Carolyn Bánfalvi is a food and travel journalist and author from Washington DC, now based in Budapest, Hungary. She has spent much of the past decade living in Hungary and has recently authored two books, the first culinary guidebooks to the Budapest dining scene and Hungarian food and drink. Carolyn’s articles have appeared in dozens of publications including Saveur, Gastronomica, gourmet.com, Olive (BBC), The Globe and Mail, The Wall Street Journal, Chow.com, The Washington Times, Black Ink and Four Seasons. She holds a degree in journalism from New York University and a degree in culinary arts from Baltimore International College. She lives with her husband and two young daughters, who also love to eat and cook. www.carolynbanfalvi.com
1. Tell us about your latest book.
My book actually ended up being two books, published by two different publishers, one American and one Hungarian. The books are the first culinary guidebooks to the Budapest dining scene and Hungarian food and drink. Food Wine Budapest (Little Bookroom, June 2008) was recently a finalist for an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) book award. And The Food and Wine Lover’s Guide to Hungary (Park Kiadó, October 2008) was a winner of a Gourmand World Cookbook Award. The books are practical guides containing the vocabulary needed to discover Hungarian food and wine; dozens of restaurant, café, market, and shop reviews; descriptions of Hungarian dishes and wines; and sidebars providing local color and in-depth information. Food Wine Budapest contains photographs and is geared more towards tourists, while The Food and Wine Lover’s Guide to Hungary has illustrations and is more in-depth, better for long-term travelers and expats.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
When I started journalism in college, I found that it really suited me. I loved that it was something that allowed me to get out there and explore all types of subjects that I wouldn’t normally have. I started freelancing as soon as I graduated, and have been doing so now for ten years. When I decided that I wanted to focus my writing on food, I went to culinary school (which is something that I wanted to do for myself, anyway), which really reinforced my decision to focus on food. I also write about travel, which is sort of a given since I’ve been living in Hungary for the past ten years!
3. What’s a typical day like for you?
I have two little girls (ages one and three), so no day is really typical. I usually wake up when they wake up, make them breakfast, and take them to nursery school in the morning, which is just a five-minute walk from our apartment. Then I come home and take care of emails, read the news, listen to NPR, and then get to work, which is something different every day. Sometimes I have articles that I’m working on, but many other times I’m doing things that involve promoting my books, which could be writing to people, doing an interview, or writing guest blog posts. While I consider writing to be my profession, I also have a few other side gigs which require time: a small culinary tourism company that my husband and I own (www.tastehungary.com), an apartment in Budapest that we own and rent out to tourists, and a publishing company that we are in the process of starting. If I’m working on an article, I may go out for interviews, go check out a new restaurant, go to the market to pick up ingredients for recipe testing, or whatever. Sometime during the day before I pick up the girls at 4pm, I try to fit in a trip to the gym. Then afterschool it is the playground, and home for dinner. I usually find myself working again after the girls go to bed. Also, I have a few book ideas which I am thinking over at the moment.
4. Describe your workspace.
I have a little office that opens from my dining room. The room is about 5 feet wide and 13 feet long, with great 12 feet high ceiling and a parquet floor. My desk, which is about as wide as room, sits at one end in front of a tall window (which nearly reaches the ceiling and has curtains pulled back with colorful scarves) and overlooks the building’s shared courtyard. On the opposite end of the room there is a high book shelf, partially built (by my dad) with old-style doorway molding that we found on the street. The shelf is overflowing with books—cookbooks, writing books, food magazines, travel guides, files, and antique books on the top few shelves. A cute little shelf (also rescued from the street) next to my desk holds some framed photos, notebooks, and flowers. On the walls hang some framed old family photos, my framed book covers, and a ribbon that stretches a few feet across with my daughters’ latest artwork attached by clothespins. The most important item in my office is My MacBook.
5. Favorite books?
Books by writers who write about food: Calvin Trillin, M.F.K Fisher, and Laurie Colwin, to name just a few.
6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you:
- (1) My husband and I met in college on a cruise ship. We both worked there. (2) I used to waitress at a French restaurant on Capitol Hill, and am now beating myself up because I didn’t take notes on all of the unbelievable conversations that I overheard. It would have made a great book. (3) Growing up, my idol was the baseball player Cal Ripken.
7. Favorite quote?
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” –George Orwell
8. Best and worst part of being a writer?
One of the best parts for me is the freedom of being able to work on a schedule that fits me. Also, the really great thing about being a writer is that you can pursue whatever subject/hobby/passion that interests you, and turn it into your job by writing about it! The worst part is the flip side of this freedom, which is the insecurity that is connected with being a freelance writer.
9. Advice to writers?
To be successful as a writer you have to have a thick skin, be tough, and persevere! You have to be constantly on the lookout for new opportunities, and you have to follow-up on them. Attend conferences whenever you can (even if they are expensive) in order to meet new colleagues and stay on top of your game. Whenever you write anything, make sure it’s the best that you can do, especially since everything stays on the Internet. And work on building up your platform, which will take time, but will really pay off in the long-run.
10. Tell us a story about your writing experience.
I spent nearly a year sending out my proposal to American publishers for my Budapest food guide. I finally gave up and sent it out to two Hungarian publishers, who both immediately replied that they were interested in the book. I went with one and wrote the book. When the manuscript was completed I still wanted it to also be published in America, so I sent it out again and almost right away found the Little Bookroom (and it has been such a wonderful experience working with them). In the end, the American publisher ended up having the book in print about six months before the Hungarian publisher.
Food Wine Budapest is available directly through the publisher (http://www.littlebookroom.com/foodwinebudapest.html). It is also widely available on the Internet on Amazon (http://www.littlebookroom.com/foodwinebudapest.html), Barnes & Noble (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Food-Lovers-Guide-to-Budapest/Carolyn-Banfalvi/e/9781892145567/?itm=1), or from independent book shops (http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781892145567). The Food and Wine Lover’s Guide to Hungary is currently only available in Hungary, at most major book shops.