The Renaissance of Budapest

At the Gourmet Festival in Hungary, breathing in the golden days that the capital is experiencing. What with pigs, strawberries and pálinka

08-06-2017

An image that sums up well the success of the Gourmet Festival in Budapest, which has just taken place. The Hungarian metropolis has 5 starred restaurant

Sunday, late in May. It’s 5 pm. The sun is still strong but the light is soft, it’s hot, pleasantly hot, at last. Around us, people speak lively, glass clink together in a toast, there’s laughter: the atmosphere is that of a peasant feast, but we’re in a central neighbourhood in Budapest. A spring afternoon we’d like never to end: we chat in the shade of a plane tree, sipping some good white wine selected by Bortársaság (Hungarian for "Wine company") and eat mangalica prepared in all sorts of ways, from starred and non-starred restaurants.

Mangalica is an ancient breed of Hungarian pig, which gives particular tasty meat and, together with strawberries, is the protagonist of the biggest gastronomic festival in Hungary. The Gourmet Festival has been taking place in Budapest for 10 years. It is very successful and its popularity increased every year. The location is surely charming: a park over three hectares wide in the heart of the city, with lakes, bridges and lots of nature.

This year there was an all-time-high of visitors, with over one hundred exhibitors, half restaurants and half wineries, and it had speakers from Poland, Austria, and Slovakia. The guest star was Slovenian chef Ana Ros, who gave a very successful lesson from the stage on the Saturday afternoon. Of course there were also all the Hungarian starred restaurants plus the winner of the 2016 Bocuse d’Or Europa, Hungarian Tamás Szell. Ever since this festival was born, a revolution has taken place in the culinary scene of Central and Eastern Europe: only in the past five years, the number of restaurants with Michelin stars went from zero to five. Today in Budapest the offer of restaurants, wine bars, cafés is strikingly large and of high quality: one new idea after the other and often the most interesting trends start from this part of Europe.

GUEST STAR. Slovenian Ana Ros, Hisa Franko in Kobarid

GUEST STAR. Slovenian Ana RosHisa Franko in Kobarid

The atmosphere is really bucolic and I’m also relaxed. I’ve just left the main stage where I had the pleasure to present Macha Cafè, the first matcha bar in Italy and also speak of our two restaurants, Bento and Osteria Brunello. I’m thrilled (it’s the first time I speak of my work in Hungary). From the stage I speak of the beneficial effects of matcha tea, of why it has had such an important role among the new food trends worldwide and why in the near future it will be even more important. I speak of the dishes we serve in the small bar in Milan, I tell people why it’s become so popular and of course we make the audience taste some matcha tiramisù.

The Hungarian public is always very interested in what happens in Italy, even though it’s hard for them to forgive us when we don’t serve spaghetti Bolognese. Soon after me it’s the turn of Gianni Annoni, a great restaurateur in Budapest with his trattoria Pomod’Oro. He’s been serving authentic Italian food for over twenty years. From the stage, called “Gastro Stage”, famous chefs and TV celebrities talk in turn. In the stands, all open air, there’s a tasting after the other. You’d like to taste everything but the three days of the festival would not suffice.

In the middle, Tunde Pecsvari, author of this piece, owner in Milan of Bento and Osteria del Brunello

In the middle, Tunde Pecsvari, author of this piece, owner in Milan of Bento and Osteria del Brunello

The best stand to get an intro to Hungarian wine is that of Terroir Club which for over ten years has been presenting wines from tiny producers from Central Europe, some of which are delicacies very hard to find. Almost everyone, however, plans the last stop at the stand of one of the many producers of pálinka: the spirit, emblem of the country, has experienced a revival in the past few years which has made it very popular among young people. The Gourmet Festival 2017 is over, but the Hungarian gastronomic scene is open all year round and it’s a stimulating and surprising destination.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso