I spent this weekend just passed in Sydney which was terrible for the waste line but satisfied almost all of my other sensibilities. The toolman is at first glance a typical Australian man; he has a bizarre but rather normal love of Australian Rules Football, he loves the most amber of beer and prefers to refer to tomato sauce as “dead ‘orse”. He is however the son of a Hungarian immigrant mother and we spent the weekend with his very Eastern European grandmother.
Although we did none of the usual sightseeing which usually includes Sydney Harbour, the famous Bridge and Opera House, I did have an opportunity to become painfully aware of surrounding Sydney-ites. If you feel you have the most perfect of shades of blonde hair, can tie it severely in a pony tail, don some skin tight lycra and asics trainers, shout your demand of a soy latte and gloopey oats for breakfast at the poor waiter (hold the fat, the cream, the flavour) and feel inclined to laugh hysterically with your BFF as you tell each other how fabulous and interesting you are, you’ll be sure to have a riot in Syndey (I’m sure the tiny seats were there just to highlight how far my derrière really can spill over the sides). Needless to say, I would be more inclined to move to a damp cave inhabiting a grizzly bear than I would move there.
But the joy of the city is never found in its streets; it’s in a quiet apartment with a mature aged Hungarian couple who have the key to the most interesting city around. With a “Hogy vagy” here and a sprinkling of paprika there, you will find an endless list of stories about crossing a war torn border, early immigrant Australia and tales of family history I seldom hear from the toolman.
Tales of characters with names like Monsika and Geisa are so closely tied to the toolmans’ childhood, I wonder how this man is more “fair dinkum” than “Béke veled”! Around his grandma, the toolman becomes his ‘European self’, enjoying the delights of her Hungarian cooking, the likes of which I couldn’t imagine myself replicating nor quite frankly, understanding. But the food of the toolman’s childhood brings out his playful and vulnerable side, which when it reveals itself, is magic for me to watch. As the weekend progressed, I realised that there are some things more important than calorie counting and I welcomed the food that Grandma served.
Unfortunately I never met the toolman’s mother and he rarely, for his own reasons, talks of her in detail. Any information I can gather about her is in pieces and I am often embarrassed about how little I know of her. Having never met his father either, it seems to me at times (albeit selfishly) that this man appeared in my life with the sole purpose of being my loving husband, with a fully formed personality that was created during adulthood without parental influences. Without any way to place that cheeky smile or the curvature of his hands into a context, I studied the photos Grandma showed me, trying to memorise the shape of his parents’ faces, the tilt of his mothers chin.
When the toolman brought out his use of the Hungarian language, reciting one of the few phrases he knows (Csirke halszálka which translates roughly as “chicken bones”), I was brought back to the present once more and reminded of how I love his humour, even if I’m not sure who he got it from.
When we left, it wasn’t without a tin full of cakes and sweets to take with us. With my Nanna gone from this time, I was reminded as I walked out the door, that there are few things that can beat the attention to detail that a Grandma can bring to food.
And ultimately, whoever you are, wherever you’re from, nothing can really beat Grandma’s cooking.