There is a part of Europe that, unless you’ve taken one of those popular Danube River cruises, you’ve probably missed – Central Europe. At one time you might have called it Eastern Europe, but the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary – aka The European Quartet – would prefer you were more accurate in your geography. This collection of old Soviet Bloc countries is squarely in the middle of Europe, so Central Europe it is. And what a destination they have become!
At a presentation on Central European holidays in the Bohemian National Hall in Manhattan the other evening, the highlights of upcoming events and attractions in the Quartet included architecture, Jewish Heritage, natural beauty, Holiday Fairs and – most especially – food.
An open bar of the national drinks of each country, live entertainment and the huge stage filled with a screening of national videos, greeted the 50+ guests as they were welcomed by the Consuls of each country. The keynote speaker, John Demers, is a journalist with TV and radio shows, articles in major publications and dozens of books to establish his cred. He presented a slide travelogue of the picture postcard scenery and natural beauty of each country. Along the way he described many national dishes while showing luscious photos of them to make everyone hungry to travel there. When he finished it was time to eat.
The dinner was billed as a four course meal. Instead, each country presented a four course buffet dinner of their national cuisine. Salads, main and side dishes, and desserts were spread out in enough colorful and aromatic splendor to surpass the slideshow. It was a feast!
The Hungarian table was ably manned by Executive Chef Hernadi Andras, who has presided over the Hungarian Foreign Mission for the last 14 of his 25 year cooking career. Of course he featured the traditional Hungarian Goulash (pronounced goo-YASH) with pasta noodles you probably know as Spaetzle but he called “Nokedli”, which the red wine sauce married beautifully with. There was a plate of cucumbers, but his favorite dish was “Somlói Dumplings”, which sounds like another entrée but actually was a sponge cake dessert made with raisins and walnuts, with a chocolate rum sauce drizzled over, and topped with whipped cream. It was heavenly!
Not to be outdone, the other tables were filled with:
- for the Czech Republic: ham rolls with horseradish, smoked meat and cabbage dumplings, and pear strudel
- for Poland: plates of cold meat and sausages of Piast, tiny stuffed cabbage rolls with meat filling, and Polish cakes and cookies of Piast
- for Slovakia – “Bryndza” (goat milk cheese) spread on bread, bite-size “schnitzels”, and walnut and poppy seed rolls
It was not a night to be on a diet!
This time of year, each country in the European Quartet has a huge Christmas Market filled with local handicrafts, music and food, but any time of year is a good time to visit Central Europe. You’ll find the same architectural roots and similar history as Western Europe at a fraction of the cost, and English is widely spoken by the welcoming citizens.
So, be sure to put the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary on your travel wish list for 2016. When you do you’ll find that Pilsen, the 2015 “European Capital of Culture” has ceded its title to neighboring Wroclaw for 2016, Budapest hosts France’s famous food competition Bocuse d Or, and World Youth Day is in Kraben, Poland. You can come for the food, and stay for the culture and natural beauty – Central Europe beckons!