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Culinary Cruise on the Danube

by Ilona Kauremszky

global feast

My Mum always uses the freshest ingredients to create her Hungarian culinary classics.

Chicken paprika with dumplings, I’m there. Sinful walnut-apricot jam in between paper-thin pastry layers topped with a dark satin chocolate glaze known as Zserbo seduces the taste buds. The dessert looks like geometric art and rightfully could stand up to the best of Michelin-star chefs’ sculpted creations.

It’s simply divine.

So was a seven-day culinary cruise we took on board Uniworld’s River Beatrice. This luxury river cruise sails the ancient Danube River from Budapest, Hungary, to Passau, Germany, and slices into the heart of Europe.

Vienna, along the Danube

Quaint hamlets and castle ruins hug the storied region. Church steeples announce the arrival of baroque villages. On the outskirts, farmers tend to the harvest. In town, pretty window boxes cascading with poppy red geraniums smartly punctuate these neatly kept stone dwellings that seem to have withstood the test of time.

A warm captain’s welcome dinner awaited us one evening as we dined on succulent Wellington of veal tenderloin listening to Captain Tom Buining regale his table guests on some of his escapades.

We feasted on Gerbeaud coffee and treats just as composer Franz Liszt did when he frequented the elegant premises centuries ago.

Mum, who was born and raised in Budapest, gingerly conveyed her one oceanic odyssey. It occurred just after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, when she was still a schoolgirl. Her parents, Charles and Irma Steiner, uprooted their young family of five children one harsh wintry night to escape from the brutal Communist dictatorship that gripped their nation, all the while praying for their survival as they crossed into Austria on foot.

“My father hated the idea of flying so we took a ship from Genoa, Italy, to Saint John, New Brunswick.” Until our European cruise, it had been the only time she had ever sailed.

With Hungarian rhapsodic melodies performed by Zoltan, the ship’s resident pianist, the mood was bright, happy and full of hope as Mum and I prepared for our on-board culinary quest.

Pastry chef Alex and exec chef Manuel

Uniworld serves à la carte menus in the evening, and changes its theme nightly depending on the port-of-call. One afternoon, our intimate group headed to the main lounge to observe the handy work of executive chef Manuel Marques and pastry chef Alex, who demonstrated the art of strudel making. Much to my surprise, I learned that Mum had never dared to tackle strudel dough. “I always thought it was so hard,” she said with a giggle.

But that attitude changed as she closely observed the demonstration. “I’m going to try it when we get home,” she promised.

During our excursions, we hit the fabled coffee shops. In Vienna, we oohed and awed over the original Sacher Torte at the esteemed Sacher Hotel.

Sacher torte

In Saltzburg, Tomaselli—purported to be the oldest coffee house in Austria—was our coffee spot.

On a terrace at the base of the magnificent Melk Abbey, we tried the house strudel Apfelstrudel with a whipped cream topped coffee melange (milchschaum) at the Café Pub Rathaus.

And in Budapest, the palatial Gerbeaud House, near Vörösmarty tér, was where we feasted on Gerbeaud coffee and treats just as composer Franz Liszt did when he frequented the elegant premises centuries ago.

Dürnstein is a cute baroque town in Austria and its claim to fame is the UNESCO setting. Situated in the Wachau Valley, the mountain slopes are idyllic for winemaking, and the bend in the Danube makes it a picture-postcard with castle ruins looming high atop the craggy cliffs. No coffee here. Instead, the sweet nectar of the white Gruner Veltiner grape was sampled at the Domain Wachau.

Wachau

Since our return, Mum’s become somewhat of a strudel expert, and makes it each time I visit. Now we both devour her homemade apple-filled dessert and reminisce about those happy days sailing up the Danube.

Our culinary passion has always been simpatico, but the best part of the voyage was a strengthened bond between a mother and daughter. It seems that love and strudel have no bounds.

Come dine with us! We’re celebrating the harvest this month on Travel+Escape with a special series, CULINARY TRAVEL: GLOBAL FEAST!