Sólet Supper – Friday 24th February
Many years ago in another time and space, I used to frequent a restaurant called Rosenstein Vendéglő close to the Eastern Railway Station in Budapest.
Rosenstein’s is a family owned and run business, Tibor is the chef and his son Robi runs front of house and marketing. It’s quite a formal place without being stuffy and because they know me I always get looked after. The service is excellent without being intrusive and the food is always good. Although the Rosenstein’s are Jewish the kitchen isn’t kosher and you’ll even find pork chops and shell fish on the menu. I’ve often wondered what kind of weirdo would choose to eat mussels in a land locked country at a restaurant called Rosensteins?
In short it is one of my favourite places on earth and whenever I get a chance to visit Budapest one of the first things I do is plan a visit.
Lunch is the thing. A nice long, leisurely lunch. Start with their kosher style plum pálinka before moving onto three or four courses with plenty of wine. Coffee, more pálinka and then after a chorus of “viszontlátásra!” from Robi and his colleagues you stumble out onto the street preferably accompanied by good friends in the direction of a Turkish bath. Civilisation doesn’t get much more civilised.
There’s an extensive á la carte menu which I rarely if ever choose from. A short daily menu on the blackboard which rather than read, I prefer to have described in detail by the waiter. And then there’s my favourite part of the menu. This is the “week after week” menu, a different dish for each and every day of the week. So for example on Wednesday they always serve Stuffed Cabbage and every Thursday it’s Tripe Goulash with boiled potatoes.
Of course on Friday and Saturday they serve sólet, the traditional Hungarian sabbath dish that we’ll also be serving at our next supper club on the 24th February. Tickets for which should be purchased in advance and are available from our web shop.
According to some sources Hungarian sólet is not related in anyway to cholent, a similar Ashkenazi dish. Certainly sólet is just as likely to be eaten by Hungarian gentiles as it is by Jews. You can find canned sólet in practically any corner grocery in Hungary and more often than not it contains pork.
I think the main difference between the two dishes (other than the addition of paprika), is that sólet contains a much wider and richer variety of meat, normally including a goose leg. Goose I think is the food most closely associated with Hungarian Jews. The two things are so closely linked that when MTK, an old and well respected Budapest football club and the Hungarian equivalent of Tottenham or Ajax are playing, amongst many other less acceptable things, opposition supporters will sing “Gá Gá Gá!” because that’s the noise geese make. Or at least it is in Hungarian.
Cholent is a distinctly plain peasant dish from the shtetls of Galicia and beyond, in which the beans are the key ingredient, by comparison sólet is rather ostentatious. I get the feeling that whilst sólet may have had more humble origins, it was probably “pimped up” as Hungarian Jews established themselves as successful, urban professionals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this sense it shares a similar cultural evolution to the six inch high salt beef sandwich and the extravagant flódni (an impossibly rich layer cake containing four different fillings).
Our sólet is made with tarka beans from the Hungarian deli in Old Market or alternatively the International grocers in Fishponds Road. We smoke our own short ribs and ox tongue and I’m also going to try and make a kishke to go in with the sólet.
Kishke, an item more commonly found in cholent than in sólet, is a sausage skin stuffed with onions, matzo meal, grain (possibly buckwheat), herbs and seasoning. I’ve never made it before, so if after appropriate investigation I decide not to bother, I might just pretend that someone stole it..
Tickets for the Sólet Supper can be purchased here.