Sunday 2 October 2011

The Frantic Antics Series: Fulfilling Favours For Fellow Fumeheads - No 1: Miming Smoked Paprika

My good friend lovethescents is part Hungarian - a quarter, I think - but whatever the exact fraction may be, it is enough for her to have paprika running through her veins, and in her store cupboard. Or rather NOT in her store cupboard at the moment, for when she heard I would be visiting Hungary on one of my work trips, she asked me if I wouldn't mind bringing her back some smoked paprika.

I have a passing familiarity with this particular spice variety. I remember it having a rich, barbecue-y smell, which is why Mr Bonkers won't touch it - he is a vegetarian and it reminds him pointedly of meat. On the last day of my stay in Hungary, I had an opportunity between meetings to nip into a big branch of Tesco in a rural town SE of Budapest.

Predictably, they had a large selection of paprika - mind bogglingly so, in packets, tins and boxes - and all of them labelled in Hungarian. Not to worry, I thought to myself, I will find a sales assistant and ask which one is smoked. Well, it turned out that none of the three assistants I approached spoke a word of English, so it wasn't long before I resorted to an impromptu series of mimes, right there in the herbs and spices aisle, with my audience of three (increasingly bemused) staff looking on. Here are the mimes I tried, in approximate order...


This was supposed to evoke their boy scout past, when they would hopefully have lit camp fires by the power of friction alone.


In this mime I tried to convey the impression of feeling hot and sweaty, by sighing a lot and fanning my face with my hands, before the heat escalated into one of those (admittedly rare) incidents of spontaneous human combustion. I threw my arms in the air, tulip-fashion - or "witch tied to the stake-fashion" might be a more fitting image - and emitted a loud "Woosh!". This was meant to denote the sound of me bursting into flames, and I swiftly followed it up with mime 3 ) below.


Easy enough you might think, but judging by their blank looks I think the sales staff may have thought I was making that bragging "I told you so" noise - you know, the one that goes: "Nah nah ne nah nah".

I paused for a moment to regroup, then came back with an inspired mime that finally cracked it (or got a bit "warmer", shall we say...).


I stretched my arms out in front of me and held my hands facing outwards as though I was warming them at a brazier, occasionally stopping to rub them together in a self-comforting gesture. Bingo! (-ish...)

"Aha!" exclaimed one of the three men in our huddle: "Feu!" (Okay, it sounded like the French word for fire, so I felt immediately encouraged.) He went straight to a particular packet and placed it in my by now nicely toasty hands. He repeated this magic word as he handed it over, visibly delighted that he had cracked the code.

So I bought the packet and went to my afternoon appointment, but something continued to niggle in my mind... Is "fire" synomyous with "smoked", which is a specific process, or does it merely denote heat, in the sense of "strength"? (By analogy with a mild versus a hot curry powder, type of thing.)

At the end of my meeting, I asked the respondent (with whom I had struck up a good rapport), if he wouldn't mind glancing over the description on the paprika I had bought to see if it was in fact smoked - or merely hot, say. He donned his glasses and scrutinized the label, which read:

Csmege Csípös

"I am sorry, but this is medium strength", he announced, before proceeding to write down the Hungarian for "hot smoked paprika". I have since lost the bit of paper with this on, but from memory I think the word "erös" was involved, and overall it looked nothing like the variety I had bought.

Faced with the very real possibility that I had in fact bought "medium unsmoked" paprika, I supplemented my purchase with an emergency miscellaneous triple pack at the airport, comprising two sweet varieties and one hot.

Now that I have had a chance to look into it, I think the key word for "smoked" that I was missing all along is in fact "füstölt". How füstolting!

Then as I was googling online dictionaries to find this magic term, I stumbled across a couple of interesting facts about paprika, namely that one of the main centres of production is the small town of Kalocsa on the Southern Great Plain, which boasts a Paprika Street and - speaking of random museums - a museum devoted to Paprika!

And meanwhile, when lovethescents finally receives these packages, whatever they may contain, it remains to wish her: "Jó étvágyat kívánunk!" (Enjoy your meal!)

Photo of paprika house from, photo of the actual Tesco store I visited(!) from photo of paprika sachet (correct brand, different strength illustrated) from, photo of boy rubbing sticks together from, photo of man warming hands from, photo of museum from


Anonymous said...

I'd want you on my charades team for sheer determination let alone inventiveness ("spontaneous human combustion"!).
And how appropriate that my validation word is "skery".

-- Lindaloo

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo!

"Skery" is skerily accurate indeed. : - )

Re my inventiveness, I sense it would do me good to think *inside* the box a bit more...!

Anonymous said...

You are such a good friend! Thank you for going through all that effort. If I had been smart, I would have told you how to say/spell füstölt. No worries, I'll be thrilled to have a different brand in my cupboard and it will be used regularly!

"Smoked" would be so difficult to mime! Maybe the act of smoking a cigarette?

I'm half Hungarian by the way. My mother and her parents escaped in 1956, like so many others, during the Revolution :-)


Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents!

You are very welcome and it was a fun experience, even if the mission was not quite accomplished in terms of the original terms of reference... : - )

It would also have been a smart move on my part to have done the googling before the shopping - and I call myself a researcher? I suppose I banked on getting by with the English word, but not so.

And why didn't I think of miming a cigarette?! That is a really good one and might well have done the trick.

Oh yes, and thanks for the clarification on what proportion Hungarian you are!

Anonymous said...

Wicked cool! I love Hungarian paprika (I love the csemege---exquisite delicate--- variety) and have some brought to me every year... and I am, at this very moment, cooking paprikás krumpli, one of my hubby's favorite dishes!

I loved reading about your hilarious adventure in Hungary---what a good friend you are!!!

lovethescents said...

Vanessa is a good friend, indeed, deeHowe. Paprikas krumpli is so delicous! I assume you get csabai kolbasz easily where you are? A little smoke :-)

ScentScelf said...

Smoked paprika! Must find some!!

Eros in paprika? Must find some!!


Well, you *know* I loves me some etymological play, AND a good game of charades. I was playing Agatha Christie and trying to anticipate in advance what sort of translatory surprises might be revealed by your respondent with whom you had rapport. Were I particularly puckish, which is to say British, I might have laid odds before continuing. (I know, our Vegas does the same. But Brit oddsmakers do seems to have it all over the rest of the...what did you say in another post? Punters?

Oh, dear. I have digressed.

Ah, well. Then one more you know of the actress Paprika Steen? (Can't really go much farther than the name with this particular digression. Moving on.)

(But where to?) Oh, yes. Thanks for a fun post!

Anonymous said...

No, it is unfortunate--- I have to substitute with spicy italian sausage (which, as it turns out, is not easy to get in Austin!), so it's not completely authentic, but still very tasty!

Hungarian is the ULTIMATE comfort food... gods, how I love winter eating!

Cymbaline said...

A few years ago I watched my SO mime the death throes of a mosquito when attempting to buy mosquito coils in a small village in northern Thailand. He finally did get the message across and everyone sure had a good laugh!

It's difficult for most of us to be 'silly' in public, but sure makes for some great travel stories.

The best adventures aren't always fun while you're having them : )

Vanessa said...

Hi Dee,

That's it - don't they have great names? I think this one I got in the Hungarian Tesco is "Pungent Exquisite Delicate", which on the face of it sounds like a contradiction in terms! : - )

Must check out your krumpli now...

Uncharacteristically for me, as I am not much of a cook, I actually made a chicken casserole in yesterday - with paprika! Just the tub I had in the cupboard already - no idea what sort it is. British Tescos are not so specific with their labelling, but I am guessing "mild"!

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

Haha - yes, my ears also pricked up at the mention of "eros"! ; - )

Sorry to disappoint the punters - no particular "translatory surprises" to report!

And as for Paprika Sheen - any relation of Charlie? He was recently "roasted", aka "smoked" on our TV screens... My, what a fabulous name, stage or otherwise. Paprika would also be rather cute for a ginger cat.

Vanessa said...

Hi Dee,

Winter eating will soon be upon us, now our freak heatwave is over! As for comfort food, I like steak pies myself (the "Finest" range from whichever supermarket - much easier...). With mashed carrot and sweet and jacket spuds. Yum!

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

I LOVE your story of your SO's mime of a dying mosquito! The dying bit sounds straightforward, but am trying to think of the best way to imitate a mosquito. Maybe going: "tttzzzzzzzz" and then "ow!!", whilst drawing attention to a mock stung body part?

Musette said...

I haven't laughed this hard in awhile! Thanks for a great, informative post!!!

It's a bit (WAY) out of the way for you, of course but for those US folks who might be interested, my pals Patty and Tom Erd at The Spice House in Evanston (and Chicago) hand-blend a couple of hot/sweet/smoked paprika blends. I love to use it on eggs!

Vanessa said...

Hi Musette,

Glad it made you chuckle - I have no shame about looking silly in public in the aid of a higher cause. : - )

And yes, on the face of it Evanston and Chicago are a bit (WAY) out of my normal shopping orbit, any more than I am in a position to collect ScentScelf's goldfish tank that was going spare.

That said, I have been lucky enough to hook up with ScentScelf not once but twice last March, so you nevva know!

Anonymous said...

Hi Vanessa,

You've prompted me to look for my Spanish smoked paprika: "La Chinata" Smoked Paprika Sweet, a blend of three varieties of peppers (sweet, bittersweet and hot) which are oak-smoked (not sun-dried) before grinding.

All I know is it is a very fiddly job getting the metal stopper out of the cute metal tin! Still, it keeps that paprika fresh in there, right?

Should you ever head to Spain and need to buy paprika, this states "Pimenton de la Vera" on the tin, which means Pimento/Pepper/Paprika from La Vera in Extremadura, Spain. (You never know, that might come in handy one day!)

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

Now it is in fact the Spanish variety that is my only experience of smoked paprika - a Spanish-loving friend from Belfast brought me a tin back one time from her holidays and I'm betting it was something along the lines you describe. It didn't have a stopper as such - it was more like a Spam tin as I recall, but with a normal lid rather than one of those little wind up key things that are wont to snap off or cut your fingers or both!

Good to have the exact phrase again, for I may well be in Spain before I am back in Hungary...

Anonymous said...

Hello again Vanessa,

Thanks for the reply and for the culinary experimentation that you inspired.

OH provided pre-prepared salads for dinner tonight (hard-boiled free range egg, new potatoes, crisp lettuce, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, cress: he should have been cooking but *had* to dine out with work colleagues!).

I added a little smoked paprika to the salad cream supplied with the food, since I'd already unearthed the tiny tin from the cupboard. It made the salads very tasty, adding a subtle smoky savouriness.

Now, If Mr Bonkers is a fan of shop-bought potato salad, for example, you might suggest adding a tiny bit of smoked paprika to some to try? (I put the end of the fork in the tin and put a teeny sprinkling on our salad cream, for blending and mixing in.) It won't turn him into a ravening carnivore, honest.

Oh, I must be fair to Spain's other Paprika region and note that Murcia produces Paprika as well as Extremadura, according to the tin's potted history. That's better:-)

cheerio again, Anna in Edinburgh

ScentScelf said...

Fabulous. I am now lemming food.


GAH!!! And the capcha that appeared was "WAFFELUS"!!!

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

WAFFELUS is wonderfulus! Though some might say it is simply a sign from on high that my posts are on the long side...

: - )

Undina said...

I laughed. Thank you! And then I spent five minutes thinking about how I would try to show "smoked". I couldn't think of anything better than, as it was suggested above, showing smoking (but in a store it might be confusing) or trying to imitate clouds of smoke.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

The smoking mime does have potential pitfalls, I agree. At worst, it could precipitate a full scale fire alert!

Vanessa said...

PS Clouds of smoke? I think if I had tried that, it would have just looked like bad freestyle dancing. : - )