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Category Archives: Explore
Furmint Forever
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 31 January, 2017 in Drink ,Events ,Explore ,

February in Hungary is long, grey, cold, wet, and gloomy. But for the past eight years at least we’ve had furmint to look forward to in February! Furmint Február (“Furmint February”) is a series of events, including a grand tasting in Budapest, dedicated to promoting this grape varietal which is so important in Hungary. This year the festivities are going international, with the debut of International Furmint Day on February 1st. If it was up to me, I’d make furmint the most widely planted white grape in Hungary. It’s already the signature grape in Tokaj and Somló (along with juhfark and olaszrizling in Somló). Sporadically (but increasingly) you can find some great furmints in Northern Balaton and Eger. I’m hoping to see much more of that all over the country because this grape—if done right—could be Hungary’s flagship wine. There’s no other grape that can make such complex sweet wines, consistently delicious easy-drinking dry wines, and full-bodied single vineyard terroir-driven wines.

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Seven Hungarian Food and Wine Resolutions for 2017
Posted by Carolyn Bánfalvi on 04 January, 2017 in Cook ,Drink ,Eat ,Explore ,

As you might have suspected, at Taste Hungary we’re not big fans of New Year’s resolutions that focus on what we will not eat. We prefer to turn it around and focus on what we will do, rather than what we won’t do. So in 2017 I resolve to do more—more things which will expand my palate, bring joy, teach me something, and help me dig deeper into my favorite topics—Hungarian food, Hungarian wine, and travel.

I spend a lot of time thinking about Hungarian food and wine, talking about it, cooking it, eating and eating it, and writing about it. There is still so much to learn, and so much to appreciate (I’m only reminded how amazing it is that foie gras and Tokaji aszú are pretty much standard fare at any Budapest restaurant when I leave Hungary). So I’ve made some resolutions that will help me (and you!) to further appreciate and discover the rich cuisine and wine of Hungary.

If you are unfamiliar to Hungarian cuisine, I give you one more resolution to start with—make this the year that you dive in and get to know it! Start with George Láng’s Cuisine of Hungary (which is out of print, but many used copies are available), which will also introduce you to Hungary’s fascinating culinary history. Culinaria Hungary, which is full of beautiful photographs as well as recipes, is also a great place to get inspired. You’ll thank yourself at the end of the year after you master dishes like paprikás csirke, lecsó, töltött paprika (stuffed peppers), gulyás, and szilvás gombóc (plum dumplings)!

Here is what I resolve to do more of in 2017. Will you join?

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The Most Rewarding Moments of 2016: Taste Hungary and The Tasting Table Budapest
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 01 January, 2017 in Drink ,Eat ,Explore ,People ,

2016 was such an amazing year for Taste Hungary and The Tasting Table that it was not easy to narrow them down for this post! Many things happened that opened the doors for other things to happen. Now it’s the end of the year (and I am enjoying a glass of Samuel Tinon’s dry szamorodni). I’ll put my plans aside for a few days and will start fresh and motivated for the beginning of 2017. There is so much more we can do that it feels like we’re just getting started …

Building The Taste Hungary Team

We are fortunate that Taste Hungary has been growing nicely and that we have an increasing number of customers every year. To make our offerings more colorful and attractive to a wider range of guests, we frequently develop new tours and offer more services … and we have so many new ideas (and not enough time to follow up on them!). Now that we have around 4,000 guests booking tours with us annually, our team is more important than ever. We’ve put a lot of effort into building a circle of very smart, highly-qualified people who love food and wine (and also beer) as much as we do. We’ve ended up with a team of colorful people, who all bring very different skills and interests into the mix. We all come from different areas of life, and we are all experts at some aspect of food/drink to connect us to Taste Hungary. Since I don’t meet every guest in person, the values that I believe in and share with the team are my way to communicate with guests even without meeting them. These values are the foundation of our team, and they shape us and ensure our commitment to high standards (which results in great service at the end of the day). The importance of our team goes beyond business. Our team is a happy (and growing) community made of people who make this world a better place to live.

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2016—My Year in Wine Memories
Posted by Carolyn Bánfalvi on 25 December, 2016 in Drink ,Explore ,People ,

Looking back on 2016, it’s was impossible to name favorites among the wines that I’ve tasted. I did lots of wine travel in 2016  (some related to Taste Hungary, and some was not), and had the opportunity to taste plenty of good wines from Hungary at The Tasting Table. It was the context surrounding the wines that made wine memorable for me this year. Here are my top four wine experiences of the year (including the addresses of those places that are located in Hungary). I hope 2017 will bring you some special wine travel experiences.

Read: 2016—Our Year in Wine Memories

Read: 2016—Our Year in Food Memories

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2016—Our Year in Wine Memories
Posted by Carolyn Bánfalvi on 22 December, 2016 in Drink ,Explore ,

As we were recounting our best food memories of 2016, naturally many of them involved wine. At The Tasting Table and through our tours (and tour research) we taste a lot of wine, regularly meet winemakers, and visit the beautiful places where these wines come from. We are in love with the astonishing range of wine in Hungary, and take whatever chance we get to delve deeper into it, taste something new, and visit a new cellar. We asked some of our tour guides to recount their year in wine and share the best things they’ve drunk in 2016. While we all travel frequently outside of Hungary (often to other wine regions of the world), this year it so happened that all of our best wine memories took place in Hungary, with the exception of one from Austria from our Vienna-based wine guide (we’ve shared the addresses here so you can try them for yourselves). With nearly two dozen wine regions in this small country, and so many top-quality wines to discover, it is no wonder that we are so enamored with our own wine. We also were not surprised that there was one particular bottle of wine (which several of us tasted together) that was named as the highlight of the year by several of us. We hope that you have also experienced some great wine and wine travel in 2016.

Here are some of the best wine experiences that Taste Hungary guides have had in 2016. We’re already looking forward to what will come in 2017!

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2016—Our Year in Food Memories
Posted by Carolyn Bánfalvi on 20 December, 2016 in Eat ,Explore ,People ,

We’ve eaten (and drunk) a lot this year. Hey, it’s part of the job. And we love that. Of course, not everything we’ve eaten has been good (such as a disastrous attempt at kürtőskalács in Seoul, sampled by one of our tour guides). But luckily plenty of it has been very good. We’ve asked some of our tour guides (who eat and drink for a living) to recount their year in food and share the best things they’ve eaten in 2016. Some of these eating experiences happened at restaurants in Hungary (we’ve shared the addresses here so you can try them for yourselves). Others happened during our travels around the world, which is when we are all most open to allowing ourselves to encounter new experiences and flavors. Others—like a feast Júlia ate in her hospital room, which was lovingly prepared by her father—were so personal that they left an indelible impression, which goes deeper than the actual food that was eaten. That’s the real magic of food. We hope that you also experienced some of that in 2016.

Here are some of the best things that Taste Hungary guides have eaten in 2016. We’re already looking forward to what will come in 2017!

Read about our best wine memories of 2016 here.

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Christmas in Hungary
Posted by Carolyn Bánfalvi on 12 December, 2016 in Eat ,Explore ,

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The sure way to tell Christmas is approaching in Hungary is when the cukrászdas begin stockpiling beiglis. The beigli—made of yeast-raised dough, which is stretched thin, filled with either poppyseed or ground walnut filling, and rolled into cylinder shapes—is the essence of Hungarian Christmas. Grandmothers bake dozens of them every year, and if you are lucky you’ll receive several as gifts from loved ones, relatives, friends, or colleagues. Luckily the glistening cakes hold well for weeks (which comes in handy when you receive more than you can possibly eat). In Hungary, beigli is the essence of Christmas, a taste memory which is anticipated all year long.

Around the time when bakers start selling beigli nearly as fast as it comes out of the oven, many of Budapest’s squares are filling up with Christmas markets. The Christmas Market at Vörösmarty tér is no longer the only one to visit. Budapest’s Christmas markets have been growing every year (in size, number, and variety), and have become part of the winter-time experience in the city. Add vendors selling hot roasted chestnuts and the scent of mulled wine wafting through the street, and it makes this season one of the best times of the year to visit (if you can handle the cold).

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The 1956 Tokaj Aszú: A Wine With A Long Finish
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 14 November, 2016 in 100 Essentials ,Drink ,Explore ,Shop ,

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The 1956 vintage was a good one in Tokaj. But 1956 didn’t go down in the history books because of the great quality of botrytis in Tokaj that year, rather because of the revolution that began 60 years ago on October 23rd. On a warm fall day, a revolution against Soviet rule in Hungary broke out. The streets in Budapest, and other cities, filled with people who were fed up with the Rákosi regime. The oversized statue of Stalin (which sat next to Budapest’s City Park) was pulled down by the protesters on the first day. Shots were fired at the National Radio building on Bródy Sándor street, just next to The Tasting Table. After a few glorious and violent days, the revolution ended up turning into a war of freedom against the Soviet empire. Russian tanks, barricades, freedom fighters, and Russian soldiers filled the streets of Budapest. In some neighborhoods, battles raged from building to building. It was a war we could not win. The wounds from the siege of Budapest in World War Two had still not healed, and now there were more bullet holes in facades across the city. The war was lost in a few weeks, and Hungary remained part of the Communist block for the next three and a half decades. Hundreds of thousands left the country, prisons were filled with the revolutionaries, and a new communist leader called Kádár was named.

During that fall, despite the Russian tanks and soldiers, grapes still had to be picked and wine still had to be made. As the revolution raged, aszú berries were being harvested and wine was fermenting in the caves of Tokaj. In the fall of 1956, due to the long fall, there were lots of aszú berries and a good amount of wine was made. After it was bottled a few years later, most of it was soon drunk by Russian officials coming to check on Kádár or by good comrades from the Hungarian Communist party. But not all of the 1956 batch was imbibed. Somehow a few hundred bottles survived in a remote corner of the state cellar until the fall of the communist regime in 1989. Perhaps when the communist leaders visited the state-owned cellar for a tasting, the winemakers were afraid of serving the ‘56 vintage and served a ‘55 or ‘57 instead. Even the number 56 was a taboo for almost four decades. I remember a scene I once saw in a movie when the number 56 was even skipped when the presenter announced the winning lottery numbers of the week. After Communism was finished, the remaining bottles of ’56 aszú, along with other vintages, were sold to private investors.

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The Lost World of The Jewish Wine Trade in Hungary (and The Old Habsburg Empire), Part II.
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 12 October, 2015 in Drink ,Explore ,People ,

Read Part I of this series here

After researching Central European wine history—particularly how Jews were involved for centuries in the wine trade and in winemaking—over the past few years, I have found this untold story: the fascinating back story preceding the takeover of the state-owned coops in Hungary, which lasted more than forty years (and devastated Hungarian wine). The family names and trading houses that I have been reading about were big players in the European wine trade in their day, only to have their stories forgotten. Here are a few brief stories of some of the families …

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Part II.

A Few Abaúszántó Families
The Teitelbaum family, which lived in the Tokaj region for many generations, is another great example of how Jewish families were able to set up big and successful businesses which lasted for generations. Their winery was founded in 1783 in Abaújszántó. Until the beginning of World War One they saved a few bottles from every vintage since the winery was founded, making it the biggest (and oldest) collection of wine in the region. Also located in Abaúszántó was the Flegmann family. As you can see on the label here, they had an importer, the Krauss Brothers, in New York. These families knew what they were doing: selling beautiful wines in the world’s most important wine markets, with different labels depending on where the bottle was going to be sold.

Kassa 1 1938

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The Lost World of The Jewish Wine Trade in Hungary (and The Old Habsburg Empire)
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 09 October, 2015 in Drink ,Explore ,People ,

Part I.

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There’s no denying that the Hungarian wine industry has come a long way since Communism ended in 1989. The story of the first generation of winemakers—as well as the foreign investors who brought know-how and money—to re-start the wine industry in the early 1990s is a compelling one which has been often told. But what about the Hungarian wine industry before 1990? The unfortunate Communist period, during which quality was not a concern and winemakers were expected to hand over their wines to the cooperative to be unceremoniously mixed together, is part of the narrative. And the story of phylloxera wiping out much of the vineyards during the late 19th century is also an important part of the story, which is often told.

But what about the rest of the story, particularly the period when Hungarian wine was renowned around the world? There was a time when Poland was the major export market for Hungarian wine (and the Poles are still crazy about Tokaj aszú) and Tokaj sweet wine was sold all over the world, praised by royalty, politicians, and popes. When I visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, Virginia, I was happy to see that a plaque stating the countries where his sizable wine collection came from included Hungary. This story of how the Hungarian (and Central European) wine trade functioned before the two world wars and communism is not a well-known one, and the practicalities of how the bottles got from their sleepy countryside villages of origin to the tables of fine restaurants around the world is a forgotten part of the story.

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Hungarian Wine: A Must-Read New Book By Robert Smyth
Posted by Carolyn Bánfalvi on 07 October, 2015 in Drink ,Explore ,People ,

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“Now is the ideal time to tune into Hungarian wine,” writes Robert Smyth in Hungarian Wine: A Tasting Trip to the New Old World (Blue Guides, 2015). Those who are newly tuned into Hungarian wine are lucky to have this book as a guide, while those who have been following Hungarian wine for awhile will surely agree that a book like this has been missing from the English-language offerings on Hungarian wine. In fact, the book will be just as useful to newcomers to Hungarian wine—who do not yet know their kadarka from their kékfrankos, or their cserszegi from their cirfandli—as it will be to those who have been following the delicious improvements in the Hungarian wine industry for some time.

The book is organized by region, with maps, nicely-written introductions to each region, and profiles of recommended producers in each region. Each regional section concludes with a shorter list of producers to watch for, and then a brief list of food and accommodation suggestions. In his winery profiles Smyth includes winemaking details that will appease the wine geeks among us, but his writing is easy to read and will not be a turn-off to the Hungarian wine beginner. Read More

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Pogácsa at Daubner
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 14 July, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Explore ,

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Homemade, flaky and rich with flavor—pogácsa is the quintessential Hungarian snack. It’s a beloved pastry staple that shows up at family lunches, weddings, wine tastings, and just about any food-related gathering. Pogácsa, for the most part, is a bite-sized treat which is usually best made by someone’s kitchen goddess of a grandmother. Unfortunately there’s not always a grandmother around to labor over the homemade version when you’re craving a taste for the tender biscuits. So where to turn in Budapest for serious pastry lovers seeking buttery, eat-it-anytime pogácsa that is as good (or better) than the homemade version? It’s a question that sparks much debate amongst locals. Pogácsa is available everywhere around town, but for the best of the best, many swear by the fêted Daubner Cukrászda.

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