This is the late spring of 1990. Mere seven months since the Velvet Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Most of the restaurants are still owned and operated by the State, where the quality level of the ingredients is far below the accepted standards of even the cheapest places across the border, say in Austria and Germany. I am having hard time with the fat-filled meat tough as leather. For someone who grew up in a staunch vegetarian family, in early days in the West, I would find even the tender most filet mignon a bit hard to swallow. What they served up in the Czech restaurants during those early days at the end of the communism, was not something I looked forward to.

I have similar problem in Hungary every time I visit Budapest. And would in Warsaw, Poland a couple of years later. Even though the Berlin wall didn’t fall until November of 1989, the Hungarians had already began to disregard the constraints of the communism almost a year before when the first inquiry from the couple of Hungarian born and now living in the States venture capitalist landed on my desk, expressing desire to launch a Hungarian edition of Playboy. John and Eva Bryer had somehow managed to escape to Austria and onto the United States following the Hungarian revolution of 1956, in the fashion of the cold war breath taking suspense story, making it good across the ocean. Now in their middle age, they brought us young and ambitious independent Hungarian publisher, Deszo Futasz, who had already been publishing the Hungarian edition of IMG’s Computer World magazine, which lead to Playboy licensing its first edition behind what was still considered to be the iron curtain.

On my first trip to Budapest in the spring of 1989, I was very much looking forward to the authentic Hungarian Goulash – a spicy paprika doused meat stew served on the bed of spätzle.Something I had loved when I lived and worked in Offenburg in Germany and something I frequently ordered at the Bahnhof Restaurant and at Engel where I would meet my Hungarian friend Sinaida for lunch. But when I ordered it in Budapest, it was nothing like what I remembered it to be. First of all, it wasn’t spicy at all. A bit watered down even and bland. The meat tough with rinds of fat around it. Something I just couldn’t stomach. Wiener Schnitzel contained pork instead of traditional tender veal. Even in better hotels and restaurants, it was tough going. As good a wine as Hungary makes, not up until later did I get to taste them. The saving grace in Czechoslovakia were their excellent beers like Pilsner Urquell, original Budweiser and the local Staropramen.

In the neighborhood restaurants, you’re greeted with small flimsy squares of disintegrating tissues that passed for napkins. Even McDonalds had better napkins, but unlike in the States, they were rationed to one with each order. Once I commented on them to Kirke’s Mirek Drozda, who along with his wife Mirka, runs a graphic arts studio-come stock photo agency.

‘Compared to what we used to have, this is luxury.’ Mirek says to me and then picking up his napkin proceeds to tear it at the folded creases and piles on the table the resulting four pieces.

‘This is what we got before the revolution!’ What could one say?

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