The FoodMemoir: Hungry for Hungary

Red Pepper

Going to Hungary for vacation was like stepping into an intermediary world between our gray reality and the colorful one of the Western Europe I would glimpse a couple of years later. While Hungary, like Poland, was under the Soviet influence, it seemed brighter than my native country. 

We arrived in a small town where we rented a house. In the mornings, we would go to the market to buy the green-red watermelons, and in the evenings we would feast on bright red and green peppers, fresh and fragrant. We would sometimes end the day with one more visit to the market, only this time to buy delicious and crunchy corn pancakes. Not to mention the weather, which was beautiful all month long. If as a child I ever contemplated the meaning of paradise, Hungary in the summer of 1980 must have been it.

Contrast that with Poland, where we came back in the beginning of September, and found that the only item available in many grocery stores was vinegar! I wish I had a photo of the empty shelves to prove to myself that this was the true state of affairs because it is so hard to believe that such was the reality at the time. Naturally, without the cell phone cameras and even little digital cameras, this would have been a difficult task as no store manager would permit me to do that. But over the years I asked enough people to confirm that the vinegar story was not an urban legend.

The vinegar, I have to add, was of the worst kind–smelling badly and strongly. For years after the communist rule has ended, I did not like balsamic vinegrette, and even thought it strange to spoil the taste of salads with it.



Karo Caran, the Rainbow Poetess, is a poet and a non/fiction writer. Her novel, "Breaking the silence: A story in paintings" focuses on the censorship of art and gay relationships in the postwar, communist Poland. Her poetry-based memoir, "Life in a Footnotes" will be published this summer.
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7 thoughts on “The FoodMemoir: Hungry for Hungary

  1. Whenever I make a balsamic vinaigrette, I’ll be thinking of you, Karo, feasting in Hungary and fasting in Poland, in 1980. You’ve also made it clear that an unhealthy political climate can cause severe limitation in food choices. As far as I am concerned, any political climate that penetrates and limits people’s food choices is unhealthy indeed.

    • Yep, thankfully, enough time has elapsed and I do appreciate a good balsamic vinegar and the super healthy apple cider vinegar. In fact, I use the apple one quite often 🙂

  2. I can’t even imagine a store with only vinegar unless it’s an olive oil and vinegar store which I have visited! How did people eat? That was quite a flashback into a reality that I never knew.

    • I think people had to be very creative and not too demanding, Julieanne. So you’d make do with what you had, and your neighbors and friends likely did the same thing. So you did not feel that much deprived, odd as this sounds. 🙁