Tiniest Thai Talks To // Viktoria Kuti

Viktoria Kuti is a photographer, specialising in portrait photography, who now lives in Bristol, but was born and brought up in Hungary, in Gyor close to the Austrian border. 

As her father was in the military they travelled around the country but lived mainly in and around Budapest where she went to high school and to Uni.

Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Viktoria Kuti Budapest

What was especially interesting when talking to Viktoria was her explaining the changes that happened after 1989 when the borders opened and travel became possible.  

For the first 11 or 12 years of her life, the food and culture of Hungary was very traditional, travel outside the Eastern Bloc very strictly controlled and her childhood therefore spent in a very different time to now, in a Socialist era.  

Travel at the time was only really possible to Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Austria - and again this is so interesting to see what huge changes have happened in the years since.  

This was also personally interesting to me as I travelled to Budapest in my late teens in the summer of 1988 so I was fascinated to hear more about what it was like growing up there.  I'd love to go back -  so much will have changed. 

Thought I'd add some photos of my 17-year-old-self in Hungary just for fun ... yes, hello Eighties!

Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Viktoria Kuti Budapest ME 1987

Viktoria says things have changed a lot even in the eight years since she left Hungary to live in the UK.

She came here having been able to transfer from the Budapest office of the company she worked for at the time to their Bristol office  - I have to say I think this was a stroke of luck and a lovely place to have ended up living! 

With her father a soldier and her mother a teacher, both Viktoria's parents were in government jobs which meant that they didn't earn much, but did also mean that her mum was home for the summer with her.  

Schools there have far fewer holidays during the year than we have, but a long three-month summer break from June-September. 

Viktoria spent these long summers at her maternal grandparents, who live in a tiny village of less than 100 people and were quite self-sufficient.

(And yes, they still live there today with chickens, ducks and the vegetable garden). 

Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Viktoria Kuti
Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Viktoria Kuti
Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Viktoria Kuti

It was interesting talking to her about how this influenced her relationship with food - and eating meat.  

There was nothing unusual in playing with the rabbits as a child - and then later enjoying the same rabbits in a delicious stew
— Viktoria Kuti

Of course having grown up both helping in the garden and helping and playing with the livestock - chickens, ducks, pigeons, rabbits, pigs - meant that natural cycle of the animals then being slaughtered for food was exactly that, a natural cycle. 

A pig would be killed once or twice a year - in winter time so the meat didn't spoil while it was kept for a week before being smoked - and the whole carcass used to make cured meats and sausages as well as meat to eat straight away.  

This is something I've always been interested in, and think absolutely right - that animals to be used for food should have a good life, be humanely killed and then respected by having every possible piece used. 

Viktoria's maternal grandmother had her first child at 16 and had three by 20.  With her grandfather out working, her grandmother brought them up as well as looking after the garden and animals.

It was a hard life, and people needed energy for hard work and early morning, eating as per the saying: 

'Breakfast like a king, lunch like a rich man, dine like a pauper'

Food was needed for energy, rather than too much energy needed to be put in to food - so it was customary to keep a schedule of meals by day to make life a bit easier so the family generally ate the same each week - for example Tuesday being noodle day, Wednesdays potato based etc. 

Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Viktoria Kuti
Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Viktoria Kuti

Traditional Hungarian food falls in two categories: the things eaten every day that are good value and filling; and the meals eaten on Sundays and special occasions.

During the week it would most likely be vegetable soups and pasta, with meat at the weekends - Sunday lunch might be a chicken broth followed by Wiener schnitzel (this is a recipe I'm going to ask Viktoria for too). 

The recipes Viktoria has shared with me are midweek dishes her grandmother would make for them  - but something that takes a little more work than a basic meal. 

It's usual to eat a first course of a soup - a vegetable broth or more substantial stew sort of soup, and then a second course, which in this case is a traditional sweet/savoury dish of  plums wrapped in dough, a potato dough like gnocci, cooked then fried in breadcrumbs and rolled in cinnamon sugar.

The recipe for the first course she gave me was for paprika potatoes and it was very simple, good and tasty.

Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai paprika potatoes

The plum dumplings - well, I messed up! And it was all looking so good too.

Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Hungarian plum dumplings
Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Hungarian plum dumplings
Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Hungarian plum dumplings
Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Hungarian plum dumplings

I'll be giving these another go and, once I've got the knack, will be sharing the recipe (and the tricks of the knack) with you.  I really want to learn how to make these as Viktoria has told me there's a version with a dry cheese - like cottage cheese - filling, which sounds delicious. 

Once the Hungarian borders opened and travel was possible, the food started changing too, although Viktoria's mother still cooks mostly traditional food but in healthier and lighter ways.

By the time Viktoria came to the UK she had already travelled widely throughout Europe - plus she speaks a lot of languages, having studied languages since the age of 12, starting with Italian, then Spanish, German and English, plus learning Japanese alongside Italian & Economics at University.

I'm more than a bit in awe of this! 

Her schools and colleges taught culture and food alongside the language - I have to say I'm envious of this and think it a brilliant way to learn more about the country and people as well as the languages. 

Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Budapest

What do you think? Join in the conversation in the comments right at the bottom of the page (yes, they're easy to miss!).

To connect with Viktoria, go to her website - and you can also find her on facebook and twitter.

Rachel Walder The Tiniest Thai Viktoria Kuti

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