'I cook Hungarian food with Indian spices'

Representing the folk culture of his country with meagre resources is a challenging job for this expat.

On a flight from Doha to Delhi, this gentleman was travelling to take over a new project and happened to watch the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

“The guy in the film says ‘Everything works out in the end. And if doesn’t then it is not the end’. I thought this is what defines the country that I was headed to. The good thing about India is everything works out here,” says Tibor Kovács, director of Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre (HICC) and cultural counsellor, Embassy of Hungary.

Fond of Indian films and food, he first came to India in 1997. “Though I wanted to come here as a tourist after visiting Sri Lanka in 1994, but I got appointed as a consul with the Hungarian embassy between 1997 and 2001. India, and Delhi in particular, was very different then. I was amazed to learn that Indians know a lot about Hungarian films that were made in 50s and 60s, even more than I did.”

His conversations with the people in general made him familiar with the land which he had imagined about.

Soon his term as a “diplomat who provided visas and helped the Hungarians in trouble” ended and he was back to his country missing “the vegetarian food that is available by default at any restaurant or party that is in India. Being a vegetarian, if I do not announce it beforehand for a gettogether in Hungary, then I will practically have only bread and butter to eat,” he remarks with a smile declaring his love for Indian food.

“I don’t get much time here, but back in my hometown, I cook Hungarian food with Indian spices,” he says relishing the thoughts of palak paneer, dal and every other dish that he can think of.

“You have such a rich food tradition and culture, then where is the need to follow the West and take to junk food?” he questions voicing his displeasure about both
Indians and Hungarians getting influenced by the Western culture and dressing style.

“India has such a rich tradition. Though things are changing, but at individual level Indians need to analyse what is valuable and what is not!”

Having said this, he feels proud to have been able to showcase the folk tradition of Hungary in India as part of his current position as the head of HICC since 2011.

He agrees that “It is a challenge to be able to work in constraints such as staff shortage” but doesn’t complain for he has been able to “explore the diversity of India” during the same time.

“I like Rajasthan for its desert, Goa and Kerala for their beaches, Ladakh for
its hills and I hope I will like Northeast too,” he says, talking about his impending trip. All these places have enriched his experience of living in India. Having travelled quite a bit, he strongly feels that “People here need to protect their environment and stop throwing things out of their cars.”

His 17 years of familiarity with the Indian subcontinent provides him with a lot of instances that he shares enthusiastically. Some are funny while others are his coincidental encounters with Hungarians from his village.

But when it is time to go back, two things that he wishes to smuggle are “An Indian chef or cook and mangoes, especially after the recent banning of alphonsos by the EU,” he guffaws!

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