There would be no ‘bubble and squeak’ without the humble cabbage.
One of the most popular Hungarian dishes is stuffed cabbage: pre-boiled whole cabbage leafs, stuffed with minced meat. But cabbage even finds its way into Hungarian sweets in cabbage strudel.
Bubble and squeak is one of those rare dishes in which Australians re-use cooked vegetables. My wife, if I do not rescue it, removes any cooked food that sat in the fridge for more than two days.
This was not the case in Hungary in my childhood. My parents, like the rest of the population, never forgot the food shortage and starvation during and in the aftermaths of World War II. My mother, repeated the story to us children, when we did not appreciate the meal she cooked for us, that people would have devoured any food in that period, if only they had some. Meat simply did not exist for a long time, and desperate people would even venture out to gather meat from dead horses. Horses that died in the streets because there was no feed for them. Although the situation improved greatly after the war and few people starved during the communist regime from 1946 till 1989, there were shortages in certain food items, particularly beef; with just about all veal going to the Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, if people came to a visit, it was compulsory by custom to feed them. The more food they consumed, the greater honour it was for the hosts. If the guest barely ate anything or refused to eat altogether, these were taken as insults to the hosts.
In Australia, hosts tend to be easy going about their guests’ eating habits. Not in Hungary. And my Mum who was over 40 when we came to Australia, held on to her Hungarian hospitality habits for the rest of her life. I did my best in vain as an adult for many years to persuade her to adjust her ways. A typical encounter went like this when I visited her:
Mum: “Have you had anything to eat?”
Me: “Yes, Mum, plenty, thanks.”
“How about a nice pea soup, I just made it.”
“Sounds great Mum, but I am full as a goog. Maybe at another time… So how are things?”
“Look, you would really like this soup. I know it is one of your favourites. Have some!”
“Okay Mum, but just a little please. I am really full.”
“You look skinny to me. You barely eat anything.”
“Oh, I wish. I have put on weight and I just can’t lose it.”
“I knew you would like this soup. You gulped it down in no time. Have more!”
“No, I can’t, thanks.”
“Guess what else I have for you!”
“Please don’t tell me Mum; I am bursting!”
“Stuffed cabbage, cooked a few minutes ago.”
“Thanks Mum. But I can’t even look at it, I am absolutely full.”
(Three big cabbage rolls later:)
“Now that you were a good boy, you can have your favourite: Wiener Schnitzel with new potatoes. Just out from the frying pan.”
“I really can’t Mum.’
“But it is with real veal. It’s so tender, it melts in the mouth. I cut up some lemon slices for you to squeeze over it.”
“Mum, are you trying to kill me with kindness? I told you I can’t even look at any more food!”
Mum: (agitated) “This is unbelievable, you come here and eat nothing. All this lovely food!”
“Okay Mum, but just a tiny bit, otherwise I have to leave it.”
(Mum serves me Schnitzel, the size of the dinner plate, then a row of cabbage strudels for sweets!)
Mum no longer offers me any meals. She passed away 30 years ago. Oh, how I wish, she could still be here and try to force-feed me.
I promise, I would go to her place starving and eat everything she put before me with the greatest pleasure and gratitude!
Do you have any food-related rituals in your family? Share them with us.
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