Zoltan Szabo

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Greetings from Transylvania

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By Zoltan Szabo

A traditional Transylvanian outdoor oven.

What a great affair I've attended the other day, this past Sunday in fact!

It was Ms. Agi Nemeth's b-day party held at a rustic, eco-ranch in a remote, very small, but pictoresque village, stone-thrown away from Sepsiszentgyorgy, where I'm originally from! The owner of the ranch is Agi's dear friend, an environmentalist, Zoltan Para, (why is every second dude's name around here "Zoltan"...?!), who is also planning the addition of a fish pond/swimming pool just by the already existing wooden farmhouse...that will be fed by the near by stream...all eco-friendly concept with "preserving nature" ideology and desire...! There will be a (wine) cellar, or a mini-distillery (?) digged right into the ground! Ooh la la!

Agi is a childhood friend of my wife, and we've been invited to attend her 21st b-day party...(21st...well, read it as a compliment! She's more, but ladies like the age minus when talking about their ages...).

Along us there were aspiring actors and engineers, architects and businessmen, (female) basketball players, members of the city's very well ranking, A division team and such...a happy gathering, boys and babes from the younger, intellectual generation, the "in crowd" of my birth town, all having just a fine time!

We arrived in Zalan (the aforementioned small, little village by the foothills of the Bodoki "Havasok") on a crisp, snowy day at around noon, and were immediately greeted by some elite "alma palinka"...a double distilled spirit from apples. It was warming and smooth, just what we needed on a cold day! ...And with at least 40 percent alcohol per volume!...And I clearly noticed that after the 7th shot!

And there was food! Plenty, and local, traditional! I can't really define Transylvanian cuisine! (However, I will try in an upcoming article!). It is the cuisine of my mother, and I grew up on it....Rural, home cooking at its best...perhaps...!? I read it somewhere while travelling across Asia not too long ago that it compares to Chinese cuisine...! You go figure!

Anyway, there was bread baked in old fashioned brick oven...and what a magnificent bread! Made from heavy dough, using boiled potato as well, baked in that wood burning oven for about 2 hours! It came out with almost burnt, crispy crust which was then removed by "beating" the bread with all sorts of wooden tools! Sliced in huge pieces, peasant style, and "treated" with inch thick amounts of "vinete"...a spread made from roasted eggplant whipped to a creamy consistency...just divinely delicious, and favourite of my "cukifalat" wife!

It appears to have survived from the age of the Romans...baking this kind of bread in this manner that is...tummy-filling kind of bread most of you have never eaten..., so try if there is a friendly Transylvanian baker in your neighborhood!

We also had goat's milk cheese from local shepherds!

And hunting stew made with rabbit done over open fire in a fairly large size "ust", a traditional metal pan, deep and oval.

And wine! Mostly homemade, but other commercial juice too, the highlight for me being Bock's 2000 Cuvee from Villany, a more than decent Bordeaux blend! Although served cold, at outside temperature, and in funky plastic cup, it still showed well, especially after warming the cup in my hands. There was still some primary fruit aromas and flavours left with underlying herbaceous accents, softened tannins and plummy, spicy, savoury finish.  (I re-call meeting Mr. Bock at Pannonhalma sometime ago, but I could not remember his given name at this b-day function...! Or was it the "alma palinka"...?).

But, never mind! At that point it was the best! And so was everything else! Tell me, why do I think that the wines I drink when I'm home in "Erdely" are so great?! I guess the place, and its people, some of whom are childhood friends, loved ones and family, come into the picture here and make everything so magical! Food and wine, and palinka, just simply taste marvelous! And better than anywhere else in the whole wide world!

OMG! I was just about to forget the "kurtoskalacs"! A Transylvanian, and most indigineous delicacy! "Kürtőskalács or Kürtős Kalács is a Hungarian pastry also known as chimney cake or stove cake or Hungarian wedding cake, is a pastry, cooked on a tapered spit over an open fire. Originally from Transylvania, it is famous as Hungary's oldest pastry. Kürtőskalács is sold in bakeries, pastry shops and even street vendors are selling them on street corners, carnivals and fairs.

Kürtőskalács consists of a thin yeast pastry ribbon wired around a wooden cylinder, heavily sprinkled with sugar, thus becoming a helix shaped cylindrical pastry or a pastry roll that sometimes tapers very slightly towards the end. The pastry is baked on a hand-turned, tapered, wooden spit, rolled slowly on the wooden cylinder above an open fire. The dough is yeast-raised, flavored with sweet spices, the most common being cinnamon, topped with walnuts or almonds, and sugar. The sugar is caramelized on the Kürtöskalács surface, creating a sweet, crispy caramel crust. Kürtöskalács originates from Transylvania, which was a part of Hungary for centuries, and the name originates from the Hungarian word kürt that may refer to chimney (kürtő) or to horn (instrument) (originally made of animal horn). Legend has it that the German baumkuchen is directly related to the Kürtőskalács and is said to be derived from Kürtőskalács via Hungarian wedding cake. Kürtőskalács may also be known as chimney or horn cake". For more info see http://www.kurcsi.hu/. This site is in Hungarian and German at the moment, but I will be able, most likely, to persuade its owners into adding an English "button" too, very soon, so please check back!

Slow Food should indeed create a Transylvanian convivium, chapter!

It seems to me that the the young and scholars of my generation know about healthy eating habits, and lifestyle, without even thinking and/or recognizing the benefits! After all, the way they eat, and drink, and dance, etc., it's all normal and of "second nature" to them, and their children, and children's children will be thankful!

(Gastro-)Culture and traditions must be kept alive! Throughout, AND WHILE, preserving them the identity of a nation will live on! Forever!

So, forget McDonald's and junk food! Come to Transylvania and eat well and healthy, breath the air, walk around nature's most glorious and pristine places...! Go hunting for Carpathian brown bear! Or do something else...! Anything!
And ya know what...?! Forget about Dracula too! Nobody gives a damn about him around here anyway! Creating that "image" around him, although a great ruler of his times...oh well, was it just another contribution of the western society...and directors of Hollywood fame?! You tell me! "Szekelyfold", home, sweet home!


I am really excited about touring the vineyards of Romania, very soon!
Heading off to Italy at the end of March to taste the wines of Romanian soccer superstar and women's idol, ACF Fiorentina striker, Adrian Mutu, "Il 10 di Mutu", made by a Tuscan "fattoria" nearby Siena.
Hungary after, to judge at Bormustra in Pannonhalma.
2009 Wine Summit in Austria, world's one of finest wine fair, which I am also invited to in June.
Stayed tuned! Lots of news, wine reviews and MORE to come!


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