I recently attended a showing of A Tanú, a film that was famously banned in Hungary for over a decade for its parody of the inefficiencies of the post-WWII communist regime. The event was held at the Hungarian Embassy and the movie viewing was followed by networking and noshing, as well as tasting a red and a white from the mothalahnd. The finger sandies served reminded me of dinner at my grandmother’s place.
Dinner in Hungary tends to be the lightest of meals, with lunch being the biggie, and the open-faced sandwich (szendvics) is often what Hungarian families finish their days with. Traditionally, hand-sliced slices of (real) bread are laid out in a basket, surrounded by little dishes containing a variety of sliced cold cuts, veggies, eggs and cheeses. Butter, mustard, horseradish and Gulyáskrém (goulash paste with smoked paprika, to dot onto cheese) is always available to smear on.
If you’re as lucky as I am to have a Hungarian grandma who makes smoked eggplant spread, which to this day is one of my favorite things in this universe, then this is also set out in a large glass bowl. Sometimes, there is tojáskrém, a creamy spread made with cooked egg yolk, sour cream and mustard. There is also sometimes körözött, a deliciously bumpy spread made with túró (farmer’s cheese, a.k.a. curd of either sheep milk or cow milk), paprika, caraway seeds and a touch of mustard.
Basically, you prepare your own open-faced sandwich by mixing and matching toppings in whatever ratio you want. At my grandma’s house, I usually go for either the smoked eggplant spread (which only she really knows how to make in the right way) or the delicious, spicy Gyulai kolbász (sausage) on buttered bread with a few slices of crisp Hungarian wax pepper.
Snack time at the embassy featured little open-faced finger sandwiches with multiple layers of stuff on top meant, I think, to reflect this dinnertime flexibility in topping choice. Almost tackily colorful, they were arranged on a little white paper doily. One variety had crispy bread topped with a combination of turkey and salami sliced very thin, along with Trappista cheese, an easy-melting cow’s milk cheese that is, and probably always has been, the most popular cheese in Hungary. Underneath the meat and cheese, there was also a bit of tart, smokey körözött which added a nice mushy, moist texture. A few slices of cucumber, lettuce leaves and cherry tomato added some freshness. Pretty simple, but reflective of a normal family dinner in Hungary.
There were brown bread sandies with blocks of creamy cheese, juicy slices of tomato and some sort of salty, oily cured pork very dark in color. There were also crustless finger sandies with tuna salad which has nothing to do with Hungarian food and I don’t really understand what these were doing on the plate at all, but I guess they were nice, topped with a sour pickle slice and a stuffed green olive.
The white was a 2005 Monarchia Egri Chardonnay Battonage with big, bold sweet white fruit flavors (peach and pear), a nice dryness which left the tongue eager for another sip. There was also a nice silky, buttery smooth finish to it which made it very easy to drink on a uncharacteristically hot spring day.