Interested in Hungary and its Tokaji wine, I found the Disznoko winery on the Internet. From there, I found Laszlo, who works at the winery. Graciously, he agreed to participate in the blog.
Hungary has always fascinated and confused me. My grandmother was from Budapest but I never knew my family’s history. When I traveled there in 1987 with my children and their father, Hungary was still Communist. The tension in the street was palpable. My children dubbed it, “the mean city.”
Since Hungary gained independence in 1990, I have imagined a very different country. One that is happy, alive. Laszlo affirmed that Hungary has indeed changed. He generously gave me a thumbnail history of my grandmother’s people, the Magyars. It is interesting but long and complicated. Due to space, I have omitted it here.
Laszlo lives in Miskolc, Hungary’s third largest city, in the northeast of Hungary. Miskolc is twenty-five miles from Tokaji, where the winery is located. Married, the father of young children, Laszlo begins the day with a run in the park, then takes his children to school and drives on to the winery. Depending on the season, he checks the vineyard and cellars, samples the wines, tests them, and attends to the usual business of meetings, phone calls, and emails. He arrives home at seven to have dinner and spend time with his family.
My Conversation with Laszlo
Look out a window in your home and tell me what you see.
I see my garden, with fruit trees, vegetables, and behind it the green forest of the Bükk Mountain.
How far back can you trace your family history?
I grew up in a small town in western Hungary. My mother is from this region. Her parents and ancestors were farmers. Her family tree can be traced back several centuries. My father is from Budapest. I don’t know a lot about his ancestry. His grandmother was born in a Swabian village in the east of Hungary that became part of Romania. This is typical and shows the complexity of our history and culture.
What are your favorite Hungarian dishes?
Töltött káposzta, the stuffed cabbage, which is a sauerkraut leaf stuffed with chopped pork meat, herbs, and spices. The other one is the Halászlé, Fishermen’ soup, a sort of Hungarian Bouillabaisse based on different type of freshwater fishes. Very often it is cooked over open fire with real wood, in a big cauldron.
What is your honest impression of life in the United States?
I thought I would not like it, that it was a too material and artificial world for me. But the first time I visited, I was really impressed by its energy, the diversity, and people’s open-mindedness. Spending a whole day with a salesperson in order to present our wines to sommeliers, wine-buyers is also a wonderful opportunity to know more about the country’s real life, which is very different than the image that you receive through the films, or by the press. I don’t think I’d want to live in the US, but I love to go there.
What struggles do you continue to face in Hungary?
Some parts of Hungary are extremely poor. The locals are either older people, the younger generation who are migrating, or the underprivileged people like the Roma (gypsies), often flouted by the majority. I think the integration of these people is extremely important and could be a future resource for the country. Efforts were made, but so far, they have not been successful.
Are there any misconceptions about Hungary you would you like to set straight?
Hungary is still often associated with goulash, csikós (wranglers), and gypsy music. These things no longer take place in the life of an average Magyar. They still exist, but mostly as a tourist attraction.
There is a saying about Hungarians: “How can you recognize a Hungarian? He enters the revolving door behind you and gets out before you.”
Two natures about Hungarians: creativity and pessimism. I think it is quite true and comes from our history.
Another common statement: “Hungarian women are beautiful.” I do agree…
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