Several weeks ago, we ate the most perfect lunch in Mad, Hungary at the Budahazy Pince vineyard, feasting on perhaps a dozen varieties of greens organically grown in the back yard, picked fresh, and then drizzled with lemon, olive oil and acacia honey. Next, homemade bread, pork ribs marinated in Tokaj wine (the pig grew up next door), and potatoes mashed with chard. For dessert, a quince tart with almond crust.
I love food – every aspect from selecting through preparation and onto cooking and serving. My favorite dish is one which is locally grown and painstakingly prepared from all natural ingredients. This meal hit all the right notes with me.
Gabo, the gardener and cook, prepared the main courses while Akos acted as both vintner and pastry chef. I am not sure if Gabo and Akos ever heard of “Slow Food”, but they personify the Italian movement.
Each time we asked for seconds, Gabo beamed as she carted out another bowl of pretty much everything. And while requesting dry wines from a Tokaj wine maker is akin to blasphemy (Akos took it in stride) – the dry white Furmints were wonderful. Yet the incredibly sweet aszu provided the most perfect finish.
As we left, Akos mentioned, “Julie, no problem. You can visit us without a car. There is a train station in town. We are only one stop away from Szerencs.” (Hint: the sz sound is an “s” and the cs sound is a “ch” – “Serench”. Easy peasy – which, of course, is easzy peaszy).
That night, I looked at connections to Mad on the Hungarian railroad website. In under three hours, we could travel from Budapest to Mad. I knew we would return. If I were a condemned man, Budahazy Pince would cater my final meal.
A friend’s visit from the United States provided the perfect catalyst. With less than a weeks notice, Gabo agreed to serve a meal of locally produced cheeses with her homemade chutney, marinated peppers, home baked bread, an almond cake and, of course, wine. She would be away, but Akos could serve us a limited ,”though satisfying”, meal.
She had me at “home made chutney”. (I beat back the urge to ask if I could pick some greens and toss a salad.)
Ten days ago, we returned and spent two hours at the vineyard– a simple unmarked house on one of the handful of streets in this tiny eastern Hungarian village. The winery looks like any other home on the block, no sign or markings or any form of advertisement. Occasionally the owners occupy their vacation home, but otherwise it is used for per-arranged parties like ours.
Business is steady, but word of mouth in Mad, Hungary is limited. I get the sense that is just fine with Gabo and Akos. Their small, but bountiful, garden can’t feed the masses. They run a very high touch, low turnover service.
We drank six small glasses of wine and enjoyed each and every one. I asked Akos if we could taste his favorite wine. He sneaked off to the cellar and returned with a pipette filled with a deep amber Tokaj aszu sucked straight from the barrels – still too young to sell. He released a splash into each of our glasses smiling mischievously as though he had broken into the vintner’s cellar and stolen his wine.
I’ll never dismiss sweet wines again. This wine was pure nectar.
Akos joined us and we talked about Hungarian life, growing up in Budapest, the unwelcome (to him) scrubbing of the charcoal soot off the city of his youth, his role in the grape growing process (“control”). He shared his favorite market in Budapest near Vorosmarty on Hunyadi Ter where he buys sesame oil from an Asian foods vendor (stay tuned on this).
Akos answered my questions on the presence of Orthodox icons in the Tokaj museum. He explained that in the 17th century the Ottomans controlled Greece and Hungary. Merchants from the Balkan countries, including Greece, actively traded in Hungary. Some of these merchants became quite wealthy and built the mansions evident in Tokaj village today.
Russia established a colony in Tokaj during the 18th century to ensure an uninterrupted supply of the wines back to Saint Petersburg. With the Russians came a strong Jewish population (more on that later). This region reflects Hungarian, Greek, Jewish and Russian influence.
Each time Akos turned his head or ran inside to collect something from the kitchen, Pat cut another sliver of almond cake. Caught in the act, Akos laughed, “Eat more, please. I can’t finish it all myself!”
Very seldom do you recognize a perfect day while you are in the moment. Our day in Mad was one of these days. My nirvana is a slow meal and local wine peppered with interesting conversation between good friends. It is a bonus when one of these people is the vintner, a Hungarian, and a ready story teller.
Best of all, I know how to return. Even better, I know we will.
Categories: Central/Eastern Europe