Friday 2 August 2013

Sated in Hungary (Part 1: Food)

A year ago I wrote about my visit to the Salami Museum of Szeged, Hungary; but it wasn’t the only culinary adventure I had on that 2010 trip through Hungary.

I love Hungarian cuisine, with its spicy paprika and flavoursome sauces, accompanied by excellent wine.

Here are five more ways to eat and drink your way across a Central European country that’s still waiting to be discovered by many travellers.

This week, food experiences (and next week, wine!):

Viennese-style Coffee Houses, Budapest
Another throwback to Budapest’s imperial glory days is its exceptional selection of classy art nouveau cafes.

They include Gerbeaud, in the centre of the Old Town and serving renowned sacher torte in an interior of chandeliers, mirrors, wood panelling, vintage wallpaper and marble floors.

Here I order a csokoládé kávé, a tall glass of coffee to which is added hot chocolate, amaretto and whipped cream.

No further proof is needed that I’ve passed beyond the Italian espresso-based coffee world and into Viennese decadence.

Another marvel is the New York Cafe, which began life in 1894 as a high baroque coffee temple with an abundance of gilded fittings and marble, Renaissance-style paintings, and rows of devilish faun statues holding lanterns on the external walls.

In communist times it transformed into a sporting goods store before being reopened as the relatively drab Hungaria, but in 2006 it was renovated back into its high style and its original name - which it derived from the insurance company which once owned the building.

Other grand Budapest coffee houses include the Centrál Kávéház, with high ceilings and excellent cakes; and Lukács, a fancy joint which was once the hangout for the communist-era secret police, whose headquarters stood nearby.

Cellarium, Pécs

In Hungary’s southwest near Croatia, Pécs enjoys a warm sub-Mediterranean microclimate which prompts the excellent wine grown in the nearby Villány region.

The city itself also has a Mediterranean look, with lots of sand-coloured stone and bright sunlight. The Turks ruled here for a century and a half from the 16th century, so there are old mosques and remains of Turkish baths among its sights.

The Cellárium restaurant is also worth a visit. Located eight metres underground, its tables are spread out through a network of catacombs that the locals allegedly once used to hold secret meetings under the noses of their Turkish rulers.

It’s a place with tons of atmosphere, and it’s easy to avoid the tourist hordes by tucking yourself away in one of the smaller side chambers with only a table or two.

The menu has plenty of examples of Hungarian cuisine, from the familiar goulash stews and soups to “prison officer rolls”.

I order these, to receive what looks like pieces of a pork schnitzel stuffed with smoked spare rib meat and horseradish, served on a bed of oven-baked potatoes.

It’s excellent, and the accompanying bottle of Villány red is even more attractive at 1,950 forint (less than $10).

Next week: I focus on Hungarian wine experiences, involving a palace, a castle and the Valley of the Beautiful Women… [click here to read Part Two]

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