A Very Hungarian Thanksgiving

Birds_at_the_Hunyadi_Market

Desperately Seeking Turkey

Last Thanksgiving I worked and festered and ultimately swore I would never do that again. Hungarian friends wished me a Happy Thanksgiving, but somehow, that just made me feel worse. By mid afternoon, Facebook dispatches started to arrive – a scrolling visual reminder of everything I was missing.

It wasn’t so much about home or family or the meal. We have traveled to Europe for Thanksgiving before. One year, my mother in law joined me for a girls trip. “Sandy, you realize we will be gone for Thanksgiving?” “Julie,” she replied, “I’ve been peeling potatoes for 50 years. Let someone else peel the potatoes this year!” That became my battle cry each time we shunned tradition for adventure, “Let someone else peel the potatoes.”

Last year, I committed this year would be different; better, festive, and definitely not involving work. As I searched for alternatives, I discovered the Marriott offers a traditional turkey dinner; an over priced opportunity to baste myself in random Americans. No thanks. Thanksgiving is not a pack animal holiday. The Americans I eat with may not be meticulously selected, but at least they share my DNA. Eating Thanksgiving dinner with total strangers somehow feels more depressing than working.

Ultimately, I decided to take the day off and cook: something traditional; ingredients to be found by scavenger hunt; cost not an issue. Yet, the culinary constraints extend beyond those food items I can or can’t find. I am equally limited by my kitchen. I don’t own a pie dish. And even if I did, I can not find pre-made pie crust, so I would need to roll out a home made crust, but I don’t own a rolling pin. And on and on and on.

As for the ingredients, pumpkin is common place, and the expat store sells graham crackers and cranberries. Potatoes are no problem (I’ll spring for a potato masher). I will make the stuffing from loaves of bread I cube and dry the day before. Part of the fun this year will be in the invention.

The hardest part is finding a bird. Friends promise, swear, I can buy a turkey. “A whole turkey?”, I ask. “Oh, maybe not a whole turkey. Where would you put a whole turkey?” That’s a good question given my dorm room refrigerator can barely hold a scrawny chicken. Plus, no Hungarian would ever stash something as frivolous as a turkey roaster. Consuming half the kitchen storage space on an object that makes an annual appearance – that’s crazy.

Everything is solved, or will be, except the meat.

Enter Abraham, a young man I mentor. We work from home on Monday and meet at coffee shops throughout our neighborhood. Last week, as we were finishing our talk, he said, “Oh, I nearly forgot, I brought you a gift.” Reaching into his computer bag, he pulled out a plastic grocery bag, slapped it on the table, and smiled. “Open it.” As I touched the object, I could feel it was frozen. And when I lifted the bag, whatever was hidden within had the heft of a bludgeon. Hmmm. That’s vaguely disconcerting. “It’s a goat leg. The very best part. I froze it to keep it fresh. Imagine, yesterday the goat was playing in my father’s backyard.“ “Wow, Abraham, I can not imagine that.” (insert frozen goat leg jokes here).

Actually, I was just so touched, I forgot all my goat leg jokes. “This is fantastic. Thank you.”

Back at our apartment, I googled, “Cooking a goat leg.” Voila. (How did we cook goat legs before the internet?) I found a recipe which highlighted that goat leg tastes like the succulent dark meat of a turkey. “The hardest part of cooking a goat leg is finding one.” And to think, I never even searched for this goat leg. It found me. “Hey Pat, I know what we’re having for Thanksgiving.” “That’s nice, Julie. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be delicious.”

This Thursday, I will spend the day in the kitchen just like Americans everywhere. That evening we will say our thanks over roasted goat leg with all the trimmings (I’m not sure Hungarians say “all the trimmings” – or even what constitutes a typical goal leg meal.) Ours will include mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, peas, and cranberry sauce. For dessert, pumpkin squares with a graham cracker crust.

We may love it or hate it – either of which misses the point. This meal is the perfect solution to our final Thanksgiving in Central Europe dilemma. The goat leg will symbolize everything I have to be thankful for this year. And really, at the end of the day, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?

 



Categories: Insiders Budapest

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4 replies

  1. That’s a great story! Good things come from where we least expect them. Please do tell us how your meal turns out.

  2. So glad it found you! I was right there with you on this one. Would love to help you in the kitchen. Happy Thanksgiving.

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