24 Jan

The Sunny Side of winter

Thanks to a Hungarian music band, the Kispál és a Borz, we already know from the ’90s that being on the sunny side is good. Of course, at that time we didn’t know that being on the Sunny Side is also good if we look at gastronomy. Although there aren’t any cold foxes or pullover knitting chickens – like in the song -, we could find a lot of healthy, delicious and environment friendly specialities.

The Napos Oldal (translated to English as Sunny Side) is a mixture between a shop and a bistro, which is more and more popular nowadays. The conscious eaters can have a meal, enjoy a drink and buy healthy products at the same time. We visited the place for lunch on a Tuesday a few months ago as on weekdays, we can choose the daily offer besides the offers in the bar. At ordering, we suspected that the orders are noted on a used sheet of paper, which later it proved to be true. Thus, they reuse the non-necessary papers and delivery notes.

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The meals are prepared on-site and we can choose from salads, sandwiches, fried vegetables and healthy desserts. As the manager said, they don’t use eggs, yeast or white sugar. For the desserts, spelt flour is used; apple, cane sugar, honey or xilit are for sweetening. Therefore it is not surprising that people with allergies or making a diet can find something to eat. Besides the meals, we can taste hand-made ginger drink, lemonade with rose water or we can buy organic or fair trade coffee for home.

We asked tasters from almost every salad on one plate (sauerkraut, beetroot and sprout salad, buckwheat and bulgur salad), an alu patra (Indian fried potato swirl) with salad and of course we couldn’t miss the desserts; we chose an apple-sour cherry strudel and a millet pudding.

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This sounds really good but the menu and the offers could be read on the website, too. Let’s look at what we have known from Tünde Rádler, manager of the Napos Oldal. What we love the most: the solution for reusing the leftover. „The leftover – which is luckily only a small portion – is donated to the homeless people or – in case of a bigger portion – to the women’s hostel of Rés Foundation in Podmaniczky street. Our offers depend on the season, they never contain meat and dairy products are rarely used. The ingredients are from Hungarian manufacturers in 60%; frozen food is rarely used, and the rate of fried food is only 30%. Creating the weekly offer, it is important to provide healthy alternatives and the staff is also well informed about the health qualities of the foods and drinks.

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And there are those small things: energy-saving bulbs even in the kitchen, where overhead light is used. “Unfortunately, when buying the fridges – which are 5-6 years old now in the kitchen – energy saving was not a criteria but since I work here, it became more important so we have bought a new super energy saving fridge in the kitchen, too. Besides the stove and oven, we also use a vegetable slicer, which saves energy, too. Our other kitchen wares used by the patisserie are smaller ones and I think they are suitable for an energy saving environment. Of course, we prefer separate collection and we use where we can biodegradable cleaning products. Otherwise our restaurant is easily available by public transport or bicycle.” – said Tünde.

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As in many restaurants, there are other possibilities which enable a more environment friendly daily operation. On the other hand, we can rarely find places where the vegetarians, vegans, people with celiac disease, reform food lovers and others on special diets can choose from such a wide range of offers. Moreover, we can find a lot of healthy ingredients in the shop, if we decide to prepare our special meal at home.

The Napos Oldal – a certified Sustainable Restaurant – is obligatory to try for people with special eating habits and for the others, it is also worth a try to widen our perspective of lunch or dinner.

Thank you, Linda Kovács for translating
the original article (published Jan, 2014) to English! :)

18 Jan

Sex in the Biopub

Know the story when the Cat, the Mahung and the Gastrohero walk in a bar?

No?

I’ll tell you.

Once upon a time, there was a greengrocer living in the depths of the capital, his name was Mahung. Wonder why? I’ll tell you that later on. This grocer was no different from any other greengrocer, just until Peter, the shop owner, acquired a fruit press.

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Now comes the twist of the tale: the boring and tedious veggies and fruits, at one point, began to turn into cocktails under Peter’s hand (knife) and the fruit press. Well, not so suddenly, though. Peter mahunged around a lot before AvoBear, The Destroyer, and their cohort Rocket Rabbit were born. This is how the Mahung became a bio-bar, where the guest can encounter combinations like squash-apple juice seasoned with mint, vanilla and raspberry, or the new-age coffee with avocado and a few sour cherries. Just as the drinks are creative, so are their names – and no, Rocket Rabbit does not refer to the speed of making for the restroom after taking them. Peter brings up actual healing herb cocktails against ailments, from abdominal pains to the simple Friday fatigue. Who couldn’t use some vitamins or some Sex in the Garden? – especially if they aren’t about the monotonous combo of carrots-apples-bananas?

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Any decent cocktail concocter has to have an animal mascot, and in the Mahung it’s the black cat. According to Peter, the reason is that it’s playful, unpredictable and it brings luck. In other words, success is practically granted, especially that, after one of his long and tiresome days, Heroes of Responsible Dining entered the drinkary one evening. And the hero saw that it was good and found delight in the Mahung. The Hero of Responsible Dining couldn’t help but stare joyfully at the recycling waste bin, at the organic apple juice, at the perlator. And it wasn’t over yet: the Hero was sipping majestic drink of seasonal fruits and veggies from a recycled honeypot, while sitting in a armchair made of a molino; forgiving the use of the occasional banana and pineapple. The only thing missing is environmentally friendly detergents  – a speculation, but the thought was just gone as due to the drink the mind moved on to sunlit fields, trees weighted with ripe fruit and little deer fawns skipping around…

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No, actually not. Anyways, you go see the Mahung (Tűzoltó utca 22) and should convince Peter about the damn cleaning stuff…. Will be a fabulous time!

UPDATE: We’re sad to tell you that Mahung closed it’s door at the end of 2015. Péter will not stop making us delicious drinks, though! Stay tuned to see where his next adventure leads him!

The original article was published in Hungarian, on the 23rd April, 2015
A big thank you goes to Attila Zsignár for the translation!

18 Oct

Miksa Cafe: Sustainable Food for Urban Dwellers

Back in the day on Falk Miksa street, there was a lovely café. It was a calm place with a few tables. Sometimes we even walked past by it, and when we realized we were already a block away. But it has changed. What happened to the Miksa Café?

We help to answer the question: It has been renovated.

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Luckily in this case, the “new recipe” (which usually means that the taste of your favourite yoghurt is destroyed) means that the renewed Café is better than ever! It got a nice gallery where kids can rampage, and downstairs a little bit more place for tables. And yes, it got a balcony too, which is a plus point in summertime – especially since it is in the shadow almost the whole day.

What we like even more is the emphasis on sustainability, which we already suspected earlier was important for the owners. Its slogan – ‘sustainable nutrition for urban dwellers’ – could sound elevated; just like the list on their webpage about their principles: earth friendly, ethical, humane, transparent, small farmers, dog friendly etc. We could almost find all the eco-trendy words – which immediately made as suspicious. Sadly nowadays a lot of these statements turn out just to be greenwashing.. So we went to check it out.

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Kati , of the Café’s owners told as that the eco-café idea wasn’t a sudden one, but an old and long-planned dream come true. “We were always looking for the real producer’s goods – not just those that have “small farmers” written on the packaging. Rather, we really wanted to know who and how produced or grown what we cook from. Our business manager Zsuzsanna Kozma-Balogh worked uncountable hours to find the – preferably organic – suppliers, who can provide us the suitable quality of vegetable, fruits, milk products, bakery products, meat or wild meat. She’s been spending her Saturdays at the farmers market of Budaörs and MOM Park.

Miksa’s supply list is the evidence that the hard work paid off: there are thirty firms on the list, which is not even complete. “We are testing a lot of goods. We want to work with Hungarian ingredients, but for example we have not found the proper noodles yet, thus we use Italian products instead at the moment. And we also have contractual limitations: we are under contract with our café supplier until December, than we can change to a fair trade supplier.” – told Kati.

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As we were going through on regular topics (energy and water efficiency, environmental friendly cleaning products, waste treatment, etc.) we realized what the Miksa Café states is true – so it’s maybe not surprising that they won the Sustainable Restaurant qualification. They also told us, where the system is not perfectly green yet: “We just suspect that our hygiene paper is chlorine-free, but we can’t be sure. The selective waste collection is also not complete: we don’t collect the biodegradable waste separately yet.” – confesses Kati.

Despite all of the problems, we think that the café is going on a good way to became one of the most environmentally friendly places in Budapest: they even pay attention to such small things as their straws, which is biodegradable. Miksa also participates in community initiatives: beside the continuous Gastro Slam (what is an exclusive eco-supper and public meeting with famous slammers) Miksa took part on Slow Week, and in the summer Plastic Bottle Battle too.

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Last, but not at least: you can actually have a good meal here! Beside the permanent offer, a daily menu is also available (vegetarian and non-vegetarian too, and at least one gluten, lactose and sugar free option). We have tried the currant-gooseberry soup and couscous salad but we are planning to try the mangalitsa, the smoked goat cheese and the home made spreads on organic bread.

If you are around the Parliament, don’t miss this place!

The article originally appeared in Hungarian on 13th July, 2015.
Thank you for tha translation, Zsófi Winkler!

18 Oct

Fruccola: Just Juice It!

Are you in downtown Budapest, eating a fresh salad from ingredients that you selected yourself, drinking an organic coffee with soy milk, and reading an issue of the Conscious Consumers Magazine? Doing all this in a sunny place where the music is good? Welcome to Fruccola!

If you don’t know Fruccola, it is a lovely place on Arany János street, which doesn’t only have green in its logo, but is also the principle of its operation. We can make sure of this before entering, if we look at the stickers located the door. They tell us for example that the restaurant uses environmentally-friendly cleaning products, and has dolphin-safe tuna.

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After entering we can see a large fridge filled with baguettes, ciabattas, bocatas and sweets. Above it we can see the menu: they offer breakfast, salads, cakes, sandwiches. There is a daily offer as well (today, a delicious beet soup with orange), with a vegetarian soup, and a frequently gluten-free main dish (usually poultry or fish). One of the place’s main specialties, however, is the salad: from numerous ingredients you can choose what you’d like in it. Every topping costs an extra few hundred forints, which can be a bit discouraging after the first visit – but you can quickly get used to the system. Besides the usual “additives” (tomatoes, cucumber, olives, mozzarella, ruccola, etc.) there are always seasonal toppings: like grated beets and pumpkin during the winter. The meat-eaters can find ingredients as well: chicken (from small Hungarian farms) in a variety of interesting sauces, and tuna, salmon too. The owner, Petra Saás noted that they offered vegetable-based protein sources (such as tofu or seitan) earlier, but the demand for these was little.

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The place gets its character from the wood chairs and a brownish tone, and the recycled Campari bottles that function as chandeliers. For local consumers the meal is served on porcelain plates with cutlery, and in glasses that are actually the bottom of wine and water bottles. When you take away, coffee is given in paper cup and food is wrapped in biodegradable boxes – Fruccola was among the first places that started using these in Hungary -; and all this is placed in a paper bag. “Approximately 70% of the packaging materials are biodegradable at present, but we would like to replace all of them to environmentally-friendly in 2012. However, it is still not easy, because they are often more expensive (by up to 2-400%) compared to plastic containers. In addition, there are guests who expressed their displeasure against the biodegradable packaging materials. The present materials are made from corn starch and sugar cane. Even if they appear to be plastic, they are not.” – said Petra. The sugar cane containers are purchased from a company in Edinburgh. Sandwiches are made locally, but the bread is delivered from Spain. We are not proud of the bread’s carbon footprint, but we can better control the amount we use as they are pre-cooked, frozen products. So we throw away much less than we would if a local baker would deliver a fixed amount every day.” The raw materials of salads and other dishes offered are purchased in the wholesale market. The primary standpoint is to buy products from domestic producers if possible. Unfortunately, Hungarian products often not chosen due to the higher price, and the lacks of  quality or  quantity.

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However, the supply list is not over yet: there is 100% Arabica organic coffee and four types of milk. “We offered flavored fair trade tea before, but we changed it to a not fair trade, but better quality tea. The cakes are made from whole wheat flour, with brown sugar, and 70% chocolate in addition. Due to our main profile – making hundreds of juices a day- we do not waste the “left-overs”: the fruit and vegetable puree goes into the cakes as well. In addition, if your name is Fruccola, you can get a free juice.”

The „place” – we don’t know exactly how to call it:. A place for breakfast, lunch or dinner? Coffee bar, sandwich bar, juice bar? Then Petra told us an English name: Fast Casual Restaurant. Opening hours are slightly different from the usual: the restaurant at Arany János Street is open every weekday from 7 to 19, but on the weekends it is closed, the other one at Kristóf Square is open till 20 o’clock, and on Saturday offers brunch (here, there is a playground for children as well). It is a pleasure to know that most of the employees have free evenings and weekends – it makes us feel like money making is not above everything. They tend to make donation – to children’s hospitals and other charitable events – but the development of a donation strategy is among the future plans.

ceklalaves The restaurant is easily accessible by public transport and it seems to be visited by many people: the orange-juice machine is still in operation at half past 5, and fresh sandwiches are prepared at this time. We’ll soon return for some dolphin-friendly tuna and dishes washed up by biodegradable detergents. In the meantime, I’ll try to find out how “Fruccola” could come to my identity card.

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WATER: There are “foaming” filters on faucets, thus less water is used.

RECYCLING: At Kristóf Square is starting now, although it has physical obstacles.

COMPOST: Currently it isn’t working. Free compost is not transported; otherwise it would be very expensive to ship. There are no fried foods or French fries, so there is no oil used. The rest of the food residue is transported and will be turned into biogas.

FUTURE: We would like to recycle everything, replace the lightning, and fulfill the remaining 30% of packaging materials, become better and better, and make changes in people’s minds. With a little care, and a little investment, we’ll be there.

The article originally appeared in Hungarian on 20th Jan, 2012.
Thanks Tünde Bene and Zsófi Tóth for the translation!

 

01 Sep

Sustainable Bar FILOsophy

I arrived late to my first volunteer meeting with the Heroes of Responsible Dining team, thus I missed the short introductions. I only knew Judit, one of the founders of the responsible dining heroes, she was already absorbed in a conversation at the other end of the table. After introducing myself shortly, I turned to the counter gracefully to order a tea in order to ease the anxiety. The nice bartender started cross-examined me: “Would you like a fair-trade or a non-fair-trade tea?”. What is the adequate answer to this question from a new responsible dining hero? Of course I asked for a fair-trade tea and started the cross-examination of my conversation partner. To my embarrassment, he had to informe me about the background of the event I attended. The Heroes of Responsible Dining have organized a Carrotmob event for the fifth time, this time in the FILO bar. The essence of the event is that the participating venues allocate a certain percenteg of their income on a given day to an environmentally conscious develpoment. In this case, it was the procurement of environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies –from Hungarian manufacturers.

During our short exchange, it has become clear that I was not at an average place. Thus I shortly arranged a meeting with the nice bartender who is also the co-owner of the bar.

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Marci and one of his friend, Miki came up with the idea of the bar about two years ago and six months later the construction started. The bar opened in June, 2014. The two agile and talented men who are also enthusiastic about environment protection, wanted to combine their passion and business. It has worked out.

The core of their philosophy is to create a sustainable bar and restaurant. They advertise this proudly and consciously on their Facebook page. “Where does all this enthusiasm come from towards the topic?” – I ask. Marci explains the following: “I was raised “green”as a child. I had an influential head master in grammar school with whom I still maintain contact. Our school organized many programs  like excursions to national parks, and I was brought up in the suburbs with a lot of green space around. I traveled to Western countries with my parents where selective waste collection was already widespread. Thus I grew into this mindset.”

“What makes your place a sustainable bar and restaurant?” – goes my second question on the small terrace with pleasant atmosphere. This one was followed by a 45-minute long conversation, so as you can imagine, the list is long. “The chair you are sitting on and the tables were made of recycled materials. For the floor of the terrace we re-used the remaining materials of the former place in order to not to have to purchase new ones. We used organic paints on the terrace walls which were made from natural coloring materials. We started a campaign that was joined by other restaurants in the neighborhood:  a cigarette bud collection campaign (so-called Bud Brigade). The collected buds are collected by a company called Terracycle which processes and recycles them. The filter is plastic, thus new plastic products are made of them. The remaining tobacco is used for compost. Our plan is that everyone who brings a bag full of buds will receive a 10 percent discount. Any restaurant can join the program. This project is already running. I saw a video on index.hu which gave me the idea. ”

FiloTerasz The Heroes of Responsible Dining logo is shining proudly on the door. This logo can only be received by certified restaurants after filling in a questionnaire incorporating many aspects. When entering the visitor meets a room with a nice, minimalist design and a friendly staff. The atmosphere is friendly, and it’s an excellent choice for gathering with friends to sip some wine or good craft beers. To sum it up, everything can be found that is necessary for a lovely evening.

The menu consists of simple bar foods. I am also asking Marci about whether the kitchen is also sustainable. “We bought the newest, A + category from everything, we also have our own ice-making machine. We strive to purchase ingredients from small producers and we alter the menu according to the change of seasons. The eggs are from cage-free chickens. The poultry is delivered by a company called Gourmet Box. We solely buy chicken from them for now. They purchase the raw meet directly from the producer and they conserve it with the so-called sous-vide technology. The essence of the technique is that the meat is prepared at low temperature under vacuum and it is delivered in this vacuum package to the costumers. This is good for us as the meat can be longer stored without the use of preservatives and taken from the vacuum, we can get fresh, more flavorsome meat after cooking it for a short time. We are very proud, furthermore, of our pizzas that are made of whole grain spelt flour and of our whole grain croissant on our breakfast menu. We barely use oil for anything, only as much as the foods absorb. Thus the collection and placement of oil is not an issue. The bottles are recycled by our supplier, and we recycle everything else we can well, thus there is only a small amount of communal waste. We purchase the paper towels with a sustainable forestry certification, or we buy recycled products.”

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The middle of the bar is occupied by a large counter where one can find further green solutions. To me the most interesting is the recovery of the waste heat produced by the machines. Waste heat is, for instance, the heat coming from the back of the fridge. This heat is redirected in a clever way under the flooring of the bar, and can be used for heating in the winter,  and to reduce the heat pressure of the counter during the summer. Every tap is equipped with a so-called ‘perlator’ which reduces the water usage by 50 percent. I keep asking Marci about his motivation to innovate: the answer is cost-effectiveness for the businessman and environmental protection for the enthusiastic green citizen. “In fact, this is a win-win situation. These solutions are not costly, but on the contrary, some of them are cheaper than the ordinary version. In the long run these are lucrative measures both for our business and our environment.”

Cool design, friendly atmosphere, healthy and tasty food, remarkably environmental conscious solutions characterize this place – a refreshing green dot in Budapest’s party district.

Originally published in Hungarian on 20th Nov, 2014.
Lots of thanks to Stefi Kapronczay for the translation!

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! :)

09 Jun

Garden of Eden at Buda

Since we have started the Heroes of Responsible Dining blog, I keep finding good excuses to discover new places in Budapest. Sometimes my friends don’t appreciate it that much, because when they come with me, they usually cannot wait to eat their food as soon as it arrives – they have to wait for me to take pictures from all angles, and then ask the waiters/waitresses all kind of questions before we can finally start to eat. However, last time when my friend and I have checked out a place, questions and photos were OK for her, but she freaked out from the idea of eating a “free from” meal.

I have to admit that I always felt a little sorry for those, who – out of fear or resistance – avoid restaurants that knowingly don’t offer meat, gluten, sugar, or exclude something else. The funny thing is that many times these people are the ones who choose such meals from the menu in a traditional restaurant (e.g. pea soup and mushroom stew with rice). Still the idea of eating something “free from”, keeps many people away from enjoying real culinary delights.

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However, trust me,  „Édeni Vegán” (Eden Vegan) is a place that worth a try – luckily that day we could have our lunch there, and we didn’t regret it. I have even managed not to ask any questions or take any pictures. Few weeks later I have returned with an intention that I will surely drink a greenish colored smoothie, and eat an unusual dessert, that are most likely free of dairy products and sugar. While I was tasting a spinach-apple smoothie and some chestnut-seed cream sweets, I had a little chat with the owner of the restaurant, Mrs. Mária Török.

„What do we do for the environment? First of all we don’t have any meat products. Industrial farming doesn’t care about the environment, or animals, or human beings” – explains Mária. “Besides, we buy locally produced and/or organic products as much as we can, and we prepare everything ourselves. For instance we make soy yogurt of organic and GMO free soy and we bake fresh pastries every morning of spelt flour that we ground here ourselves.

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We stick to Hungarian products even if it means more work for us; for instance someone once offered us to buy peeled garlic. Since we use a lot of garlic, it would be great to have less work with it, but it turned out that the garlic they offer, comes from China. So we decided to use Hungarian garlic instead. It was almost the same with potatoes; we have tried many suppliers, who brought us peeled potatoes, but somehow none of them was good enough. So we did a little research and found out that after the potatoes are peeled with a machine, they go under a preservative treatment. We don’t use preservatives, so we’d rather stay with the unpeeled, but delicious Hungarian potatoes.”

Since they don’t use dairy products or eggs, those with milk protein and lactose intolerance can eat food here without any concern; and on top of all this, gluten-free food is offered also for guests with celiac disease.

We know that in a vega, vegan, raw- or new wave restaurant it is difficult to use local ingredients only; for instance cucumber and banana was also in that green smoothie I was sipping, besides the beetroot leaf and parsley. I could have chosen other mixes of orange, grapefruit, apple or carrot – and these are still much better than the soft drinks, even if imported. Other choices to drink are color- and preservative free Italian soft drinks, and – unfortunately – bottled mineral water, or organic grain coffee, lemonade, and 100% fruit juices from a machine and teas. To substitute protein or sugar, many times avocado, dates, coconut oil or different seeds and grains are added that travel often from a long distance, or are raised in greenhouses. So it’s extremely important that these ingredients should come from reliable (e.g. organic, or fair trade) sources. And as guests, it is better to choose meals at vega and vegan places that don’t require ingredients from the other end of the world. At “Eden Vegan” they use coconut oil to prepare the meals and they work with a lot of organic products. However, most of the dishes are not purely organic, because they contain a few not qualified ingredients too.

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Mária has also told me that they use a modern American technology and they pay high attention to keep the nutrients in the food. Whenever it’s possible, vegetables are steamed. In the salad bar they offer steamed garlic, so the harsh smell is gone, but the substantial part of valuable ingredients is retained. A microwave oven was put in the kitchen for only those guests who are in a big hurry and request faster service.

I have to tell you that the most pleasing to me out of all this is the community activities of the restaurant. During the previous years, the owners have built a very good relationship with the people who live nearby as well as with the returning guests. For instance there are people who can eat here for free: a family, who have been coming here for quite a long time now, and it turned out the father has brain tumor and lost his job; a guest in a wheelchair who travels all across Budapest to come here to eat. Many times homeless people  -who live nearby, around the market-hall – get some free food too. At one time the owners had given away the leftovers for free, but they noticed that it was taken away by people from the neighborhood that are not in real need. So they have decided to do a little test; they appointed a day when they would do a major clean-up in the restaurant and they asked for help of those, who usually take away the leftovers. Since nobody has shown up that particular Saturday, they stopped this charity activity.

When I asked whether the cleaning products used in the restaurant are eco-friendly or not, I received an almost angry and short “of course” reply, and Mária added that throughout the years, they have tried to educate their guests about what  it means to be eco-friendly – with more or less success. For instance they have plastic and recycled paper bags for those, who take away their food (unfortunately many people still ask for plastic bags instead of the recycled ones). They also put seasonally changing information materials on the tables. When I was there, I‘ve had a chance to read about whether there is a difference between the thicker and liquid types of coconut oils (they use 70-30% in the winter and 60-40% in the summer for cooking; and there’s no big difference between them, only in their consistency).

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By the time we’ve discussed everything, I finished up my spinach smoothie and chestnut sweets too. So if you guys decide to try something new – besides lunch – I suggest to taste both! And in addition to all of this – in the frame of the “30-day Vegan Challenge” initiative -, all menus of the challenge are available at the restaurant for a few weeks now.

The article originally appeared in Hungarian on 12th April, 2014.
As usual, Kati Hall and Juci Zollai did an awesome job with the translation – thanks! :)
Photos by: Édeni Vegán restaurant

06 Apr

New gem by the Buda Castle

When you work eight hours every day, it can be difficult to follow a healthy and environmentally friendly diet. The practices of restaurants near large companies – where food is often re-heated, cooking oil is re-used and the origin of the ingredients is suspicious – often forces people to cook something nutritious at home. Not to mention the ecological footprint of such restaurants! Although it is true that large-scale catering is much more energy and water efficient per meal than cooking at home for only one or two persons, but the additional effects associated with the operation of a restaurant often tilts the environmental balance towards home cooking. So if it is important for someone not to do too much harm to the environment, and at the same time eat healthy, one is forced to cook at home. Or not?

At the end of last year I was just thinking about starting to prepare meals for myself at home, when I discovered the “Új-Budavár” (New Budacastle) Restaurant with my friends. I’m not a gourmet type, so I always admire those who can discover such tastes in a slice of beef or in a cauliflower that are not even mentioned on the menu. I simply “enjoyed” the meal in the restaurant and I had to realize that I haven’t felt that way for quite a long time! Grill zoldsegekBy chance, it turned out that the restaurant offers a daily menu as well, with four courses, and – most amazingly – for quite a reasonable price. I did not really want to believe that such place exists, therefore I dragged my colleague with me the next day to see whether the menu will be as delicious and attractive as the á la carte choices. It was. Delicious, attractive, cheap. I started to like the place and so my colleagues and I have become frequent guests. Soon it turned out that we were among the first regular guests, since the restaurant opened in December. In the midst of the economic crisis, here is a small Hungarian enterprise that dares to combine quality and reasonable pricing!

A few times we’ve had a chance to chat with the owner too, because she comes out of the kitchen quite often asking the guests about how they like the food, where did they hear from the place and if they have had enough on their plate. This type of direct contact and kindness towards the guests was so unusual for me, that at the beginning I’ve found it rather strange. I’m not used to thinking that service providers (if not shooting for the Michelin stars) -besides filling their own pockets-, care about whether their guests are satisfied with the food or not.

libamaj rizottoThe biggest surprise for me was when I’ve accidentally overheard a conversation between the waiter and one of the curious guests about the source of supply. It was suspicious for me already that the plum jam really tastes like plums, and the ham is not a disguised “Parisien” salami, not to mention the freshly baked real crusty bread and the fresh wheat sprouts that pop-up in each and every dish. It turned out that the restaurant buys everything from local producers, paying special attention to using basic ingredients that are free of chemicals.

I learned from the owner that her health-centered attitude is due to her personal beliefs and to adverse experiences with chemicals. They don’t use GMOs in the restaurant, all dishes are flavored with real spices – this applies also to vanilla, which is extracted from vanilla beans, rather than using the usual synthetic aroma.
The chef doesn’t use margarine and pays high attention to the temperature of the oil to avoid over-cooking, which he believes may cause cancer. He also offers advices over the restaurant webpage on what to eat to preserve our health. He also raises the dilemma of eating meat and suggests to have a portion once a day, preferably not in the evening.

For health purposes of the guests and employees, toxic chemicals are used only in very small quantity in the restaurant. Tablecloths, dish clothes and work clothes are washed with washing soda, and the owner uses a mix of vinegar and water for descaling and glass cleaning. Disinfection however cannot be done without chemicals. They use bleach for that, at least minimizing the different additives, scents and colorants that can be found in popular disinfectants.

fankThe food here is very good, so I don’t think that there’s much leftover at the end of the day. The owner personally takes whatever can be recycled (glass, plastic, paper) to the selective waste bins. Water is generally served in resusable bottles, but according to my experiences, guests don’t get a dirty look even when asking for a jug of tap water with their meal instead.  In the little restaurant, cozy halogen lighting saves energy, which is combined with candle light at dusk, giving it a particularly pleasing warmth.

It seems that others recognized the uniqueness of the place also, because the number of visitors has risen significantly in the last couple of months. We hope that it will stay that way, because such a brave and open-minded restaurant could be a great target for people who consider the environment important in their lives.

The article originally appeared in Hungarian, on 15th March, 2012.
Thanks to Katalin Hall for the awesome translation! :)
Photos: Új-Budavár facebook

06 Apr

Feeling 100% fresh

Have you ever had meat-, flour-, egg- and oil free „meat” balls? Have you tasted sour cream made of sunflower seeds and water, or cakes free of refined sugar and cream, made only with nuts and dried fruits? And what about dumplings sprinkled with sprouted poppy seeds? We haven’t had much experience with raw meals so far, therefore we thought it was time for a change. Although there are pros and cons concerning raw meals, one thing is for sure: we can hardly imagine a less environment damaging preparation method than preparing raw meals: since they are “cooked” without being cooked. Only drying, sprouting and blending is needed to prepare them, and – in case it is necessary – they can be heated up to 40 C. No used oil, no wasted energy, or unnecessarily boiled water. No bacteria from raw meat that can cause infection, which results in less food-related risks than in a regular restaurant.

nyers1What they have instead is a lot of fresh veggies and fruits, a fridge and a few blenders and fruit drying machines; plus some very dedicated raw-vegan people, who happily share their knowledge and enthusiasm through the most delicious bites. Although nowadays we can eat raw food at several places in Budapest, last week our team had the opportunity to take heavenly samples of the Mannatural Foodmanufacture’s meals.

In the basement of one of the buildings on Garibaldi Street, impressive wooden floor and white shroud-covered ceiling welcomes us. We seat ourselves down under the chandelier which is transformed from a jars. In about one minute, we receive a thirst-quenching drink: a green smoothie. Unfortunately we shortly found out that the only table where nobody was sitting at the time of our arrival – is already reserved (who would have thought that there would be such a traffic jam at 6:30 pm on Wednesday?)

talca2But Ákos – owner of the Mannatural – didn’t waste any time; he told us to go upstairs to the café shop, and he will bring the food up there. He informed us that they have made a deal with the café shop owner that in such cases, he can send the guests up – without any obligation to buy something there – since the raw-vegan people cannot find similar restaurants around so easily. We were hesitating a bit to perhaps come back again on another day, because we wanted to eat downstairs, but finally hunger (and curiosity) defeated us. We have found a pleasant table in the café shop and not much later the sampling plate of raw and fresh food mix arrived also.

While we were finally eating our dessert downstairs with the other raw-vegans, we had a little chat with Ákos about dirt-eating, laws of nature and the environment. We’ve also asked him about the plastic containers lined up in the kitchen, which turned out to be used for lunch delivery by bike – similarly to the “Kétker-Étkem” restaurant. “People are raised to produce garbage” – said Ákos, explaining how difficult it is to regain the containers that people rather buy, instead of returning them.

suti1Mannatural has its own garden; they grow whatever they can themselves and food waste collected from the restaurant is composted here also. Of course many items – such as dates, bananas, avocados and coconut oil – must be brought in from abroad. “I have been working with the current supplier, who knows exactly what my expectations are and brings everything accordingly. I trust him totally – because when you look people in the eye, those cannot lie.”

Ákos thinks that it would be impossible to work solely with seasonal and local ingredients, but they intend to use as much Hungarian ingredients as possible (for instance in the winter months they serve a lot of meals with cabbage), even when the domestic tomatoes are softer and smaller (but more delicious!) than their foreign competitors.

During food preparation, all laws of nature are respected: seeds are sprouted for better digestion; veggies and fruits are not mixed (except for – as we learned – apples and grapes, that have such wholeness that allows them to be mixed with anything); dates are used as sweeteners (because honey and fructose together starts to ferment – which is not good for our stomach); and there are many more facts that we don’t even know about. No flavor enhancers, preservatives or additives, and no sugar is used. They’ll only use a small amount of salt – most of the time rock salt from the “Nyírség” (an area located in the north-eastern part of the Northern-Great Plain in Hungary) – and only a few times Himalaja, or Neera salts, because “we should feed ourselves with what is near us” – says the owner.

etterem_csapatEverybody in the staff is on raw-vegan diet, so they eat at the restaurant also, which helps to clean up the potential leftovers in an environmentally friendly way. Ákos says, that “if the food was bad, they (they employees) would want to eat somewhere else”, but it seems that the Hungarian and Italian chefs do a good job. Ákos believes that everyone should follow a raw-vegan diet, because this is the best for our body – and in the same time “hardly any money is needed to be full. Cheap food sets one free, because money is not so important anymore. Thus every person can be their own masters, doing freely what they really like, for themselves and for the community”.

Ákos thinks that one day of each and every week people should drink water only. Therefore – in order for everyone to have one day of fasting – Mannatural is closed on Sundays at the moment. However, on the other days of the week do not be afraid to try out these meals, which are prepared using only a small amount of, but giving our bodies lots of energy. And if you don’t see any unreserved tables at the time of arrival, there’s no reason to be disappointed – nobody gets sent away from this restaurant!

The article originally appeared in Hungarian, on 12th February, 2012.
Thanks to Katalin Hall for the awesome translation! :)
Photos: Mannatural Facebook/website

03 Dec

M, as in ‘from the farmers’ market’

Our hungry team met on Monday at seven o’clock, and looked around at the little restaurant’s upstairs table with anticipation. We have heard that using seasonal and local ingredients is the basic mode of operation here; which is – considering our mission -, a really important aspect.

We believe that nowadays, in our consumer society, we care little about how much the goods or services we purchase cost the Earth and society. Eating out is a luxury that doesn’t mesh with a sustainable and responsible lifestyle – however, it would be naïve to think that people give up this treat to protect the environment.

On the other hand, with a little attention, luxury and sustainability don’t need to be mutually exclusive. We should choose restaurants where they pay comparative attention to the minimization of these adverse effects. The goal is to find places that offer a good alternative instead of wasteful, lavish but unsustainable restaurants.

Emphasizing seasonality and using local food is one of the most important aspect of sustainability. By buying local ingredients we not only support domestic producers, we also prevent our food from traveling thousands and thousands of kilometers before it ends up on our plates, thus decreasing emissions. To our surprise, the M Restaurant doesn’t advertise this principle anywhere. This made us curious what other secrets could be hidden between the restaurant’s walls.

DSC_0182Fresh-cut flowers on the table, paper sheets on the walls and the tables – some of them wrapped in the same paper “cloth”. Behind us, under an “Explanation for M.” note, a few photos of György Petri decorate the wall. As we were informed, the writer was a good friend of the restaurant’s owner – the place opened after his death and named after the aforementioned poem.

The restaurant had just opened an hour ago, and only a few free tables were available, but as the night went on, the empty ones filled up. There were American tourists, who heard about the place in their hostel, couples arrived for romantic dinners, a group of friends came to sit and talk in the company of good Hungarian wine.

M_kakashereWe saw many curiosities on the menu – which is written on pieces of paper – as it changes after every few days, depending on what kind of fresh ingredients the chef can purchase. Finally, we agreed that the starter, called “rooster balls with red lentils” couldn’t be missed. The decision split the group at first, however, in the end, everybody had a taste (and nobody regretted it).

In the list of main courses, the following items were written down in the waitress’ notepad: catfish with sorrel-spinach sauce and mush; pork tenderloin with cottage cheese dumplings and prune-sauce, and the “daily vegetarian” dish, risotto with vegetables.

DSC_0176After finishing up our more and more delicious dishes, we had a chance to take up some of Miklós Sulyok’s time, the owner of the restaurant. We asked his opinion about sustainability, conscious buying and their role in the restaurant’s life, and also tricks that other restaurants could learn from them in that respect. Mr. Sulyok told us the food they serve is seasonal, and they would rather go look around on the farmers’ market themselves than buy from suppliers.

Their favorite farmers’ market always changes; currently it’s Nagycsarnok, but Hunyadi’s got most of the producers, and it gives them the reason to go there often. Mr. Sulyok believes that everybody is conscious, but in a different way. Deep-frying is not allowed in the restaurant, they use only as much oil as the food can take, so there is no oil waste.

M etteremMilkos Sulyok has been working in the industry for 10-15 years, and he believes that people care less about what they feel or taste during dining than they used to. He doesn’t follow any new trends, doesn’t wish to get a Michelin star; he only desires to teach the few people whose priority it is more to eat something delicious, than to follow new, fashionable trends. As he mentioned, his old colleagues run spacious and bright restaurants, and for most of them, the goal to put something flavorful on the table has faded away behind extreme and temporary trends.

We were moved and sated when we stepped out to Kertész Street that night. Consequently, we believe it’s possible to manage a restaurant with love, care and environmentally friendly methods. Suddenly, we didn’t feel the need to ask about the energy-saving light bulbs, accessibility, recycling, the tap water that we got in a big jar without even asking for it, or the cotton towels (hung up in place of paper towels in the toilets).

Thank you Magdi Németh so much for translating the original article!
You’re awesome!

Originally published: January, 2012