Lazy summer days in the sun somehow attract anyone from a northern country like Sweden. But there is another reason, as well, says Niklas Trouvé, Ambassador of Sweden to Hungary.
My Hungarian friends told me that this time of the year is often referred to as "uborka (cucumber) season" in this country. A season when, yes, the uborkas are ready to harvest, but not much else really happens. A lazy summer month when the diplomats travel back home – and all Hungarians seem to migrate to Lake Balaton... I decided to stay here in July to experience the uborka season. Why? Because lazy summer days in the sun somehow attract anyone from a northern country like Sweden. But there is another reason, as well...
I always liked uborka. They add taste and substance to almost every salad I like. They are essential in the greek tsatsiki with fokhagyma (garlic) that I adore. And they fit well with lime into most summer drinks. But now, I will reveal my most secret addiction to all readers of Diplomacy and Trade. I am addicted to kovászos uborka, these small, pickled salty, slightly fermented cucumbers, often spiced up with garlic and chili. My passion for these green darlings started 20 years ago when I was posted to Finland. I used to find the ’kurkku’ at the central market hall at the square outside the Embassy. My addiction grew even stronger when posted to Estonia a few years later. I will never forget the kind lady who helped me with the cleaning and laundry - and who used to bring me her homemade ’kurk’ occasionally. When serving in the Middle East, I used to take the car from Amman to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv over the weekend. When returning back home, the trunk was normally filled with cans of pickled cucumbers.
My own vegetable garden
Last year, I arrived in Hungary. One of the first things I decided to do was to set up a vegetable garden at the residence. It was soon to multiply into three small gardens, including one for spices and another one for potatos. In Sweden you have to work quite hard to make the plants grow and give the desired reward because of the harsher climate. I was soon to find out that this is not the case here in Budapest. My little garden is by now a veritable jungle, with all the zöldség (vegetables) that I could possibly ever wish for. To a foodie like, me it is, indeed, like walking into a little Garden of Eden when I take a morning stroll down the lawn to inspect my Hungarian kert. In fact, one of the vegetables even sounds like paradise: paradicsom.
Combining business with pleasure is a vice to some people and a virtue to others. I belong to the latter category. Probably, that's part of the reason I became a diplomat some 25 years ago. There are few other professions that allow you to enjoy the culture, history, culinary treats and wines from different countries, meeting new interesting people every day, and still being able to call it work. In fact, you wouldn't do your work as a diplomat very well at all without these crucial insights. I admit that the gastronomic and viticultural parts of this argument should be exercised with certain moderation unfortunately.
How do I combine business with pleasure? Well, to start with, every trip to my little kert to pick zöldség stimulates my effort to learn the Hungarian language. In fact, apart from bor and sör, the different zöldség and gyümölcs (fruits) were the first words I tried to memorize in Hungarian. It gives me particular satisfaction to dig up my burgonya (potatos) in the kert and even to be able to occasionally vary my vocabulary and call the small darlings krumpli instead. My gardening therefore has become an alibi for learning Hungarian. You have to guess yourself what part I consider business, and what part is pleasure – the gardening or the grammar...
Home-grown produce for the guests
Of course, my little Hungarian kert also gives me the possibility to offer the many guests who come to the residence for lunches, dinners and receptions some locally produced food – grown roughly 50 meters from the dining table... A small contribution to our common struggle to tackle climate change – and a good example as a conversation piece when we discuss the important Paris Climate Summit this coming autumn. I still have to work a little longer with the locally produced desserts however. My orange, lemon and fig trees on the terrace are still too small to feed any number of guests, but they are beautiful to watch and have a divine fragrance in the evening. The lavender and the olive trees surrounding my terrace make me feel well. I hope they also make my guests feel comfortable and at home. Wellness promotes good work and fruitful dialogue. Business and pleasure combined again.
Back to my addiction to kovászos uborka. At first, I failed to find the quality I looked for. I remember with horror and disappointment the day last autumn when I bought the wrong kind of cucumber, the édes ecetes uborka, took a big bite and discovered it was sweet rather than salty. That jar went directly to the garbage, sorry... Believe me, I have a sensitive nose and tongue for the right kind of uborkas after years of training... And then, finally, a few months ago, I found a lovely little zöldség market – just a hole in the wall really – on my way home from the office where the sellers have patience with my brave efforts to explain the kind and quantities of vegetables and fruits I would like to buy. I will keep this secret to myself. No one will ever steal ’my’ Hungarian uborkas...
Not only uborkas
Uborkas apart, Hungary really has a lot to offer in terms of food and wine. I have decided to only serve Hungarian wines at my residence – again, a conscious effort to favour local production. I enjoy learning about the different wine districts and tasting the interesting varieties and getting to know the winemakers. And the grey cattle and mangalitsa make excellent complements to my uborka. So far, I have not considered breeding grey cattle or mangalitsa pigs in the residence garden. I treasure good neighbourly relations too much for that... Goose liver and pálinka are not my kind of taste, but if someone offers me Hungarian csípõs kolbasz or a glass of Tokaj, I find it hard to resist. I look foward to the Bocuse d'Or competition in Budapest next year. I am confident that the promotion of Swedish gastronomy and its fusion with Hungarian ingredients will give me more opportunities to combine business with pleasure. Bon appétit and Happy uborka season!
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