Beauty and Love in Budapest


After two weeks of eating in the restaurants, I finally moved back to the apartment where there is a kitchen.  I invited a couple of friends over and cooked a ton of vegetables which are usually lacking when eating in restaurants in Budapest. The tomato-egg stir-fry that I made — the most basic comfort food during my Shanghai childhood — finally alleviated my craving for home cooked food.


After dinner, we went to an organ concert at the St. Stephen’s Basilica.  I had never before heard Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-minor through such magnificently booming organ pipes. The vibration shook my bones.  I was awestruck.



We were on our way to get a post concert drink when serendipity had us run into some members of our cast and crew who were having a birthday celebration for Michelle Yeoh at a restaurant.  The ex Bond girl is playing a kick ass fighting nun in Marco Polo. 


Michelle’s Hungarian friend knew the restaurant chef, who prepared for us sumptuous dishes that were not on the menu: minced pork stuffed paprika, beef stew, ratatouille with mixed peppers… My second dinner was an absolute feast. 

I don’t remember who started it, but after a few bottles of wine (and three sips of limoncello for me), we began taking turns to define the two most over used words with the most expansive meanings: beauty and love

Michelle Yeoh’s assistant said to Michelle, “Beauty is Michelle.”  No wonder she had worked for Michelle for 11 years.

“Beauty is what arrests you for reasons you can’t quite articulate — it’s unreasonable,” said Tim Yip, our costume designer.

“It is the purgation of superfluities,” someone quoted Michelangelo.

“Yes, it must be simple.”

“And everlasting.”

“But beauty is fleeting.”

The discussion went on and on, and no one could completely agree with the other because what lends beauty its luster is precisely this ineffable quality that escapes analysis and speaks to the imagination.


Two years ago with Peter in Budapest on family vacation

Then we came to the definition of love, which is so all-encompassing and amorphous at the same time that anything we said paled in comparison to what we intuited it to be.  Looking back, we sounded down right corny, but we all took a moment to think about love — each carrying a private memory or longing that tugged at his heartstrings.  I immediately thought of my children, my husband and my parents, who are all far away but rooted deeply in my heart as I am rooted in theirs. 

“Body and Soul.”

“Something to die for.”

“Something to live for.”

We interjected between bites and sips, laughing at each other’s mawkish declarations.

“Love is what I’m feeling right now,” John Fusco concluded with a big smile, looking at all of us who had gathered here because he created Marco Polo.

It is mysterious and wonderful how fate brought us here — around a dining table on a cobblestoned sidewalk in Budapest from different continents sharing food, wine and friendship, contemplating beauty and love. 

Joan & Fusco

With John after dinner. St. Stephen’s Basilica in the background.

Budapest Leisure





I finally ate at The Bigfish Seafood Bistro, a restaurant that some of the cast and crew have been raving about.  And it is fantastic!  I honestly never believed I could get good seafood in this landlocked country until today.  It is a simple concept — you choose your fish from the ice-bed behind a glass counter and they will grill it for you. It reminded me of Peter’s favorite seafood Chinese restaurant in the Bay Area, Koi Palace, where there are tanks filled with live fish and crustaceans.  Peter, the true fish lover of my family, would have enjoyed this place.    

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My friend and I picked a whole flounder, squids and octopus.  They came on a plater grilled with olive oil, lots of garlic and parsley — simple, no fuss and mouthwatering delicious. 


Zsevago serves only drinks and no food. And it opens only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. I suppose the owner values his leisure as much as the customers.

After lunch, we roamed around the blocks and arrived at a Russian teahouse called Zsevago — a nostalgic space that looked like a stage set with old settees, divans and tables covered in old lace tablecloth.  For a couple of dollars, you can come here, order a tea and read in one of the upstair nooks or chat with friends in the living room area — where my friend and I sat.

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I have noticed that Budapest has a rich and vibrant cafe culture. There is a multitude of them within 15 minutes walk from where I’m staying.  While window display of shops in the city are often unattractive, the cafes and teahouses on the other hand are always warm, charming and enticing.  Could it be that this culture values the quality of its leisure time more than material possession?  I seem to sense contentment in the people sitting in cafes and teahouses, where time is ample and its passage sweet.

In today’s constant pursuit of efficiency and distraction, leisure has been exiled from our lives.  But is a life spent in multitasking productivity a good life?  I have my suspicions. 

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After we left the teahouse, my friend showed me the chocolate bar that she had wanted to take Audrey to.  It was closed on that day and Audrey was very disappointed.  Today, I went in her stead, in her white sandals. 

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Dark and atmospheric like an opium den, Noir ChocoBar exuded an air of decadence.   We devoured the mint and lavender flavored iced chocolate with chocolate ice cream.  I didn’t take a card from this place.  I fully intend to forget where it is and never find my way back here again.  The stuff is addictive like opium.