If you know me well, you know travel is a way of life for me whether it’s for business or pleasure. I believe passports should be used and planes are just another mode of transportation. Even though travel can be exhausting at times and coming home is always a welcomed sight, my husband will tell you that I usually end my recap with “I just found this great place to go.” I’ve had the opportunity through professional opportunities, personal interests and friends to explore and become a traveler, not a tourist. Perhaps my zeal (along with my brother’s) comes not from a childhood of exploration but rather a limitation due to family farm responsibilities. Growing up, our travel was mainly in the Ohio Valley with trips to Chicago or Washington D.C. with 4-H Club activities. I’m a firm believer that the more we know about other cultures and folks around us, the less differences we find…and the more connections we have.
Traveling as an adult, I learned that my father was always curious about places I visited, but considered his tour of duty in World War II as his “one and only” global experience. I then began seeing the landscape and countries through “my father’s eyes” – always looking for the agricultural aspects of a new place and trying to understand the impact of food and farming (or lack thereof) so I could report back. Even though those days of sharing insights with Dad have passed, the desire to explore beyond the obvious has not been lost. There’s always more to know than what we see with our eyes. Hence, this is how I viewed the markets and countryside outside of Vienna and Budapest during my recent trip with the Food & Culinary Professionals Dietetic practice of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
Perspective in Size
Visiting historical cities like Vienna and Budapest provides insights to history and our U.S. connections in ways one can never experience by reading a book. But to understand the culture, we need to go beyond the typical tourist attractions and take the opportunity to visit markets, grocery stores and travel outside the city limits. This allows us to compare and contrast the cultural influences on diet, food availability and consumer preferences with our own norms. When comparing ourselves to countries in the European Union (EU), we often wonder why “we” don’t do things like them or vice versa. Perhaps, we need to realize that size and economy are always factors to be considered. For example, Austria is approximately the size of Maine, and Hungary is the size of Indiana, with both populations about 3% of the U.S. population. Imports of food from other EU countries is like Kentucky ‘importing” food from Indiana, Ohio or Tennessee. Each of us, whether a country, region or state have the land and climate to grow particular crops and livestock but we rely on others to provide the food and feedstock that we cannot produce. However, our cuisine usually reflects what we ‘know” best. Austria and Hungary are no exception.
All Things Local are Global
There is always a market place in any city, whether it’s centuries old or a “pop up” farmers market. In Vienna, it’s the Nashchmarkt, Vienna’s (and Austria’s) most popular market. This approximately mile-long market has existed since the 16th century when only milk bottles were sold. Since 1793, fruits and vegetables have been sold at the market as it was the “policy” back then that any produce brought to the city would be sold in that location. Today, the Nashchmarkt remains a vivid market where the gamut of food offerings includes local seasonal offerings of green and white asparagus, sour cherries and “all things pickled” as well as spices, cheeses and fresh produce from across the globe. Actual local farmers markets are more weekly than daily. Some of our guides mentioned the “market” is not an everyday occurrence for most due to price but it’s still a gathering spot. Restaurants have continued to mature and dining is an everyday occurrence with weekly flea markets drawing in the younger crowd.
In Budapest, the Great Market Hall or Central Market Hall is a way of life for locals as I followed all ages with their rolling baskets walking to the market on a Saturday morning. And it’s a “must see” for visitors. The three-story covered market opened in 1897 and is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest (actually on the Pest side). It has withstood World War II bombings and the Communist régime, regaining its grandeur in the 1990s after extensive remodeling.
Today, in addition to the bounty array of fruits and vegetables, you will find freshly made sausages, pastries (especially the strudel and chimney cake) and paprika….LOTS of paprika! After all, paprika is the core ingredient of many Hungarian dishes and there is a specific way to use it. We were told by more than one chef, always start with the sweet paprika ( about 4 Tablespoons to one onion and fat source to start a base) and layer it with the smoked variety, and then finally at the end of a dish preparation, add the hot paprika for the finishing touch.
A little different than the American tradition of using paprika as a “garnish” for deviled eggs as is traditional in southern cooking!
The Hills Are Alive
Traveling by motor coach during our visit allowed glimpses of rolling hills with wheat blowing in the wind and corn sprouting from the freshly prepared ground, reminiscence of the farm land in central Kentucky. No-till farming and slightly plowed fields with buffer strips dotted the highways. And the hills were alive with vineyards! The region’s climate in the areas visited is particularly suited for white wines. Vienna actually has vineyards within its city limits and the Etyek wine region located outside of Budapest is producing some of Hungary’s finest wines.
A visit to the Esterhazy Etyeki Kuria Winery on the slope of Oreghegy provided interesting insight on how the vineyards in Hungary have evolved over the past 10-15 years from “producing for quantity” during the Communist time to a commitment to quality and sustainable wines. By the bottles purchased by our group, I think their goal has been achieved! And by the way….as with most European vineyards, there is an American connection! The original rootstock of the vines came from the United States due to disease prevention.
Travel is the Door to Knowledge
Whether your travels this summer take you around the corner or to the four corners of the world, take time to explore the sights, sounds and smells of the food and agriculture landscape around you. IF you see something growing in a field that is unfamiliar, stop and ask someone what it is; visit the farmer’s market in your community or wherever you go to experience the vibes of the community and its local food production; and when you’re riding in a car or train, look up from your electronic device and appreciate the landscape around you. You may learn more by looking out the window than you think. Agriculture is the core of our existence – appreciate it.