The Santa Monica Pier at Sunset
I was waiting for the Number 1 Santa Monica bus on 4th Street, near the Expo Line Terminus, when two young women suddenly hove into view as my bus was approaching. When I don’t want to talk to strangers—and I almost never do—I answer them … in Hungarian. Well, these two girls went away thinking I was some kind of a genius instead of a rude bastard manqué.
In English, they asked me which way was the ocean.
In Hungarian, I answered, “You mean the beach?” Their eyes widened. How did I know they were Hungarian? I gestured toward the beach and said, “That way!” in my best Magyar. They thanked me profusely as I boarded my bus.
Actually, they were rather cute.
Is This What We’ve Come To?
In an essay on James Fenimore Cooper appearing in his 1923 Studies in Classical American Literature, British novelist D. H. Lawrence wrote:
But you have there the myth of the essential white American. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.
I can’t believe that Lawrence got it so right on the money a hundred years ago.
Last year, I gave up on the Democratic Party. This year, I’m giving up on the white race. When I get the 2020 Census form, I will identify myself as being of Other race. The peoples belonging the the Finno-Ugric Language Family—comprising Finns, Hungarians, Estonians, Karelians, Komi, Udmurts, Mari, Mordvins, Khanties, and Mansis—derive ultimately from the Ural Mountains, which straddle the border between Europe and Asia. Rather than count myself in the same race as the a**holes in the above photo, I am now of Finno-Ugric race. I can also called myself Asian. I’ll see how I feel about it later.
But white? Uh-uh!
What Ever Happened to Good Plain Food?
I open this post by splitting a couple of hairs. First of all, this has nothing to do with Anthony Bourdain’s unfortunate demise. I am not familiar either with his work as chef or his book(s) or his television program. Secondly, I am writing this at Martine’s behest. Anyone who knows me well knows that I like ethnic food best. It is Martine whose digestive system shies away from any attempt at fanciness, which she associates with things like raw onions or strong spices. Going to an unfamiliar restaurant is something she associates with an assault on her Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
As the cook in our little household, I try my best to prepare simple dishes without too many exotic ingredients but with a good, clean taste. At times, I am tempted to add hot chilis, as I am a notorious chili-head. But I resist the temptation, or my little girl goes hungry. Restaurants are even more difficult: Martine aims for the tried and true places, like Sevan Chicken and Elena’s Greek and Armenian Restaurant in Glendale; All India Cafe, the Rosemary Grill, and Darya Persian Restaurant in my neighborhood; Label’s Table and Canter’s Deli East of here; and The Main Course in Rancho Park. At each of those places, she will typically order the same dish every time, while I typically skip around the menu. If that one dish doesn’t satisfy, she writes the restaurant off her list as a lost cause.
Several years ago, I wrote a post entitled “Don’t Toque to Me About Chefs!” in which I lambasted the profession for trying too hard to be creative without necessarily serving good food. It almost seems as if many chefs were trying too hard to be original. There used to be a great Hungarian restaurant in the San Fernando Valley called the Hórtobágy owned by a chef called Lászlo. Apparently, the genius in the kitchen at his restaurant was an elderly lady who cooked delicious Hungarian meals that reminded me of my childhood. Then Lászlo opened another restaurant nearby called Maximilian’s at which he was the chef. Every dish was smothered with raw onions. Yeccch!
Little Girls in Greek Dance Costumes (2011)
In the time that Martine and I have been going to Greek church festivals in Los Angeles, we’ve noticed several trends:
- The food is getting less authentic. Today, Martine ordered a spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie) that did not contain any cheese.
- It seems that fewer of the parishioners speak Greek. Is it that the older generation is passing on?
- The priests are less involved personally with the festivals, particularly in offering church tours to visitors.
This is less true of Saint Sophia Cathedral in downtown L.A. which draws crowds from a much larger area, and which is across the street from Papa Cristo’s, the most authentic Greek restaurant in town.
The same is true of the Hungarian festivals. At first, I felt abashed by my poor command of the Magyar language. Now my Hungarian seems to have gotten better, or again, are the old immigrants dying off and making my poor language skills look better by comparison?
I suppose this is a natural process. Many of the places we visit may not even be around in a few years. For instance, there do not seem to be any Hungarian restaurants left in our nation’s second largest city. Back when I first moved to L.A., there were a number of choices, especially the much lamented Hortobagy.
If you want a more authentic ethnic experience in Los Angeles, you have to look to Latin America and Asia. There is a bustling Thai and Korean scene; and numerous options involving Mexican, Central and South American culture. There are numerous places offering Oaxacan food. Culver City has an Indian restaurant offering the cuisine of Southern India’s State of Kerala.
As to the girls in the above photograph, I could have sworn that they were in a group of teenage girls who passed us on the way to our parked car. They were busy calling each other “chicken butt.”
Ana de Armas and Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049
I am not used to saying nice things about sequels and remakes. The original Blade Runner (1982) was directed by Ridley Scott. In this sequel done thirty-five years later, Ridley Scott is listed as an Executive Producer. Could that be the reason that this sequel fits perfectly with the older film, and even shares several characters, most notably Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard.
If you are interested in seeing this film, I recommend that you not only see the original 1982 film, but read Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Even though I have done both, I plan to re-read the Dick novel and see the Ridley Scott original within the next week or so.
Poster for the New Blade Runner 2049
What I love about this film is the philosophical question, “Is it real or is it a replicant?” (Replicants are robots, and a Blade Runner is a policeman who “retires” certain kinds of replicants who may be troublesome by assassinating them.) For most of the film, I kept asking myself whether Gosling as “K” is himself a replicant, as he seems to have some superhuman powers in a fight. The question is finally answered at the end, but I won’t spoil the ending for you.
Speaking as a Hungarian, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film was shot in Hungary and that most of the crew and some of the cast were my fellow countrymen. This was the second film I saw this year that was shot in Hungary, and I’ve only seen a handful of new films. I wonder how much of a tendency this is getting to be.
There are images in this film that will stick with me, such as the ruins of Las Vegas and San Diego, the lovely female replicants who are available for monkey business (see illustration below), and the impassive face of Ryan Gosling.
A Projection of a Highly Available Replicant Tries to Persuade K
Only Hungarians Know The Answer to This One….
Hungarians use their giant zucchinis to make tökfőzelék. (Don’t swallow your tongue while attempting to pronounce this word, or for sure you won’t enjoy your tökfőzelék!)
This is one of those Hungarian poor people’s dishes which are so delicious. My mouth still waters at the squash dishes my Mom used to make. I’ve made it myself, and it’s really tasty. Here’s what you’ll need:
2 zucchini, about 8-10 inches long
1 yellow summer squash, about 8-10 inches long
(You can use all zucchini or all summer squash if you prefer.)
3/4 tsp. salt (fine-grind salt is best)
2 T red wine vinegar
1 T finely chopped fresh dill
2 T finely chopped onion
2 T butter (or use a slightly smaller amount of olive oil if you prefer, but the butter adds a lot of flavor here.)
2 tsp. paprika, plus more for garnish (preferably Hungarian Szegedi sweet paprika: Don’t mess with the tasteless Spanish variety)
1/3 cup sour cream
1 T flour
1-2 tablespoons dill pickle juice, as needed
dried dill weed, for garnish
additional sour cream, for garnish
Follow the instructions at Kalyn’s Kitchen, complete with photographs to help you come up with a perfect tökfőzelék. Even if you can’t pronounce it, you’ll have no trouble eating it.
Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage with Rye Bread and Sour Cream
I do not have anything to say about Proust in this posting. Maybe I should have called it “You Can’t Go Home Again” or some such title. My earliest memories are about being raised in a Hungarian household in Cleveland by loving parents. I could not, would not ever repudiate that part of me; and I keep going in search of experiences that, like Proust’s madeleine bring back the happy memories of my childhood.
There used to be some good Hungarian restaurants in Los Angeles; but, as big a city as this is, there do not appear to be any at this time. So Martine and I show up at the local Hungarian Reformed Churches for their festivals. I go to recover my memories, and Martine goes because (although she is French) she loves Hungarian food more than any other.
Despite a rare May rain shower, we went to the Majális festival at the Grace Hungarian Reformed Church in Reseda. We have been going here for almost ten years. Even within that short time, we have seen the parishioner base age as the old Hungarians die off and the younger ones spread out to the four winds. Still, the food is excellent. Their stuffed cabbage is superb, and their baked goods are world class.
The Grace Hungarian Reformed Church as It Looked Several Years Ago
Their pastor is still Zsolt Jakabffy, who keeps soldiering away at maintaining a parish amid the rapidly changing demographics of the San Fernando Valley.
Wait a minute! What’s a Catholic boy like me doing hanging out at a Protestant church? It all goes back to when my Catholic father and my Protestant Reformatus mother made before their children were born. Any boys would be brought up as Catholic; any girls, as Protestant. Just my mother’s luck that she gave birth to two sons.
So, yes, I have no compunction looking for God wherever He is invoked.