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Thermal weapons and wine

Up until the mid-sixteenth century, thermal weapons were all the go.  The objective was simple: inflict maximum damage by scalding or burning. Hot water and sand. Perfect. Hot animal fat. Even better. Nowadays, especially in Hungary, the smell of boiling fat is synonmyous with festivals.

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In a country where vegetarian menus often feature dishes with bacon (which hasn’t yet been given full meat status here) and vegetable soups are often made with chicken stock, meat reigns supreme.

At the Budafoki Pezsgő  és Borfesztivál (the Budafok Wine and Champagne Festival) last weekend, the smells were enticing. I was particularly impressed with the sight of a full cow carcass on a spit. Beef is a luxury here in BP and it’s hard to find good stuff for anything less than exhorbitant prices. But this  simply fell from my fork. Beautifully cooked and a taste to die for.

In Budapest terms, Budafok is District XXII and home to most of the wine makers in the Budapest wine region. The biggest attraction at the festival by far is Törley. It opens its doors to the public this time every year, giving tours of the cellars and selling some of its harder-to-find champagnes.The rather clever exhibition hall includes a massive walk-through   bottle of champagne. Out in the courtyard, jazz bands keep the punters amused while the reasonable prices for 1dl of champers gives the guzzlers a chance to sample the fuller menu.

Hitting the main street, stalls stretch far into the distance with 13 wine cellars and dozens of booths offering all sorts in the line of craftware and oddware. It’s the first time I’ve seen Pivní Kosmetika (beer cosmetics) and can’t for the life of me imagine rubbing Carlsberg onto my face. It seems to be a Czech concept and I wonder if it will ever catch on here in Hungary.

This was the festival’s 23rd year and my 3rd. It’s the first time I stayed into the evening and really got to see what it’s all about. It’s a very local gig – and with tourists (foreigners) few and far between, they were quick to adopt the three of us. I laughed so hard that I cried. Between us, with what Hungarian we could muster, we did okay (Wales definitely took home the cup for Best in Hungarian).

Budafok seems to have its own measure of measures with 1dl differing quite dramatically between the various stalls.  As one blogger put it: ‘Here you still find wine makers who give you more than 1dl of wine just because they are proud of their product and not because they need to make the most money out of their stock.’ Others must be extracting vengence on whoever left them in charge. It’s a regular fixture on my calendar now and I’ll definitely be going back again next year.

Why I love living in Budapest No. 7

folk fest 160

Meat is meat is meat. The Hungarian diet is loaded with meat. Not just the Irish ‘meat-and-potatoes’ meat but proper, honest-to-goodness meat. Meat cooked as meat.  Not meat cooked to accompany vegetables, or to provide a vehicle for some fancy sauce. Simply meat. And nothing but meat.  Deep fried, shallowfried, spit-roasted or grilled…meat and its fat are well-respected. And on state holidays, when the folkartists are selling their wares, the meat lads are frying up a storm. You buy it, not by the piece, but by the kilo. I made that mistake once and never again (I really  need to learn this language!)  …even I, with half-a-day’s hunger on me, couldn’t make a dent in the huge piece of beef I’d mistakenly ordered.

And is it good? Good doesn’t even come close. It’s melt-in-your-mouth stuff. Pork is best; that’s the meat that’s been mastered here. Chicken next. Then duck and goose, followed by beef, with lamb limping along behind. ‘Tis hard to get good lamb outside of Ireland or New Zealand. (This morning, a Saturday morning no less, I was up at 7am to chase down a rumour that Lidl was stocking lamb cutlets! Not the Lidl nearest me though.) But sausage is king. Long, thick sausages, swimming in hot oil, register on your olfactory nerves from a 1000 metres! Smoked horse sausage from Eastern Hungary is nearly as good as the moose sausage I enjoyed so much in Alaska.

But best of all is the crackling! Before moving here, I hadn’t had crackling since my days at BoI Coolock. Across the road in the Sheaf o’ Wheat pub, Tony would roast a side of pork on Thursdays. I’d order a plate of crackling with a side of apply sauce. Them were the days! Here in Budapest you can buy crackling by the kilo (it can be pork or goose). I drive my local shopkeeper mad by asking for just három darab (three pieces), apologetically holding up three fingers (not the middle three as in the rest of the world, but the thumb, index, and middle – the Hungarian way). Three pieces? It’s like asking for one square of chocolate. No. It’s like asking for a half a square of chocolate….or a shaving from half a square! Unheard of!  On Monday last, driven to the edge of frustration, having been misplaced in a lower-intermediate Hungarian lanugage class (when I’m clearly just a baby-step removed from being a complete beginnger), I was having a bad day. Frustration is one of those emotions that I don’t do well with. Anger I can handle. Frustration I have yet to master! And, on the Frustration Scale, I was almost at the upper limit; past the chocolate cure; past the G&T cure. I had reached a place I’d not been to before in Budapest so I had no measure of solace. And then it came to me… crackling! Not just három darab but egy kicsit taska (one small bag). And it worked.

Mind you, my gallbladder woke up quicklyand refused to go back to sleep for two days. I could practically hear it putting those gallstones together! I kid you not – I couldn’t sleep on my right side for nearly a week! But at least  nowI know what shape and form the cure for almost maxing out on the Frustration Scale takes!

I have some good friends who happen to also be vegetarian. VS won’t eat anything that has a face. I heard during the week that down the country,  bacon fat is considered a vegetable (as in it’s not meat – there’s no meat on it – it’s simply fat). I’m still laughing at that! I fully respect their choices. And I won’t roast potatoes alongside the leg of lamb if they’re coming to dinner. And if I stay at theirs, I won’t cook meat in their pans; and if I store it in their fridges, it’s triple wrapped! And then there’s my fellow meat-lovers. WZs is blessed with those skinny genes that fat leaves alone! No matter how much she eats, she doesn’t gain a pound. Whereas yours truly is beginning to show the signs. Where’s the justice????