Thursday, November 18, 2010

Three Bazaar Pileup

It's a little too late to be telling you that the Hungarian United Church's annual Hungarian Bazaar has the best all-around food (sweets, savory treats, selection) that we've encountered in all our years of prowling Montreal's bazaars.  (Hopefully, you noticed our "heads-up" from a couple of weeks back and took up the recommendation.)  But it's not too late to remind you to get out there and take in the city's full array of seasonal fairs, bazaars, salons, souks, and other festive occasions.  You never know what you might find.

In that very spirit, we crisscrossed the city in the AEBmobile last Saturday, hitting three bazaars (and one Expozine!) in the space of half a day.  Not all bazaars are created equal, of course, and some are more festive than others.  We were sorry to have missed the Bottle Raffle (a.k.a., the Booze Raffle) at one Westmount bazaar (although they did have some pretty cool books about drinking),

It's water!  fig. a: yeah, sure it is

but at another bazaar we found an impressive display of wooden chairs for sale.

the chairs of westmount fig. b: bazaar activity

They looked like they were trying to clamber toward the windows to make a break for it, so we helped liberate a few of them.

When we got to the Hungarian United Church, there were sure signs that this was going to be another good year.

they're not kidding fig. c: sign of hope

This year we didn't find the Sausage Man--the master sausage-maker who used to hold court at the back of the auditorium with hundreds upon hundreds of freshly smoked Hungarian sausages--but the kitchen was busy pumping out the hot lunches, and if you didn't want the authentic goulash with galuska, you had the option of the tasty debreceni sausage plate with sauerkraut and paprika potatoes.  They also had the loveliest sweet palacsinta crêpes on offer.  It's a good thing the palacsinta were so unbelievably delicate, though, because this year's baked goods and desserts table was mighty impressive.

Michelle went straight for the doughnuts, and good thing, too, because not only were they astoundingly tasty--in the same major league as my grandmother's--but they were selling fast.  Two cups of coffee and a few of those sugar-dusted delicacies later, we were in a state of grace.  We found ourselves gazing around absent-mindedly, taking in the scene, giddy with satisfaction.  "Like my grandma's.  Just like my grandma's," I found myself muttering.

And it was then, and only then, that we really noticed the layer cake that was holding court on the desserts table from the lofty perch of its cake stand.  C. noted that it looked like the real thing, like a homemade Hungarian nut torte (not as many layers, perhaps, but just as much technique).  She went over to purchase a piece, and thank the Lord that she did.  That slice of walnut cake, was the moistest, most luxurious cake any of us had had in a long time.  And all of a sudden, C. found herself having a Proustian moment of her own:  "Tastes just like my grandmother's," she said.

When we woke up out of our second paprika- & sugar-induced stupor, I decided I had to tell the Pastry Ladies just how much we'd enjoyed their treats.  I went up and talked to one of the women at the desserts table, and it turned out the walnut cake was her family recipe.  I must have really been waxing poetic, because she took me for one of her own.  "Are you Hungarian?," the Cake Lady asked.  "No, Slovak," I replied.  "But my grandmother's family was originally from Hungary."  She just nodded knowingly.

When I told her the doughnuts tasted like my Baba's, she told me that I should go and tell the woman who'd made them.  So I did.  Turns out the Doughnut Lady was working a table near the back of the auditorium.  When I told her I that I'd loved her doughnuts, she was thrilled.  "Oh, thank you, thank you..."  When I told her that they'd reminded me of my grandmother's, she touched my cheek and nearly started crying.  Let me tell you, that's an experience you won't get at Tim's.

What's the point of all this?  What's the point of torturing you with all these delicious and highly sentimental details after the fact?  Well, if you're the kind of Montrealer who misses the good, old days when top-notch Eastern European pastries were easy to come by, there's hope.  Many of these delicacies are still around, you just have to know where to find them.  You may not be able to find quite the selection you once found along the Main, but you just might find exactly what you're looking for at your local bazaar.  And if the sound of authentic Hungarian walnut cakes and doughnuts appeals to you, well, the ladies at the Hungarian United Church have been known to take special orders (!).

You can order Hungarian cakes and pastries from Carol Pisimisi ("the Cake Lady") at (514) 683-5978, or you can call the Hungarian United Church directly at (514) 737-8457 to inquire about cakes, pastries, and doughnuts, or upcoming food-related church events.

hungarian doughnut fig. d: Hungarian doughnut

I mean, just look at that beauty.  Don't you owe it to yourself?


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