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Flódni: The Four Act Pastry

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The first pastry shop—or cukrászda—I frequented in Budapest was the Frőlich Kosher Cukrászda on Dob utca. This was long before the ruckus ‘bulinegyed’, or ‘party quarter’ mentality took over and the neighborhood and District 7 became flooded with cheap alcohol and masses of tourists. Back then Dob utca, so narrow and dimly dit, felt historical, though there were few visibly apparent historical sites. The street itself felt removed from time. The Gozsdu Udvar, which now houses a thriving restaurant scene, was deserted, and a stroll through its gray, empty arcade could be a spooky experience, even more-so when you learned it was where Jewish families were corralled before being sent to concentration camps during the Second World War.

At the time, Frőlich, a half-century old, and one of the few cafes on Dob utca, seemed very happening indeed. A friend and I would go there after Hungarian lessons to drink espresso and eat the multi-layered pastry called Flódni. Flódni, I would learn later, is a traditional Hungarian Jewish confection. It is divided into four sensations, like the four seasons of the year. With fillings of poppy, walnut, apple, and plum jam, separated by five layers of sweet pastry, its flavors of tart, bitter, and sweet meld together to create a distinctly decadent and intoxicatingly complex taste. To me it has always tasted of something deeply autumnal, transitional. Flódni is steeped in tradition, but its dynamic flavors, which express themselves with every bite, also change when eaten, being sweet up front, and leaving the pungent bitter walnut at the end.

Flódni comes from the Jewish communities of the Carpathian Basin, but its adopted home is Budapest, where in addition to being available year round, is made at Hanukkah and Purim. Goose fat and kosher wine were original ingredients, though they were replaced by butter and regular sem-dry wine (the wine is used in many of the pastry’s components: this is a dessert for mature palates of all ages). The separate layers of flavours are said to represent people of different religions and ethnicities living together in unity and harmony. Here we have bitter, sour, sweet, buttery.

Perhaps there is some biting irony here, as despite the changes in the surrounding neighborhood, where tour groups and pub crawls need to walk single file down the narrow sidewalk, the Frőlich Cukrászda is one of the only storefronts to remain the same. Here in the Jewish Quarter, instead of broom sellers and zipper repair shops, we have Banh mi, vegan food trucks, and down near Klauzal Square, under the strata of development and soil, an unmarked mass grave from World War Two. Instead of a beacon of light on a dim street, you now have to look for the Frőlich Cukrászda amidst the other flashy tourist-friendly storefronts and burger joints. But the Flódni itself has remained the same: A perfect metaphor for inner-city Budapest in a bite. The last taste may be bitter, but it’s the sweet you remember.

Historical source: zserbo.com

Learn more about Hungarian-Jewish foodways, while exploring Budapest’s old Jewish Quarter, on our Jewish, Cuisine, & Culture Walk!

Excellent Flódni can also be had at Café Noé, around the corner from Frőhlich.