The nénis have been out selling pussy-willow branches for awhile now, the days are longer, and the sun even shines. But it’s still cold here in Budapest, and it feels a bit too early for Easter to arrive this year. But the Easter meal spread out on pretty tablecloths decorated with folk motifs always makes it feel like Spring, even if the weather disagrees. Of all of the meals that I eat in Hungary, the Easter meal is always my favorite. Traditionally eaten on Holy Saturday, it is now generally on Easter Sunday, and it is one of the biggest meals of the year. Despite its simplicity, I begin craving it long before the actual day.
On my family’s Easter table there’s always the same thing: boiled smoked ham (sometimes two different types) and freshly-grated horseradish to eat with it, eggs that have been boiled in the ham’s cooking water, the most delicious töltött tojás which are drowning in homemade tartármártás, Francia saláta, burgonyasaláta in tartármártás, and pickled beets. There is light and fluffy kalács (similar to challah bread) to sop it all up with. Dessert is usually some sort of cake cut up into small pieces, like the Gerbeaud szelet.
It seems that most families would never think about mixing their holiday meal up with new dishes. Curious about what other families eat on Húsvét, we asked some students at the Budapest Business School’s College of Commerce and Catering what would be on their Easter tables. It turned out that most families will be eating the exact same thing as mine will be eating. But fish breaded in palacsinta batter, bableves with pork knuckle and roasted rabbit were also mentioned. One student from Transylvania will be having roasted lamb. Most will be eating kalács, some will be having tojásos kalács which has whole hard boiled eggs baked inside. Some will also be having hájas tészta. Sárga túró, which seems to be a lesser-prepared dish, was also mentioned. Dessert will be varied. Gerbeaud szelet seems to be a popular choice, and so does madártej (floating islands).
Easter Monday, a national holiday, is the locsolkodás (the “sprinkling”), when men and boys spend the morning going from house to house reciting poems to women and girls and then spraying them with cheap perfume – supposedly to preserve their youth and beauty. In return, the guys are given chocolate, Easter eggs or shots of pálinka. And, needless to mention, it is also a perfect time for finishing up all of those leftovers.