Hungry Hungarians by Ryan Reyes

One of the main components of community is the dinner table. A person’s closest community, their family gathers around the dinner table during a family meal, thanksgiving or a celebration. The dinner table, filled with foods that you grew up eating, foods that define your family’s heritage. Growing up being raised by my aunt, we always had a nice Hungarian dish to enjoy at these joyous times. Being first and second generation Americans, my grandparents taught their children the Hungarian cuisine culture stronger than American. Making a direct line in lineage, I too grew up eating a heavy Hungarian diet consisting of traditional dishes and snacks. I look back and evaluate the actual healthy and nutritious aspect of this way of eating and compare with my current health to see if our Hungarian diet is one of health or if it unfortunately steered us into unhealthiness.

A Hungarian diet is usually one of little to no food in cans or processed foods. My mom refers to them as dead foods. Our natural diet consists of many vegetable and fresh pork just as many other Eastern European diets. A Hungarian will for sure know the two ingredients of paprika and sour cream. These two ingredients are essential in the culture. So important, that when I last visited Hungary and the district where my grandfather lived I was embraced with a gift of a big bottle of paprika. Are these two ingredients healthy for a human? This diet paired with average exercise that my family was accustomed to, presented a surprisingly healthy lifestyle.

My family history is one that has always prided themselves around our Hungarian Heritage. My grandfather was born in Budapest Hungary in the 7th district, a predominately Jewish district. His father had originally migrated to the United States Pre World Wars to avoid German persecution, being that our family has traces of the common Jewish appearance and with our then families name of “Klein” he thought it’d best to move to the land of opportunity. They arrived at Ellis Island just as many other immigrants and then moved to lower Queens, then taking I believe his mother’s maiden name of “Kelety” to again avoid persecution. Seeing that the American myth of streets of gold and moving sidewalks to be a bust, he decided to move back Budapest, Hungary after some time to reopen our family’s coffee shop. He and his wife then had my grandfather. The 7th district is hallmarked by its closeness to markets and the famous Keleti train station. My grandfather lived in Budapest for a while then came to the United States after his father coffee shop failed.

My grandfather took great pride in his Hungarian upbringing. Often times I would remember me and my other cousins sitting late around the dining table enjoying some of the many stories we heard over and over again from my grandpa. We loved it, but looking back on my early childhood where my Hungarian Heritage really settled in my biggest memories were all based around the dinner table. It felt like food was the epicenter of all family gatherings. We would all crowd around a Hungarian homemade dish from my gram and share laughs, memories and life updates. These Hungarian dishes set the pace for family functions. Most of my family only were graced to share these meals when we had family gatherings. I, on the other hand, was more blessed. My mom being the oldest of her siblings was taught to cook all of the traditional meals in order to help my gram with raising the other five children. Since my mom was the one who was constantly doing the cooking for her siblings they did not learn how to make as many Hungarian dishes as her. So my mom raising me as a single mother had a very specific cuisine skill set. I was raised unlike my other cousins getting to enjoy these meals multiple times during the week, since their parents didn’t learn the family food trade like my mom. So I am more in touch with my Hungarian side than pretty much any of my other relatives. Also, being the only family member other than my grandparents to have been back to Budapest, Hungary in the same district we as a family originated I got to see first-hand where our diet originated from.

A Hungarian dish is one of an Eastern European diet. They usually contain more vegetables than fruits due to the terrain of that country. The main ingredient that go in almost every Hungarian dish is paprika. It is so important to Hungarians it’s almost as if you made the comparison that for tortillas are to Mexicans, paprika is to Hungarians. The first time I visited Hungary I was greeted as a “Welcome Home” gift a huge can of Paprika. Paprika is a healthy component to have in food for it is well off in fiber made of air dried fruits of chili pepper. Sandi Busch from Healthy Eating actually said,” You are missing an opportunity to boost flavor and nutrition if you use paprika as nothing more than an added dash of color sprinkled over deviled eggs or potato salad. You don’t need to use a lot of paprika to benefit from it. Even a small amount delivers antioxidants and nutrients.” So as you can see it is not a bad item to have in your everyday diet.

The truth is that a Hungarian diet that consists of consistently eating traditional dishes and snack habits is generally a very healthy diet. Hungarians do not have a string genealogical health issues and I know this to be true because no one in this side of my family suffer from any related issues. Even my Grandpa, who is 86 and still eating the same meals as me, has no major issues of this sort. I look at myself even and realize that the worst medical issue I’ve ever had was stitches on my forehead. I am rarely sick during grade school only missed I believe a total of 3-4 days throughout 1st to 12th grade. I am in good shape only really dealing with sinus issues, nothing major.

Why is it that my family’s diet is so effective compared many of my friend’s families that had constant dietary health problems? Many people such as Michael Pollan agree that the biggest health issue lies in the Western diet. I compare my family’s diet and that of the average Westerner. The problem with the Western diet is that they choose to have a very focused and consolidated diet that pinpoints only things that they believe to be healthy. Often times trying to hone in on one aspect of nutrition and neglect other vital parts of a nutrition diet. I remember when fish oils were a “big thing” or a “must have” in the diet. Which is still true, but of course many Westerners then overconsumed fish oils to the degree that they were harmful. Then everybody was saying to stay away from fish oils! Westerners have the notion that to be healthy they have to look like the top model or the most prosperous athlete. So they over consume on supplements and miss out on plenty of other nutrients that are needed in the human body. I talked with my mom about the food I grew up on and asked why we never worried about if we were getting all that we needed from our food. My mom replied very simply but somehow profoundly, “Ryan, growing up as a single mother is not easy. You don’t have the luxury of time to go through every ingredient for nutritious facts. My mother told me that if it doesn’t come in a box or can it is good to eat and the darker the color of the fruits and vegetables or ingredients the healthier it is for you.” Such as oranges, pickles, and tomatoes.

In order to have a healthy diet you have to consume a certain number of calories and fat in order to remain healthy and not get over weight. I remember a couple years back when fish oils were a “must have nutrition” all the mothers forced their husbands and children to take fish oils daily. Then we come to find out that the over consumption of fish oils is actually harmful to the body, then everybody was urged to stay away from fish oils. That is way too complicated for me, and I don’t like confusing that much. My family always just ate a regular meal never really putting too much emphasis on the fact that the meal was 800 calories and they only needed 600. We were not meticulous on things like that. But there was one thing that we always made sure. Every meal had to have a vegetable growing up. And the ingredients had to be fresh. My family didn’t believe in eating a lot of “dead foods” such as chips and what not. If you were hungry mom or gram would whip up a quick snack for you. Even if it was a batch of cookies they still were cookies that were made not bought. Sadly though my snack often was a pickle or celery with peanut butter. We tried to stick to ingredients that were either “Picked from the ground or dropped from a tree” as my Gram would say.

My family’s Hungarian diet is one that not many people share in fullness and it gives me joy to be able to keep culture alive just through food alone. That our diet has stood the test of time and has proven itself to generations of my family to be a healthy and positive one. I am extremely proud and blessed to have the upbringing that I had. To me my Hungarian heritage is something that I will proudly pass on to my children one plate at a time.


Works Cited

Pollan, Michael. “In Defense of Food” An Eater’s Manifesto.  Michael Pollan, 2016. Web. 8 May 2016.

“What Makes a Healthy Diet?” Health.usnews. U.S. News & World Report, 5 Jan 2016. Web. 8 May 2016.

Busch, Sandi. “Why Is Paprika Good for Health?” SFGate. Healthy Eating, 2016. Web. 15 May

Kelety, Joan. Phone interview. 16 May. 2016

Kelety, Mona. Personal interview. 14 May. 2016

Hungry Hungarians by Ryan Reyes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s