Why My Parents Eat Paprika On Cottage Cheese

The Awl’s holiday series on flavors and spices.

For as long as I can remember, my parents have eaten cottage cheese with paprika on it. This is… weird? No one else I know does this, at the very least. It’s a traditional Hungarian way of eating it, but we are not a Hungarian family. For this piece, I did two big things: first, I interviewed my parents to figure out why the heck this tradition exists in my family and second, I tried paprika on cottage cheese (my review? It’s fine).

Me: How ya doing?

Dad: I. Am. Good.

Mom: I don’t know what he’s doing. We’re good.

Dad: She’s. Transcribing.

Me: I’m using a recorder, so you can talk normally.

Dad: O.K.

Mom: Oh boy

Me: So I’ll just preface this and say this is an interview with my parents, okay?

Dad: Yes.

Mom: [laughing in the background]

Me: The Awl is doing a series of pieces on spices, and the best I could come up with, because we’re not an aggressively spice-heavy family, is that you both do a thing where you eat cottage cheese with paprika on it. I wanna know why the heck that is.

Mom: I think the cottage cheese with paprika is me. It’s my twist on it. Your dad would always season deviled eggs with a pinch of paprika.

Me: Right…

Mom: Originally, I thought it was Dad who put it on cottage cheese

Me: Okay…

Mom: I’m saying, somehow Dad got the paprika on the table for me to see it because, as you said, we don’t use a lot of spices. There was no paprika in the house when I was growing up, so Dad definitely brought that into the marriage.

Dad: And like Mom said, I only use it regularly on deviled eggs. And I make those every Christmas Eve. So I’d make those, and leave out the paprika, and then Mom would take it and put it on her cottage cheese.

Mom: Cottage cheese would also be a part of all of the cold salads we eat on Christmas Eve.

Me: Right, the cold salads. [NOTE: Every year on Christmas Eve or Christmas, my family eats “abenbroat,” which is a German tradition involving a light dinner of cheese, meats, pickled vegetables, spreads, and bread. Cold salads aren’t typically a part of this, but because we’re also Midwestern, those are usually also just around the house.]

Mom: Exactly. I think Dad just made paprika accessible.

Me: You tried it and then Dad tried it? Do you both do this?

Dad: I do it sometimes. Cottage cheese is naturally bland, and a lot of people spice it up. Some people put salt and pepper on it.

Me: I feel like a lot of my friends eat it with fruit. Now people dress it up to be sweeter.

Dad: Like a yogurt.

Me: Right. The only way I really dress it up is with salt.

Mom: It doesn’t add a lot of flavor, the paprika, but there is some. I really just like the way it looks. Now I add salt too because Sue across the street says she adds paprika and salt. But I didn’t learn it from Sue.

Dad: I assumed this was Mom’s thing, not mine. And then she said she got it from me. But I think she must have gotten it from her family, because it’s an Eastern European thing.

Me: Yeah, I researched it a little and it said it’s mainly a Hungarian thing, but we’re not Hungarian.

Mom: But when Owen [NOTE: my brother] got back from Budapest, he brought us paprikas. But I don’t think this is from my family. We didn’t have butter on the table when I grew up. We didn’t have salt and pepper. I think it was just a proximity thing, of Dad putting it on the table.

Me: And you just took a risk?

Mom: Yeah, it looked pretty.

Dad: Hm.

Me: Hm.

Mom: Hm.

Dad: I mean, paprika is just a sweet pepper.

Me: Right, I know that.

Dad: We eat more cottage cheese now than we used to.

Mom: We’re more health-conscious. Any condiment that made anything taste good, I have to say I got it from being married to your dad.

Dad: [yawns]

Mom: Who is just yawning in the background.

Me: Right.

Mom: I feel like we’re so boring.

Dad: We’re so boring

Me: We’ll see how this turns out. People are doing, like, tarragon and white peppercorns.

Dad: Yikes.

Mom: We are not that exciting.

Me: Well, I hope that’s maybe the interesting part of this. That’s it for me.

Mom: We’re sorry.

Me: I’ll let you know if I have follow-ups.

Dad: Like we said, Owen brought us paprika. Three different ones.

Mom: We went from a family with no spices to a family who has three paprikas. So exotic!