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Wine Pairing (With a Side of Thai Massage)
Posted by Gábor Bánfalvi on 05 December, 2016 in Cook ,Drink ,

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Now that the year is almost over, I have time to reflect on some of our best food and wine moments of 2016. One of these happened when Louis Watana, the first secretary the Royal Embassy of Thailand, reached out to me with an interesting idea. He wanted to organize a few Thai dinners paired with Hungarian wine. He suspected that the two put together could lead to some great pairings. The dinners were also part of Watana’s larger project of producing a Thai e-cookbook featuring Hungarian wine pairings.

For our experimentation in finding the best pairings, we split the job: Watana was in charge of arranging the food (his area of expertise) and I chose the wine pairings (my expertise). The first dinner would be at the Thai Ambassador’s Residence, and the second would be at the Tasting Table. The guests were ambassadors and diplomats residing in Budapest, as well as a few visiting diplomats.

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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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Sólet at Rosenstein, An Essential Budapest Experience
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 30 June, 2015 in 100 Essentials ,Eat ,Explore ,

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Walking into Rosenstein, Budapest’s most revered Hungarian-Jewish restaurant, two distinct moods emerge. The crisp white tablecloths, chic stemware, dark wood furnishings, and immaculately dressed waiters exude fine-dining elegance. But other details—from the father-son chef duo to the time-honored weekly menu highlighting traditional Hungarian and Jewish meals—lend the familiar coziness of dinner at grandma’s house.

Striking a great balance between traditional and indulgent is the forte of owner-chef Tibor Rosenstein, and now his son and partner, Róbert. What he started as a tiny buffet in 1996 on a side street next to Keleti Railway station (and which is still in operation next to the restaurant today) has grown into one of the city’s finest restaurants, all thanks to his culinary expertise and entrepreneurial chops. Rosenstein’s menu is made up of Hungarian-Jewish specialties, from gulyás to lecsó (stewed peppers and tomatoes), and lamb knuckles with garlic hremzli (potato pancake) to goose leg with red cabbage. But it is his decadent take on comfort foods—such as töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage) and Brassói aprópecsenye (a dish made up roasted pork, potatoes, garlic, and paprika)—that really stands out.

Hungary, with its robust soup, bread and meat traditions, has also infused its own flavors into the vibrant Jewish cuisine which has deep roots in Hungary, and is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance these days. There are plenty of excellent dishes to try at Rosenstein—which has become somewhat of a pilgrimage spot for visitors to Budapest—including the matzo ball soup. But if you are there, you really cannot miss trying the sólet.

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Budapest’s Rooftop Bars: Drinks with a View
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 25 June, 2015 in Drink ,Explore ,

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There’s so much to-do when visiting Budapest: checking out the historic buildings, taking in the unforgettable views of the city’s skyline (which has appeared in so many Hollywood films these days), and, most likely, exploring the colorful and crazy nightlife scene. Why not check all of these boxes at once by grabbing a drink (or two) at one of Budapest’s buzzing rooftop bars?

In a city where the often underground and quirky ruin bars have grabbed the spotlight, high-rise watering holes are relatively new and stylish additions. Taking full advantage of the many historical structures and the fair summer weather, elevated bars add a touch of glamour and exclusivity, not to mention a front-row seat to sweeping big city views that can change dramatically from day to night. And now there’s a Budapest rooftop for every taste: ritzy or relaxed? Elegant or edgy? Buda or Pest? Here are our favorite venues in the city where you can get a taste of the high life, paired with vibrant atmosphere, heady drinks, and exceptional views.

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Food & Wine Event Guide: May 2015
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 02 May, 2015 in Events ,
Budapest Pálinka Festival

Budapest Pálinka Festival

Our month-by-month guide to the best food and wine events in Budapest

Whether you want knock back some craft Hungarian beer, tuck into some pastries, or learn about sparkling wine, here’s everything you need to know about the culinary festivals held in Budapest this May. Hopefully you have some free weekends, because there’s plenty on the calendar for May!

Food Truck Show Budapest
May 7-10, 2015

Get ready for some serious mobile munching, as Hungary’s leading food trucks join forces and roll out their culinary creations at the Dürer Garden’s Picnic Park during this three-day food show. Expect all the forerunners (think Zing Burger, Pasta Station, and Berlin Canteen) as well as some fresh newcomers such as S’nwich Chef (who recently welcomed chef Viktor Segal to their team) and the barbeque creations of Befaló Bill. The fare will range from gourmet gazpacho to grilled cheese, burgers to burritos, cupcakes to caffeinated drinks, and fresh pastries to pulled mangalica pork sandwiches from an on-site smoker.

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Third Wave Coffee in Budapest
Posted by Anna J. Kutor on 12 April, 2015 in Drink ,Explore ,

Budapest third wave coffee

Hungary’s love of coffee is grounded in history, with many of Budapest’s grand coffeehouses still flourishing, but gourmet java lovers also have a number of new-wave cafes where they gather to sip their favorite bitter brew.

Thanks to a strong Turkish and Austro-Hungarian influence, by the dawn of the 20th century, the coffeehouse was deeply embedded in Hungary’s cultural psyche. Often synonymous with the idea of ‘sanctuary’, coffeehouses were a center of social interaction where writers, poets, artists, and politicians gathered to read, observe the world, exchange ideas and philosophies, or plot rebellious acts. In Budapest, the heyday of coffeehouses—between 1890 and 1940—saw the establishment of many legendary cafes, including the Centrál Café in 1887, New York Café in 1894, and Múzeum Café in 1885. Luckily, many of these venerable establishments still hold strong today, drawing a consistent clientele of tourists and returning local patrons.

Budapest third wave coffee

But young Budapesters, in unison with many others around the world, are taking to coffee as a lifestyle statement. No longer are city slickers happy with just a strong cup of hot coffee—these days, we all want a captivating, consistently high-quality yet cost-effective cup of coffee served in a stylish, fashion-forward setting. First to enter Budapest was the Western-style ‘on-the-go’ coffee craze that brought with it branded coffee chains such as Starbucks, California Coffee, and Costa Coffee, where caffeine addicts can always score non-fat grande macchiato with a dash of cinnamon or even an organic, Fair-trade triple Italian-style espresso. And while these chains are popular (and ever-expanding), a new wave of independent cafes focusing on the sights, smells, sounds, ambiance, and emotions that come with the coffee experience have been gaining momentum in the Hungarian capital.

Whether you’re on the lookout for a cafe with artistic decor, searching for a rare bean from Columbia, or simply craving some mouth-watering treats to pair with your caffeine fix, you’ll find many unique third wave coffee shops to suit your taste. Here are our picks for the best artisanal coffee shops in Budapest.

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