Restaurant association Stílusos Vidéki Éttermiség (SVÉT) with its 16 current members is the catalyst of the gastronomic revolution in the Hungarian countryside. They believe in genuine, generous rural hospitality, serving delicious, high standard dishes of regional ingredients in their venues and several festivals all year round. Their autumn summit is amongst the highlights of the Hungarian culinary calendar. You can find a SVÉT restaurant in the following towns: Balatonfüred, Balatonszemes, Debrecen, Eger, Encs, Etyek, Mád, Noszvaj, Sopron, Palkonya, Pannonhalma, Perbál, Rácalmás, Szigetmonostor, Veszprém, Villány
Gastro-adventure in Hungary
Quality ingredients, classy gastronomic scene, exciting wines, unique attractions, dedicated professionals – the list sums up what Hungarian cuisine needs to do, to attract foodie tourists as do the most popular gastro-destinations of France and Italy.
Hungary is considered to have come on tremendously in the last fifteen years, offering a buzzing cultural life, wonderful architecture and a magical atmosphere in Budapest, and promising true discoveries in at every corner of the country.
We asked two local hospitality specialists to share their top tips for the most exciting regions for tourism and gastronomy, their favourite ingredients, dishes and wines, and they let us have a sneak peek into the whimsically romantic world a curious foodie visitor would find in regional Hungary.
László Ruprecht President of SVÉT (association of the top restaurants of the countryside), creative chef of numerous restaurants and the Pannónia Gastro-Boat.
Balázs Csapody Owner of Kistücsök in Balatonszemes (of one of the most lauded countryside restaurants), founder and president of Pannon Academy of Gastronomy, one of the best-known restaurateur of the country.
We’ve always been very proud of our historic gastronomic past and generous hospitality in Hungary. A few decades ago, however, the rest of the world started to focus on top quality instead of quantity, and we had to face the fact that time is up for those giant plates of Schnitzel. Was the change of approach difficult?
Balázs Csapody: It’s never easy to change old habits, but luckily many restaurateurs recognised it was necessary. Ever since Kistücsök opened 25 years ago, we have striven for fresh cooking with quality ingredients. Today, every decent chef knows that ingredients are key, and uses only the best he can find.
Are these quality ingredients readily available in the quantity needed?
László Ruprecht: We’re on the right track, getting access to many items we could only dream of before. We can get as much good aged beef, lamb, rabbit and Mangalica pork as we need. Duck, goose and foie gras have always been important items of our cuisine, so it’s great to know that top stuff is available on the market, as well as great chicken from Bereg. Sturgeon comes from Keszthely, rainbow trout from Szilvásvárad. The cheese culture has grown immensely of late, and we’ve got excellent flour and amazing truffles.
Balázs Csapody: May I add that great pumpkin seed, poppyseed and hazelnut oil is made by small producers, and we are spoilt with fantastic vinegars, mustard, charcuterie and fruit juices too. Not only seasonality, but also regional flavours are considered, so we aim to put the fewest food miles possible on the plate, preferring local produce. We get game from the forests of Somogy, vegetables from farmers nearby, and serve wines from Balaton with our dishes. There are plenty of great pairings, but I’m convinced that wines and food grown on the same soil gives the best result.
Which specialities are staples on the menu, always popular amongst guests?
László Ruprecht: Goulash soup is the all-time favourite. There was a time when its reputation was less than stellar, but it has regained its well-deserved top spot. Obsessed tourists are willing to travel hours for a good bowl, so we make sure to use the very best ingredients. The newest craze is Mangalica cheek, people love it.
Balázs Csapody: As many of our guests are regulars, our biggest attraction is the blackboard loaded with new dishes daily, However, Újházi chicken broth, roast leg of duck with cabbage noodles and cottage cheese noodles are all kept on the menu as they are popular amongst customers.
Which are the not-to-miss regions when in Hungary?
Balázs Csapody: You need to visit lake Balaton, Tokaj, Villány and Eger. These destinations provide the most rounded experience. The tiny villages on the highlands of Balaton, the delightful vineyards of Tokaj, and the historic past of Eger and Pécs are good enough reasons to get out there, but their wines are making these places even more exciting.
What if someone stays in Budapest? How can they have a taste of the countryside?
László Ruprecht: There is a way, of course. The Pannónia Gastro-Boat sails out daily for a dinner cruise in Budapest for our international visitors. The monthly menu is specially created by a SVÉT chef with regional ingredients and matching wines. The night lights of the capital provide the backdrop of an exclusive dinner, orchestrated by chefs of top regional restaurants of the country.
Good wines are just as important for the perfect foodie trip as good produce. Do visitors appreciate our wines?
Balázs Csapody: I’ve learnt a great deal from winemakers, who instinctively know which flavours to pair with their wines. A glass of Olaszrizling, Furmint, Kéknyelű or Rózsakő fits a meal perfectly. Our guests usually require recommendations and do not object a second glass either.
László Ruprecht: Many guests on the Pannónia Gastro-Boat taste Hungarian wines for the first time, and they are usually amazed by the quality. We happily recommend Hungarian varietals, of which usually Furmint, Hárslevelű and Kadarka are met with great success.
To sum it all up: what do we need to offer to our visitors? The concurring opinion of the two restaurateurs: an experience. The traveler may scale the famous vineyards of Tokaj, stroll through the picturesque villages of the highlands of Balaton, walk the rows of cellars in Villany or the bastions of the Eger castle, and he will surely find some excellent restaurants nearby, using regional produce and some good wine. Adventure ON!