Funded by a SIIF grant awarded by the Center for Global Education, Rachel Meller ’21 created a short documentary on Hungarian street food while studying abroad in Budapest. In the five-minute short, she focuses on the history and cultural importance of Kürtőskalács, also known as chimney cake.
A double major in media and society and American studies, Meller decided to center her documentary on a specific type of food as a way to access broader questions about the past and contemporary Hungarian society.
“When I think of city life, I think of food carts and newspaper stands and those kinds of attractions. They are such an integrated part of city life and I wanted to look at the way it affects, or if it even affects, the culture at all,” Meller says.
Research and filming began in Budapest at a festival dedicated to the chimney cake. More than two dozen vendors served the chimney cake in a variety of ways. Around the festival children also wore chimney cake costumes. She learned that the dessert is made from a sweet yeasted dough that is cooked around a cone-shaped baking spit then rolled in granulated sugar.
Inspired by her studies with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) in classes including “Life in Post-Communist Societies” and “Politics after a Communist Regime,” Meller began studying the geographic and geopolitical history of the food. She learned that the earliest recorded history of chimney cakes dates back to 1580 Transylvania, a region in central Romania.
“I learned a lot about how important food is to the Hungarian culture. It brings families and the community together. Christmas markets are also an amazing way for Hungarian people to show their culture through food,” Meller says.
Through her studies with CIEE, Meller had the opportunity to travel to Transylvania for a four-day excursion. While there, she hiked in the Carpathian Mountains and visited several rural communities.
In addition to creating her documentary, Meller volunteered at Eötvös College in Budapest where she helped Hungarian college students learn English.
Back on campus for the spring semester, Meller intends to share her documentary with the campus community. She will premiere the film at the Center for Global Education photo contest and discuss her work at a Global Cafe. The dates are to be finalized.