09 Jun

A Delacroix with Hundertwasser please!

 – or how to combine homemade meals, culture and environment protection –

After many decades teaching at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics and three heart attacks, Auntie Ági’s children thought that it will be better for their mother if she starts to do something that is much easier than being an architect. At that time – approx. 7 years ago – they thought this would happen when they open a restaurant called “Marvelosa”. Well, it turned out that they were wrong.

„This job starts much earlier rather than when you enter the door. I’m getting tired of this, sometimes  I get grumpy too. I’m lucky however, because I’m surrounded with good fellows and our guests are very kind, too – admits Auntie Ági Balogh, the owner. Looking around in Marvelosa it’s hard to believe that someone would not appreciate the peaceful ambiance of this place. Perhaps the smiling waiters and waitresses, who treat all guests with high respect – which is not so usual nowadays -, or maybe the embroidered tablecloth and the fabric covered sofa, or the welcoming sight of the so called “Bonfire stack” (a Hungarian jam pudding dessert made from bread apples and jam) on the small table next to the staircase.

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No matter what it is exactly that makes us quiet and sit down until we slowly drink a cup of coffee or eat a meal, it clearly shows the fulfilment of Auntie Ági’s original vision. Her plan was from the beginning to open a restaurant where culture and gastronomy meet each other.  Guests can therefore choose from tables that are named after their favourite writer or painter, and that is why dishes have artists’ names also. The idea was that if the guests see the names of the artists quite often, after a while “they’ll definitely look up their life stories and artworks as well”.

The manager and owner of Marvelosa thinks that not everything’s OK with the Hungarian educational system. She sadly explains that according to her experiences the training materials – and many times professors as well – are too old fashioned, and because of this, young people are not motivated too much. Tasks and activities that are given to students are not exciting, and the exams are not consequent (although the situation at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics is still much better than in the average schools…) So for Auntie Ági, the restaurant has become the cathedra: she tries to incorporate a little culture into everyday’s lives of guests by literary events, Hungarian artists’ photos on the walls, a piano in the corner and playing Edit Piaf songs.

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Eating shouldn’t be a simple food consumption only. Culinary traditions and storytelling at potato peeling time – or at the table -, while having a meal together all form us into who we really are. By whole food made with simple ingredients Marvelosa encourages us to resist the artificial and fast food such as chicken or beef soup powder and pre-shredded carrots, or buying supermarket cookies and cakes; and rather respect and preserve the traditional value of eating.

I think that after all of this, it’s not surprising that everything from entrées to desserts are handmade, and thanks to Auntie Ági’s tea mixing hobby, we can try a few exotic drinks too. “I’ve been visiting the Óbuda market for quite a long time now and so I already have my “own” butcher and grocer, where I buy the basic ingredients. I also use goodies from my little garden. Sometimes I go to the Farmers’ market on Mátyás Király Street too, and I don’t like supermarkets at all.” Menu is seasonal, for instance in the winter they have lentil salad with pumpkins and red cabbage salad with walnuts and blue cheese. They have permanent and daily offers also, but unfortunately we have just missed the daily mushroom cream soup on our Sunday visit, because they’ve made only a limited quantity, reducing the risk of having leftovers for Monday, when they are usually closed.

We tried the orange-cardamom „Alhambra” tea with coffee and the red onion-walnut-cheese salad mentioned earlier, and we were very satisfied with everything. Originally the salad comes with chicken breasts, but we didn’t ask for it, so the cost of it came off the bill. We could hear guests speaking English, Spanish and Scandinavian languages around us, and we were happy that at least a few dozen guests visiting Hungary receive real hospitality here and don’t have to return home disappointed, after being served an expensive-but-tasteless-tourist-menu by a contemptuous-waiter.

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We had a short discussion about the environment protection too, since we noticed recycled toilet tissue and a white and clean hand towel in the washroom. Marvelosa’s owner admits that they do only basic things for the environment, such as selective waste collection (which they take personally to the waste collection bins), selling locally produced wine, using local and seasonal ingredients for cooking, or environmental friendly cleaning products and yes, when they have a larger number of guests, they change the hand towels more often. It’s a pity that these things still seem as an unnecessary waste of energy for many, who work in the hospitality business.

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The article originally appeared in Hungarian on 1st March, 2013.
Kati Hall and Juci Zollai – you guys rock with all the translation you’re doing! :)