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Taking the Kids: Visiting Budapest and exploring a new city through food and drink

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

It might seem strange that we chose to eat our way through Budapest's historic Jewish Quarter -- a place from which thousands were deported during the Holocaust. Before the Holocaust, there were 700,000 Hungarian Jews, today there are just 100,000.

But our 30-year-old Taste Hungary guide Eszter, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors who asked that her surname not be published, explains that not only has food always been an important part of the culture here, but when her grandmother, as a teen, was sent to a concentration camp, she was "always eating in her head," a strategy that might have contributed to her survival. When she was freed after the war, Eszter said, some of those traditional dishes helped in her recovery.

Later, at the Tasting Table, the 19th-century cellar the Banfalvi's have turned into a tasting room for Hungarian wines not available in the United States, we sample some of those wines, local cheeses and meats, including the popular and delicious smoked cheese called Parenycic. We try the Hungarian version of cheers, which sounds a lot like you're saying "I guess she could drive," very fast.

We would share more specialty dishes and artisanal cocktails later that evening -- think sea bass baked in salt, roast duck and baked cheese cake with a blueberry sauce -- at the Kollazs Brasserie, Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, in a beautifully restored 1906 Art Nouveau building. It was recently named the best European city hotel by Travel + Leisure's readers.

Eszter reminds us how one person could and did make a difference during the Holocaust -- showing us the memorial to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews in 1944 by issuing special passports and sheltering families in buildings designated as Swedish territory. Sadly, he disappeared in 1945 during the Red Army's Siege of Budapest. It is assumed that Wallenberg died while a prisoner of the Soviets.

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Unlike the children and grandchildren of other Hungarian survivors, Eszter said, "I grew up knowing all the stories."

We're glad she has shared them -- and the dishes -- with us.


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