George Lang’s history and recipe book of Hungarian cuisine has managed to surpass all my expectations. Here’s an excerpt:
At the height of coffeehouse culture, many cafés contained a group of little kingdoms—each literary luminary held court at his own table. Somehow amidst the noise, thick smoke, chatter and distraction, magazines were edited; and poems, stories, plays, and novels were written. Against a running counterpoint of arguments, incredibly elaborate word games and refined verbal warfare, journalists, poets and playwrights turned out an astonishing amount of enduring work.
[…] Karinthy [Frigyes], the great Hungarian humorist, once defined the coffeehouse succinctly as a “place where writers go to drink coffee and eat each other.”
The first two parts of the book provide a concise history of Hungarian cuisine from early to modern times, and it includes a variety of illustrations, photographs, and six of Berda's poems (e.g., an ode to a fattened goose). Best of all, Lang continually shares stories about Hungarian cultural icons and their gourmandism. Here's two excerpts that feature the writer Gyula Krúdy:
Krúdy was on the way home when, remembering a little restaurant in a town forty miles away, he made the driver turn onto the highway toward the heavenly dining room which served—for him—the perfect version [of Újházi tyúkleves (Fowl Soup, Újházi Style)].
[…] Krúdy, who was especially fond of pörkölt, mused: “Onion, the apple of the earth, is able to emit such scents as women meeting their lovers do. Hot bacon dripping, the lover of the onion, keeps asking sizzlingly from the top of the stove: why was I born?—The onion, then, passionately explains everything.”
Over 300 recipes make up the last part of the book, including the soup that Krúdy just had to have, so don’t hesitate to ask me for any.
(Image: cover art by Seymour Chwast)
I’m in my room. Since yesterday, it’s been winter. I’ve arranged my dolls in line on the bed, opened their legs, and lifted their frocks. I’m making them give birth. I’m using my marbles—the shiny ones—a present from Peter.
The marbles drop, and roll on the carpet. After they’ve turned into children, I put them in my basket. It’s the birth basket. It’s very shiny, with bits of mirror inside, 1 gold penknife, and millions of marbles—red ones, yellow ones, green ones—fire.
I want to put marbles in my dolls’ bellies so I prick them all with a needle. They sigh, as straw falls on the carpet, and look pleased. I close their legs, cover them up, and run off to see the rain.
Bataille was one of her influences. Her mother, Margarita Liberaki, is up next—by my estimate, she’s even less read than her daughter.
(Image: jacket design by Seymour Chwast)