Kürtőskalács In Budapest
A Short Story
Budapest is probably one of the World’s most underappreciated cities. In Europe we’ve spent time to Rome, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Athens, Vienna, and more and we would put Budapest near the top of our list. It has incredible cityscapes and gardens and a walk along the Danube at night is magical. Cafes and restaurants are great and the public transportation is World class.
We spent a number of days in Budapest five years ago and this summer we were eager to get back. Before our last trip, as usual, we did research and one thing that stood out was that we had to try Kürtőskalács the favorite Hungarian pastry. When we returned much had changed and one major was the availability of Kürtőskalács.
What we discovered is Kürtőskalács or Kürtős kalácsis are a Hungarian pastry also known as chimney cake, or stove cake or Hungarian wedding cake. It is baked on a tapered cylinder on a spit over an open fire or hot charcoal and rolled in a number of various flavor coatings. Originally from Transylvania, it is famous as Hungary’s oldest pastry and is found in other European countries under different names.
Five years ago since it is considered the national pastry of Hungary you would think the search should be easy. Right? The first problem experienced was the Hungarian language and having no idea how to pronounce Kürtőskalác. Hungarian is a very hard language to learn because it is complex and very unique and despite the country’s location in central Europe, its dialect is nothing like those spoken in neighboring nations. While Hungary’s language is generally referred to as Hungarian in fact its proper name is “Magyar” and worldwide it’s only spoken by 13 million people with over 9 million of those living in Hungary. While a large number of Hungarians have a good command of English, virtually all signage displays are in only Hungarian. From just the word Kürtőskalác you can see how difficult the language is.
Recognizing the language problem I put Kürtőskalác on a note app in my cellphone so I could show people what I was looking for. Budapest has a famous Market Hall with food and restaurant stalls and seemed like the logical place to start. Everyone was very eager to help but had no suggestions as to where to find them. One baker gave us directions to a place four or five blocks away that might make them. They didn’t and couldn’t suggest where to go next.
It is a pastry and you would think it would be common in bakeries but we learned that’s not the case. It seems it is the requirement to bake over charcoal or open flame that causes a problem for indoor shops.
After five days in Budapest we gave up our search to find some Kürtőskalács. On day six we took a train to spend a day in Slovakia and returned to Budapest after Sunset. As we walked out of the Central Station there was a line going down the sidewalk leading to a food truck. It was a Kürtőskalác food truck! We started with a cinnamon-sugar one to share but will surely come back in a day or two.
Returning this past June the change was amazing. Everywhere we turned there were shops and stands selling Kürtőskalács. On a five block long pedestrian mall, that had no Kürtőskalács five years ago, we could now take our pick from six different vendors. Within two blocks of our hotel there were two. Even the Market Hall had two stands and we’re left with wondering what has happened since our last visit?