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Hungarian restaurant opens in College Point

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Soon after mother and daughter Julianna Koltai and Andrea Rafael opened Touch of Hungary in College Point, two families of German descent wandered into their restaurant, telling the owners they had big appetites.

Koltai and Rafael brought out plate after plate of their homemade Hungarian food.

The helpings were so large, Rafael said, that the families found themselves unable to finish.

“We asked them if they wanted to eat any dessert,” Rafael recalled. “They said, ‘Are you able to sell any desserts here after those meals?’”

Touch of Hungary, which opened May 20 at 121-17 14th Rd., has already earned a reputation for having big portions of traditional Hungarian dishes.

Among customers’ favorites are their beef and chicken stews, their Nokedli dumplings, goulash and Somloi Galuska, a vanilla and chocolate pudding dessert covered in chocolate sauce and whip cream that takes a day to prepare.

Koltai has been cooking Hungarian food all of her life, having run a restaurant in Budapest in which her daughter often helped out

Thirteen years ago, Rafael, now 34, headed to Indiana University, where she earned a master’s degree in mathematics.

Afterwards, Rafael moved to New York City and began a career in teaching and computers.

Last year Koltai and Koltai’s 81-year-old grandmother visited Rafael, who lives in the Bronx.

During their visit, thousands in New York City were killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Watching the events on television, Koltai’s mother, who lived in a concentration camp for a year during the Holocaust, suffered an attack of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Koltai and her mother then returned to Hungary.

But Koltai, who is Jewish, had grown weary of her homeland, where anti-Semitism has been on the rise.

“It was pretty bad over there,” said Koltai, whose words were translated by her daughter.

Koltai came back to the United States, moving in with her daughter in the Bronx. They made plans to open a restaurant with the hope of earning enough money to help Koltai’s mother immigrate to the country.

The two found a vacancy in College Point, and Touch of Hungary was born.

Koltai and Rafael are the business’s only employees. Waking up at 6 a.m., they spend their mornings food shopping and preparing meals. Koltai is the chef, with Rafael serving food and learning cooking from her mother. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant keeps the two women busy often past midnight.

Rafael said the restaurant has already become well-known with area Hungarians.

“We get a lot of Hungarians here from Long Island, from Brooklyn, from Manhattan,” said Rafael. “We really want to attract the local, non-Hungarians.”

Rafael compared Hungarian and American cuisine.

“Hungarian food is very tasty,” she said. “It’s quite different than American food. It takes some work to prepare.”

Rafael noted some dishes, such as beef goulash, require about five hours to make.

Rafael said she knew of only two other Hungarian restaurants in the city.

“There aren’t that many Hungarian restaurants in New York,” she said.

Koltai and Rafael insist on using traditional ingredients. They buy their paprika not from a supermarket but a specialty Hungarian store in Manhattan.

With the end of summer approaching, Rafael said she expected business to pick up. She said customers always left her restaurant happy that they had tried Hungarian food.

“It’s just a question of getting people to come in and taste,” she said.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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