06 January 2014

Hungarian Cold Fruit Soup

Wow.  I don’t even know how to start this post because I still can’t get my head around this.  Cold fruit soup?  At first I thought that perhaps the name didn’t translate very well from Hungarian.  But it does.  “Leves” means soup.  And then I thought, well, okay, this is just an unfortunate instance of poor naming that doesn’t really capture the essence of the food itself.  But it kind of does.  It actually is just cold fruit soup.  My relationship with this soup has run the gamut of emotions, from total revulsion to piqued interest to disappointment, and finally to indifference.

 Although I had all the opportunities in the world to try this soup during my many sojourns in Budapest, I never did.  The reason should be fairly self-evident (it's marketed as cold fruit soup), and I long considered it amongst the most depraved of all Hungarian inventions--of which there are many, and if you ever have the pleasure of meeting a real-life Hungarian, they will undoubtedly list them all for you.  I have never considered food to be a meaningful way by which to engage with a culture, but every time I was reminded of the existence of cold fruit soup, I had to stop and wonder what kind of miseries a people must endure to bring them to this dish.  I imagined a starving family, huddled together over a small fire in the midst of a harsh winter, with nothing to eat but some left-over fruit preserves from the fall and doing what they had to to survive.  The image did not appeal to me.
Okay, well, here it is.  The blobs are chunks of cherry.  At first I was pretty excited because I thought it would be like
the chunks of cherry in Activia yogurt (JLC: if you're reading this, hi!!), but it was not like that at all.

I also could never quite understand when one is expected to eat this soup.  I get the impression that it is often served as a main course, but because it's cold and because it's made of soup, it didn't make any sense.  Shouldn't it just be a post-meal dessert or a poor substitute for ice cream?  It really should not be a meal unto itself.  I don't know how many times I will have to say this in this post, but it is quite literally cold fruit soup.

By imagining how it might first have been developed and by trying to figure out when one is supposed to eat it, cold fruit soup slowly wormed its way into my brain, and I became obsessed with trying it for myself.  This was a pretty new phenomenon for me, because even though I am often intrigued by different foods, I almost never want to try them.  I'm not sure what made this instance different.  But I did try it.  I happen to live about two minutes from one of the few remaining Hungarian eateries in town.  I went with a real Hungarian, who described the soup as being "okay."  I was less generous in my evaluation.

Whenever I take a chance on a new food and try it, I always think it warrants a long post about my experiences.  But the bottom line is that this is a cold fruit soup, and it really doesn't warrant any discussion whatsoever.  Actually, I believe it is a disservice to culinary culture to give any more attention to this food than it deserves, which is none.  To quote one of my (few) instagram followers and real-life Hungarian:
There is nothing left to say about a food that is composed of three elements, the most crucial of which being "soup," and as nagymarcipan correctly pointed out, a soup must be hot and it must be savoury.  The Hungarian cold fruit soup is, then, composed of contradictions, and the second two elements--that it is cold and that is made of fruit--seems to negate the possibility that it is even a soup to begin with.  This food might have been more successful with me if it had been marketed as something else, like a compote or a sauce.  I mean, maybe you could drizzle this over some ice cream and it might be okay, but as it stands, this is not a food I will try again.

I'll leave off on one final note.  In John Hawkes' moderate masterpiece Travesty, the narrator claims that "the greater the incongruity, the greater the truth."  Before you get excited by the prospect that Hungarian cuisine can be justified by literature, it bears mentioning that this very same narrator makes this statement while recklessly driving a sports car at top speed through the French Riviera with the end-game of murdering his daughter and his daughter's lover (who also happens to be the narrator's best friend and the narrator's wife's lover) by crashing into a metre-thick cement wall, and is guided by the life-philosophy that willed destruction is the purest form of poetic expression.  So while Hungarian cuisine cannot be justified by this text, it nevertheless is hauntingly analogous to the current state of Hungary.  Sometimes unreliable narrators are the most reliable of all.

When I married a Hungarian I was not told
That one day I would eat a fruit soup served cold.
Had I known about this in advance,
I probably would have called off the entire romance. 


  1. I feel like maybe the problem is just that Hungarians don't have a word for "smoothie".

  2. Oh, they probably do, but I bet it's something ridiculous like "meztelen csiga" or "hagyma."

  3. It's not a smoothie. Its a soup. It's cherries cooked in water and thickened with sour cream and flour.