A little bit about me:
I grew up vegetarian, which is rather unusual for an American. I think I’ve met only one other person in my life who’s diet was vegetarian from birth. Now, I have met a barrel-full of people who are vegetarian, but a significant portion of them made the decision to become vegetarian around middle to high school. My younger sisters were also raised vegetarian, so we had the opposite option of eating meat. Our parents made the decision to change to a vegetarian diet before I was born (and I’m the eldest). Both Mama and Papa grew up eating meat regularly, and I believe the main reason for the switch was for health reasons.
In the past few years, I’ve determined that I’m vegetarian by default; I have no strong feelings about eating meat, I just don’t eat meat because it’s not in my diet. Throughout my life, I continuously run into people who can’t seem to wrap their heads around vegetarianism (Note: Not a religion). I’ve had to explain my diet in a number of ways to classmates, roommates, friends, co-workers. Vegetarianism does not include fish (that would be a pescetarian), does include milk, eggs, and other dairy products (so not a vegan), and most certainly doesn’t include meat. You’d be shocked how many people have to confirm with me that I don’t eat meat.
Other clarifications I’ve had to make include:
- This is my diet, I’m Not ON a diet.
- I CAN in fact survive without eating meat: beans, peanut butter, eggs, sprouts, spinach, etc, contain protein.
- I WILL get sick if I eat too much meat, it’s not a myth, my body can’t break down the abundance of protein that exists in meat.
- On the flip side, I can taste a little bit of meat if I choose, and in the past, I have tried meat.
- And yes, I’m vegetarian, NO, I don’t like Tofu! But, I will consume it under a few circumstances (Nothing to eat. It’s in the meal I’m served. I’m starving).
Now, admittedly, most people are just curious, and I’ve met a few with a fair amount of knowledge about vegetarianism. However, since arriving in Budapest, I have had to (once again) repeat the above notes to several people. Why?
Being Vegetarian in Hungary
People I meet in Budapest are truly blown off-kilter when I tell them I’m vegetarian. I keep running into that swinging question, “You’re VEGETARIAN? And you came to Hungary?” accompanied by a one-eyebrow launch to the ceiling. It seems that meat is a highly valued component in Hungarian meals. I can’t imagine what I’m doing visiting a meat-loving city after coming from a country that practically lives off of Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, and Pepperoni Pizza. I live in Pennsylvania; kids take off school on the first day of hunting season. I go to school in Maryland, crab cakes anyone? Sea food? Lobster? I thought Americans were stereotyped for always eating at McDonald’s?
Furthermore, the amount of stunned faces I turn up is disproportionate to the availability of vegetarian food here in Budapest. Now, I say “here in Budapest,” because it has been made clear to me that the further you venture into the countryside, you will find increasingly fewer non-meat options. Since I’m cooking for myself, I have plenty of opportunity to make my own vegetable, fruit, cheese, bread, noodle combinations, which are available at regular grocery stores and fresh food markets. However, BreAnna and I are looking for a few opportunities to eat out, although we both have restrictions due to tight budgets.
So far, Vegetarian meals that I’ve consumed in Budapest include:
1 – A buffet-style meal that we had in the first week. We headed across the city on a metro line at night, and popped up in an area defined by the train tracks, sketchy shadows, a brick wall, and the metro station from which we were emerging. A few feet along the walk-way, and we came to a street corner that housed our destination, and a few other dark buildings. The first floor of the restaurant held a coat check and a wall stuffed (no pun intended) with antlers. It seemed reminiscent of a scene in The Illusionist (2006), where Chief Inspector Walter Uhl strides down the hallway of Crown Prince Leopold’s palace. Antlers, like branches of a winter forest, loom above Chief Inspector Uhl. Deer heads and frozen birds ghost through the lifeless forest. Admittedly, the restaurant wasn’t spooky, and luckily, we didn’t end up eating under the antlers. We wound our way upstairs and sat at a long stretch of tables. The main attraction for the restaurant was the selection of meat which they would grill in front of you, according to your request. Luckily for me, the buffet had plenty of other options. I found a noodle dish, which I thought, at first, was a rice dish because the noodles were chopped so finely. It had a lovely light spicing, probably with paprika (it was distinctly coated in red). Even though goulash (meat based) was the main soup option, there was a delicious vegetable soup settled in the next pot over. While vegetable soup isn’t my first pick, Hungarians know how to make soup. It wasn’t overly salty, and none of the vegetables were mushy or too firm, and the spicing added an amazing touch. And, of course there was fruit, vegetables, bread, etc.
2 – A delicious rice dish acquired from the cafe at McDaniel College Budapest. The cafe is located in the basement, but is a nice place to relax, and they give large portions for good prices. This plate of rice had broccoli, carrots and peas and was very tasty. For a drink, I had strawberry juice – deliciousness!
3 – A second food item acquired from the McDaniel cafe, and while it’s not unique to the cafe, it’s toppings are unique to Hungary. This is the third time I’ve had a Hungarian version of “vegetarian pizza,” and it’s quite literally called vegetarian, not vegetable pizza. In America, I’ve had vegetable pizzas with onion, pepper, mushroom, black olives, tomato, and broccoli. In Hungary, the vegetarian pizzas have the basic tomato sauce and cheese, but the normal toppings are corn, peas, and carrots. Corn Peas and Carrots? It’s what you stir in a soup, throw on rice, or eat as a side. This particular version also had beans, adding to the “goes in a soup” assessment. I have never before eaten a pizza with corn, peas, carrots, or beans. It tastes fine, even though it has a very lumpy appearance.
Being vegetarian in Budapest isn’t any more impossible than in any American city. (We’ll see how it goes when I get to small towns, but I can live on bread + water for a few days). This weekend, my group is traveling to Pécs, where our Saturday dinner is payed for, and I’ll reveal the contents of that meal next week. Finally, BreAnna and I are stirring up plans for another Sunday night dinner, and hopefully we won’t be so tired from the Pécs trip that we can’t cook.