we did find once we got there was in Hungarian, but the woman at the Paprika museum was happy to translate it for us (in German).
Oh, yeah, the Paprika museum. Kalocsa is purportedly the only place which has a paprika museum, which we found because of a big Paprika Days (Kalocsai Paprika Napok) banner spanning the street in front of it (it's just down the street from the main church and Kalocsa Hotel). The one room of the cute museum covers the history of paprika, and shows traditional methods of harvesting, drying, and processing. It also sells a few souvenirs. The woman there was happy to answer questions, and also directed us to the town of Bátya, 5 km south of Kalocsa, where they still use traditional methods of farming, harvest, and processing.
Bátya did have a number of houses with drying pods, both in ristra-type strings, and in large net "sausages." We also found numerous fields around the town, with people picking peppers by hand, which looks like back-breaking work.
Never missing an opportunity to pick up a new country or two, after breakfast and Bátya, we decided to continue on South to Serbia (scary, eh?), where we crossed the border, changed some money, had a coffee, got a CD, and came back. From Serbia, we continued on to Szeged, the biggest city in the region. There we stopped into the 100-year-old synagogue, purported to be the most beautiful in Hungary, or possibly Europe.
Szeged had long had a thriving Jewish community, and had an old synagogue, known as the "lucky" synagogue because it was one of only 15 Szeged buildings which survived a huge flood in the mid 19th century (and is now a theater next to the "new" one). The new one was also called lucky. Inaugurated in 1900, and completed in May 1903, it saw no damage during either world war. Unfortunately, its community was not so lucky; of more than 6000 people before the war, only 1500 remained in Szeged after WWII. Most had been killed in Dachau and Auschwitz, and a few had escaped to England, the US, Israel, or other places. Today, the community has about 300 - 400 people. Scott's mother's mother's father is from Hungary, although we don't know exactly where. His name was Deutsch (which means "German"), about as helpful as knowing a Smith in the US. The helpful caretaker at the synagogue confirmed that Deutsches come from all over Hungary, and numerous commemorative plaques (those killed in WWII, restorers, officers of the synagogue, etc.) confirmed the commonality of the name. Of course, Scott's ancestors had emigrated to New York in the late 1800s, well before WWII.
The Szeged synagogue is truly a jewel. It is impossible to describe the colors and detail of the stained glass windows, or the full effect of the Tiffany glass dome. The architecture is like that of many churches of the era, and includes fine Art Deco flourishes, which in Hungary included Moorish and Turkish-style elements.
From Szeged, after a (very) late lunch, we popped over to the Romanian border. A quick crossing ("Why are we going?" asked the border guard (in great English). "To have a cup of coffee," we replied.), a realization that there was nothing for some distance, including a café, a souvenir stand, or a bathroom, so we turned around and crossed back. Sure, it was a long drive back to Kalocsa, but we had added a new country to the list.
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RÔD TRÍPPE! 2003
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