I HAVE written previously about my belief that if you are prepared to eat animals, you should go the whole hog. During a visit to Budapest, my better half reminded me of this when she pointed out a market stall advertising rooster testicle stew. So I handed over a couple of euros and was vouchsafed a plastic bowl full of gleaming gallinaceous gonads.
Do you know, it wasn’t bad at all. The barnyard knackers were served from a giant pan which had been simmering for a good while. They were in a spicy sauce, like much Hungarian fare heavy on the paprika, and were slightly but not excessively chewy. I would have preferred the temperature to be a little hotter but, as with all food and drink in Budapest at the time, eight or nine years ago, the dish was good value for money.
Did it affect my testosterone levels? Not so I noticed.
We had arrived in the Hungarian capital on a December mini-break costing little more than a hundred quid a head. The temperature was freezing throughout but we had plenty of winter woollies and enjoyed walking along the wide streets with their fascinating shops, particularly furniture emporia. One window contained the most elaborate bed we had ever seen, inlaid with precious metals. There was no price tag but it must have cost a fortune.
On our first night we went on a pub crawl before dinner and were amazed at the prices. Most of the bars were in cellars beneath shops and, at the first we visited, a pint of very strong dark beer and a glass of wine cost less than the equivalent of £2.
A note on the local lingo – utterly incomprehensible. With my (failed) A-level Latin, which would these days probably have gained an A-star, I can usually make sense of most European languages but Hungarian? Not a chance. Some say it is related to Norwegian, others to Finnish. Whatever it is, I couldn’t understand or pronounce a word of it. Not that it mattered – everyone understood English.
There are 8,000 restaurants to choose from in Budapest, and for the first dinner we visited a friendly, cheap and cheerful place. Thanks to the powerful ale, I have no recollection of what we ate.
Our most memorable meal came at a restaurant named St George. I have been unable to discover its history but it appeared extremely ancient. It was divided into arched alcoves, each named after a different saint. The linen and cutlery was impeccable, as were the old-school waiters. Boringly I went for the goulash and it was good, if a little low on the spice. Margaret had an omelette and we shared a bottle of excellent wine. The bill came to about £40.
Being a Northerner, I have visited some spectacular market halls, most nowadays a shadow of their former selves. But the Great Market Hall in the city centre knocks them all into a cocked hat.
It is a magnificent building, constructed in 1897. And the stalls, specialising in Hungarian produce, are a riot of colour. In aisle after aisle, bushels of red peppers compete for space with strings of fat garlic bulbs. Pickled vegetables are everywhere, beautifully arranged on crammed shelves. Cheeses, hams, salamis, tins of paprika by the thousand. There are souvenir shops but this is not just a tourist trap – it’s where the locals go for their food. Tasting tours are available but sadly we were unable to book one at short notice.
One day, when I overcome my aversion to foreign travel, we will return to Budapest. So watch your backs, roosters.
The bottom line
One of my Northern Ireland readers, Stephen Richards, tells me that his local paper reported on a school visit by a bunch of VIPs. ‘The school wind band was said to have “treated the visitors to an impromptu recital”. But unfortunately the middle letter of recital was omitted. The imagination boggles.’
Old jokes’ home
I’m sure, wherever my dad is, he’s looking down on us. He’s not dead, just very condescending.
A PS from PG
‘I don’t want to seem always to be criticising your methods of voice production, Jeeves,’ I said, ‘but I must inform you that that “Well, sir” of yours is in many respects fully as unpleasant as your “Indeed, sir?” Like the latter, it seems to be tinged with a definite scepticism. It suggests a lack of faith in my vision. The impression I retain after hearing you shoot it at me a couple of times is that you consider me to be talking through the back of my neck, and that only a feudal sense of what is fitting restrains you from substituting for it the words “Says you!”.’
PG Wodehouse: Right Ho, Jeeves