Sunday, April 29, 2012

Budapest Cafes and History

My recent reading project on cities where secular Jewish communities once flourished was about Budapest. Today's L.A.Times has two articles about the current city:"A taste of Hungary's history in Budapest's sumptuous coffeehouses" by Daniel Robinson and "The Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria, has old-school charms" by Alice Short. Each article links to a photo gallery.

The article on coffee houses has plenty of information about the famous "New York" coffee house (which of course featured in the history books I read -- L.A. Times image at left) and reports of taste-tests of some of the well-known pastries (Dobos Torte, Sacher Torte). The historic report mentions is of the authors' wife Edie's Jewish family, including her grandfather who surely frequented these cafes. Of Edie's lost grandmothers he wrote:
"Both of Edie's grandfathers had died in the 1930s — by that time, Edie's father, Joseph, was already in New England — but her grandmothers lived to see the virulent anti-Semitism of the following decade. They were alive and well when the U.S. entered World War II in late 1941 — until that time, letters could be exchanged — but at war's end there was no trace of them. Edie remembers her father's grief upon being informed after the war that they were dead."
The article successfully combines descriptions of history, of current cafes, of the grandfather who wrote about economic issues (including coffee), and of the tragedy of the Jews of Budapest. I'm surprised at how well he succeeds with this range of topics! He eventually describes a Jewish neighborhood where a bakery maintains Jewish pastry traditions, especially the Flodni which layers pastry leaves, apple filling, poppy seeds, and jam: "Flodni could be described as the working-class Jewish answer to the upper-crust tortes of Sacher and Dobos."

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