narratives of food, drink, & life

Tag: cooking

A Farmer’s Market In A Ruin Pub


Budapest: the Paris of Eastern Europe, a city of remarkable beauty and history.

District VII has an energy that is unparalleled by other parts of the city. The reasoning for this may be complicated by its past, but the sense is undeniable. Walking down the cobbled section of Dohany Utca on a Friday night and you will pass in and out of surges of noise and activity, punctuated only by the occasional residential building. At its center is the Great Synagogue , and the tight conglomerate of alleys and streets that surround it.

The problematic history of District VII (and indeed of Hungary as well) starts with WWII, when according to some calculations 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported from the city. Many of the buildings in the neighborhood fell into disrepair–remaining unoccupied in some instances for decades. The area continued to be undeveloped through into the 1980’s, when large numbers of Romani moved into the abandoned and vacant residential complexes that border one another back to back, in rows across the neighborhood.


In the last two decades, the very blight that has left District VII beleaguered has now become its greatest asset. Dozens of vacant complexes have been transformed into multi-roomed bars, each with their own character—the courtyards turned into garden pubs. In keeping with the spirit of the change, many feature an eclectic mix of found objects, repurposed junk, and vintage furniture. Easily the most famous Ruin Pub in Budapest is Szimpla.

It is stunning to see a neighborhood blossom, to watch a city embrace its history while at the same time turning a new leaf. As a native San Franciscan, all too often I have felt that my hometown has failed to preserve its own heritage in the fog that comes with the unceasing march of commercial “progress”.

Szimpla Sunday Market

On Sundays Szimpla opens its gates to local farmers, growers, cheesemongers, and many more for a weekly market. On a sunny afternoon in Budapest, you can buy home-bottled preserves, a colorful array of pickled vegetables, or bag of fresh pears and apples from local merchants. Afterward you can sit in the garden with a beer and be thankful that things once thought to be an eyesore can blossom with a beauty all their own. Apples

On our way out one afternoon, we encountered a lovely non-profit group called the Budapest Bike Maffia, a group of riders who accumulate food donations and deliver them to in-need families every Sunday. We ran back in and bought a bag of produce. They took our picture and told us they’d post it on their facebook page. We left with our baskets full, grateful to have been given a tiny snapshot of the neighborhood’s vibrant new scene, and reminded once again of what progress (at it’s best) should look like.



A Perfect Meal In The Albanian Alps

Gjecai Guest HouseThe cuisine of Northern Albania is a hearty mix of many surrounding cultures. There are elements of Mediterranean, Italian, and Balkan culinary traditions in their dishes.

We had the good fortune of spending a few days in the Theth Valley, near the border of Kosovo and Montenegro, sometimes referred to as the “Albanian Alps”.

At Gjecaj (pronounced JAY-CH-AY) every ingredient is intentional, and arrives fresh from the garden. That warm, fluttery feeling one gets from the most complete and perfect of meals? All the right notes were there when we sat down to eat.

Veal Stew

Lunch, the largest meal of the day, consisted of a veal stew in a tomato and vegetable broth (much like the Balkan variations on Gulyas) with a simple but delicious salad of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and thick hunks of sheep’s cheese. Byrek, a savory pastry of Turkish origin, is filled with spinach and cheese. A honey filled sweet cake, and a shot of honey Raki rounded out the meal.

Honey Cake & Yogurt

The food at Gjecai was special not just for the simplicity and beauty of the meal, but for the reminder it brought me: every ingredient, no matter how small,  counts.

Sur Mara, Belgrade


Pljeskavica is a Balkan staple, traditionally featuring ground patties of varying meats. The patties often include Beef, Lamb, Pork, and are sometimes mixed with onions and garlic.

At Sur Mara, a local favorite in Belgrade, the patties are served with hunks of cheese, sour cream, pickled cabbage, mayonnaise, mustard, and chili flakes. The buns are soft and lightly crisped. It’s a super-powered In-N-Out burger (for you Californians out there).

Quite simply the best “Hamburger” I’ve ever eaten.

Marché des Enfants Rouges, Paris

Le Marché des Enfants Rouges

The oldest covered market in a city of covered markets.

Founded in the 17th century, Marché Des Enfant Rouges (‘the market of the red children’), was named as such after a neighboring orphanage where the children wore red uniforms.

Easily missed through a small iron gate between two businesses on the crowded and narrow streets of the Marais.

Past the flower shops, and old postcards wrapped in plastic. Past the white peaches, the bright green pears, and the tins filled with lavender stalks.

A long glass case with crumbled cheeses, piles of couscous, yogurt, and hummus.

Rotisserie chicken and the tenderest lamb in a light tomato sauce, Merguez sausage and couscous.

We lingered for a while, watching the mild bustle of Parisians and tourists moving back and forth along Rue Bretagne.