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It’s time again for my monthly post for “Around the World in 12 Dishes,” the series in which each month participating bloggers travel the world with their kids by cooking a dish from another country and perhaps reading a book, doing a craft, or learning fun facts about it.
This month we travel to Hungary, with a dish that reflects a point often lost to those of us across the pond: The histories and cultures of European countries are closely intertwined, and the boundaries we have today are ever fluid and changing, especially when you look back at the region’s long history of empires and conquests.
Strudel is the perfect lens into this long, tangled history. Most strudel is made with phyllo dough, also used in, you guessed it, Turkish and Greek cooking. It is believed that we have the Ottomans to thank for introducing phyllo dough (and thus strudel) into Europe. Many European countries were previously under Ottoman rule, and even those that weren’t were heavily influenced by this sprawling empire. Vienna, where strudel is thought to have originated, was the last elusive European prize, nearly conquered by the Ottomans in what would have been their furthest incursion into the continent.
While they did not succeed in their military conquest, their culture influence was long felt. One remnant of this is strudel, now Austria’s national dish. With the new phyllo dough in hand, and influenced by Turkish cooking, Viennese cooks invented the strudel, whose name is German for whirlpool, a fairly accurate description of what the cross-section of a strudel looks like.
But wait! I hear you saying. Aren’t we supposed to be learning about Hungary? Why are you so focused on Austria?
Some of you may remember from history class a little something called the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Oh yeah! So even though Hungary and Austria are now separate countries, the culture connections have a very long history.
And so we circle back to the strudel. While the Austrian version may be better known, strudel is also a popular traditional dish in Hungary. We found a recipe in this wonderful children’s book, A Song For Lena. At the center of the story is strudel, a dish Lena loves to watch her grandmother make.
One day Lena asks her grandmother why she always sings the same haunting melody whenever she makes strudel, and so the grandmother shares a story of her childhood in the old country, Hungary. Times were hard, and strudel was the poor family’s only treat after a long, difficult harvest on their apple orchard. It also become a gift they shared with an old beggar who came to their home; the beggar, in return, shared his beautiful music. This exchange became the basis for a long friendship between the family and the beggar, until one fall he did not return, and only the song remained.
This is such a sweet book, all about family, traditions, and helping others. I love the lesson of how everyone has something to share, no matter how miserable their state may appear.
At the back of the book is a recipe for strudel. I cannot attest to how authentic is it; I suspect that it has been simplified quite a bit since it is intended for children to make. For example, in the book Lena’s grandmother makes the dough herself, while the recipe uses store bought phyllo dough – not that I mind!
Either way, we really enjoyed making – and eating! – this delicious strudel, and learning a bit more about Hungary and its long history.
Adventures In Mommydom, Afterschool for Smarty Pants, All Done Monkey, Crafty Moms Share, Maroc Mama, Creative World of Varya, Glittering Muffins, Kid World Citizen, Mermaids’ Makings, The Educators’ Spin On It and The Mommy Talks.
If you try a dish from Hungary, we’d love to hear about it! And don’t forget to download this month’s placemat and passport! You can also link up your dish or craft here to share your post on all the participating blogs: