May 15 – 29, 2017
Arriving back in Dunaharaszti, along with getting a few repairs tied up and picking up our BBQ, we were treated to the absolute delight of Zsu’s mothers’ kovászos uborka – fermented cucumbers. They are common in Hungary at all times of the year, but can only ever be made ‘properly’ in the warmer months. Simply add dill, garlic and cucumbers to a large bottle, top with a slice of bread and pour warm salted water over. Cover with a plate and something heavy and leave in direct sunlight for three to five, or even six days (according to the temperature). Once the water beings to go really cloudy – the more you do this, the better grasp of when is the right time to do this you’ll have –transfer to a container and refrigerate. The Hungarians usually eat with stews, but we love to have as a snack with beer also. Another snack they thoroughly enjoy with a pint of beer is zsíros kenyér – “fat on bread”. A slice of white bread with pig or duck fat, raw red onions, paprika and salt. A right treat!
We spent a productive two weeks here in and out of the garage. Taking care of some maintenance and the finishing touches to the van – an awning, a protective layer on the floor and benches, a magazine bag at the rear and a place to store our kitchen utensils. You can see more here. In amongst this, as our priority, we were testing out the new BBQ and smoker, enjoying Hungary’s wine and organising some nice little family get-togethers.
Using cherry wood, we set about getting a smoke going, involving paprika and parsley rubbed pork shoulder – which we turned into pulled pork buns, served with kovászos uborka and paprika aioli, and beef short-ribs which we lathered in some sticky homemade BBQ sauce. Once the smoking had finished, we stoked the fire up and cooked a local Hungarian, paprika-overdosed mangalica (a traditional breed of pig) sausage and a couple of duck breasts. Alongside this we had two very typical Hungarian salads, both dressed heavily with vinegar and sugar; cucumber slices topped with sour cream, sprinkled with paprika and a simple tomato and spring onion salad.
Too many wines resulted in an aching head the following day so we dragged ourselves out of bed to visit the bustling and vibrant local market. It was straight to the lángos stand. Lángos is a typical Hungarian street food made of a yeast leavened dough. It resembles a thick pizza that’s deep fried and served with a ridiculous amount of raw garlic and if you like sour cream and grated cheese on top as well. Is there a better cure for a hangover?! We don’t think so…
Hungary has never lacked vineyards. The production of wine is a deep set tradition for the families of this part of the world. On our way to Romania, we set about exploring the different wine regions and the many amazing native grape varieties Hungary has to offer.
A few well-known wine producing areas are Lake Balaton (or Badacsony), Villány, Tokaj and Eger. It is only in the last few years that they have hit the world market.
Probably Hungary’s most recognised wine producers have their cellars and vineyards in Villány, where cellars line the side of the main stretch of road . The area is located in the south of Hungary, with top producers Gere Attila and Bock István making exceptional kékfrankos (or blaufränkisch), portugieser, cabernet sauvignon and different cuvées of all. Zsu reckons these names will gain more recognition in the west in the near future. At Gere Attila we were told the story of ‘fekete járdovány’, an ancestor red grape variety he started planting in 2009 and hasn’t stopped since as it turned out to be a surprisingly huge success throughout the years. Style-wise it is closest to kadarka or pinot noir, developing high acidity and complex red fruit aromas in the wine. We have cellared a few bottles of these and hoping to age them for a couple (and several) years to see how they change over time.
The region of Tokaj – Hegyalja has been well known world-wide for decades now, most notably for its dessert wine, Tokaji aszú. The grapes are left on the vines for longer to allow noble rot (botrytis) to set in. It gets more expensive as the number of ‘puttyony’ goes up – a term used to describe the concentrated must that gets stirred into the wine. There are currently 28 towns producing in and around the territory of Tokaj – Hegyalja.
Eger is a small drive from Tokaj, lying between the Mátra and Bükk-hills – another great location for grape growing. Just outside the town of Eger is the Szépasszony-valley, where most of the cellars are located. Many cellars are small family businesses and you have the direct contact with the wine makers and owners.
Further on the outskirts of Eger you will find just as nice wines but without the ‘fancy performance’. Even better! Here you will struggle to buy wine in glass bottles and they won’t sell you anything under 2L. Around the after-work hours you’ll see a large variety of locals turn up with empty plastic bottles to buy wine by the litre. At 500HUF (€1.5) per litre, it’s a real bargain. We left with some olaszrizling and bikavér (bull’s blood) cuvée. Other native varieties in demand are debrői hárslevelű, leányka and cserszegi fűszeres.
Further on, while driving the windy roads of the Bükki National Park, Paul suddenly said ‘what the f**k is that?’ as an alien like creature, somewhere between a scorpion and a giant bug-with-horns crawled out from the engine bay and up the windscreen. Zsu delighted with the fact it was a stag-beetle (szarvasbogár in Hungarian) and is both endangered in Hungary and completely harmless.
Testing out our Hungarian culinary expertise, one night in the National Park we threw together a white bean goulash. Frowned upon in Hungary, but this time we did it with no meat. Another night while parked up on a farmer’s paddock we decided to make lecsó; a pepper stew with either kolbász (sausage) or szalonna (pancetta) and a tonne of paprika.
The countryside is truly stunning. Cute little villages, perched on the slight hills, all tending to their crops as the shepherds let their animals roam. It’s all very green with miles of corn, wheat and sunflower fields. Often you’ll find the local people selling their products (and preserves for when the brutality of winter returns) at road-side stalls.