That's what a person from Hungary would say to someone who is hungry. Enjoy your meal! Bon appétit, if you will. It's a phrase Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Soni grew up with. The Team USA swimmer is of Hungarian descent, and her family's strongest links to their heritage is in its food traditions.
"My mom is a great, great cook," the 24-year-old Soni says. "She has a lot of typical Hungarian recipes. We always cooked. We never went out to dinner. It was a big part of me when I was growing up."
The biggest culinary memories of her childhood are the traditional stuffed cabbage at Christmas, and stuffed peppers. (She swears not every recipe is stuffed something, though.)
"I'm butchering the translation," says Soni, now a part of Team Kellogg's. "They sound a lot better in Hungarian."
When she moved from New Jersey to attend college at the University of Southern California, Soni found herself without her mom's cooking for the first time. Her options were the dining hall or exploring her new-found home. She frequently chose the latter, discovering sushi and real Mexican for the first time.
"And avocados," she says. "I'd never had an avocado before."
After college, Soni stayed in SoCal to remain with her coach and keep working toward the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She began cooking for herself and practiced the family recipes. Part of the advantage about swimming so much is she can use all that Hungarian food as fuel. One of her frequent meals is Chicken Paprikash -- a national stew made with onions, garlic, sour cream and famed Hungarian paprika. It's served over homemade egg noodles or nokedli. As with many traditional dishes, they vary from cook to cook, so much so that Soni hesitates when talking about her versions.
"I don't even call them the same thing because my mom makes them so much better than me," Soni confesses.
But she knows there's a world of food outside of Eastern Europe. Soni subscribes to several cooking magazines and is always trying new recipes. Through swimming, she has gotten to travel the world. Three years ago in Beijing, where she captured a gold medal and two silvers in the pool, she got to taste authentic Chinese. More recently she fell in love with Neapolitan pizza during a competition in Italy.
Last month, Soni visited London and the surrounding countryside, making sure to sample the English fare along her tour.
"I thought the food was great," she says. "I had a meat pie, but I didn’t get around to fish and chips."
Luckily, she'll have another chance at the pub favorite next summer when she hits the pool at the 2012 Olympics.
But she always comes back to her native cuisine. And so does anyone who's tried it.
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