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.

Fruccola Checklist

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

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

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

21 Jul

Where nothing gets stuck in our throat

halkakas_logoThe new bistro was brought to our attention by our friends two weeks after its opening, saying that the „Halkakas” (Fish Rooster) must have a spot on our blog. A few days later, on the first day of the hot spell, we were already sitting at the table in the cozy little restaurant on the corner near Fővám Square, sipping on lemonade and freshly squeezed fruit juices.

The friends who opened the place created a simple, but stylish, high standard bistro, offering fish on the menu only. And by doing this, they fill in a big gap in Hungary – and not only because fish is well-known to be healthy. While one of our cult cartoon is the “Nagy Ho-Ho Horgász” (Great Fi-Fi-Fisher), and we have many authentic Hungarian fish dishes, many people still justify not eating fish by the following statements: “it has a muddy taste”, “smells bad” (or Halkakas - Fish Gyros“like fish” :) ) and “has bones that might stuck in our throat”, etc. Now Halkakas intends to totally change these stereotypes, since it is impossible not to try all of their creative fish-pates, which prove us that different type of fish have different tastes. Our professional host also helps us to choose wisely from the main dishes, in case we don’t want to fight with the bones. And of course all people fall for the fish gyros, which is so good that even meat fans can be turned into fish lovers.

Contrary to the fact that we have rivers and lakes rich in all kinds of fish, unfortunately in everyday life eating fish is not a common thing in our country: we consume about 35-40% of our yearly fish during the Christmas holiday. So fish can mainly be considered a festive food in Hungary at the moment, but initiatives like the Halkakas can contribute to successfully change this eating habit.

Halkakas - Hungarian Fish
Several debates are going on nowadays about the connection between fish consumption and environmental protection. The overfishing of certain species (Atlantic bluefin tuna, grouper, Atlantic cod, etc.) and fish that comes from distant countries’ fish farms (e.g: salmon) are causes of serious environmental impacts. (Check out NatGeo’s Seafood Decision Guide here!) That’s why it’s important that the Halkakas Fish Bistro serves locally raised fish from Rétimajor, one of the centers of the bio-fish farming in Hungary, in the territory of the Aranyponty Ltd., where they also grow vegetables for the restaurant. So almost all goodies on the menu are locally produced, except for the lemon, olives and the Greek yogurt. Moreover, the cleaning products and toilet papers are eco-friendly and waste is recycled in the restaurant.

Halkakas - main courseBy the time we finished up the delicious pates and main courses, we were certain that the Halkakas is a true Hero of Responsible Dining. We think that it’s high time for affordable, high standard, locally sourced bistros to enter into the world of Turkish and Chinese fast-food restaurants and northern fish snack bar franchises. It seems that Halkakas intends to take on this challenge successfully with its innovative fish dishes, also serving Hungarian wines, homemade beers, and “pálinka” (traditional Hungarian fruit brandy) to sip with our meals. We recommend meat and fish lovers as well to pop into the Veres Pálné Street on a hot summer evening for a light salad and fish delicacy, or on Fridays for a special Fish soup lunch!

As always: Huge applause for Katalin Hall, who translated this article from the original!!

01 Jul

Half a liter of Vietnam in Hungary

Funky Pho designWe have been waiting for weeks for the opening of a tiny place on Mozsár Street, to be able to finally eat a big bowl of soup. In the past few years, soup serving places opened up like mushrooms in Budapest, competing with each other to attract guests with an empty stomach. From curry chicken soup through coconut pumpkin cream soup all the way to cold gazpacho, now we can find everything, so the question remains: what makes this place so different from all the others?

The Funky Pho serves only one kind of soup, so our options are rather limited: the most frequently asked questions are: „meat or tofu?” or “can I add coriander/chili/lemon?”. On top of all this, the order of the meals are also reversed: while other places serve sandwiches after the soup, here we get summer rolls as an appetizer. But this is how it should be, because people come here to eat “pho”. We warn even the gluttonous men that they do not have to worry about leaving the place with a half-empty stomach, since the Vietnamese soup bowl equals the volume of about 4 Hungarian soup plates.

Funky Pho - soupAlthough I was always proud of our Hungarian traditions of eating a lot of different kinds of soups, let’s face it: some other nations seem to overdo us – both regarding the size of the portion and also the frequency of the consumption. For us the soup is the starter after all, and we generally consume it in the second part of the day only. Ok, we eat it, and then we quickly forget about it, eating the main course right away with great joy. In the contrary, in Vietnam the soup is THE Soup. Huge portion, full of rice noodles, vegetables, herbs and meat. Oh, and they eat it all the time…even for breakfast!

According to a more reliable source than I am, Vietnamese cuisine – besides being one of world’s finest (in my opinion) – is also one of the healthiest. In a 2010 article, CNN ranks Vietnamese food the third healthiest after Greek and the so called “California Fresh” – which seems a little bit made up to me. Pho is especially emphasized due to its antioxidant content. Of course we do not eat it because of that, but rather for its heavenly taste – and no, it is nothing like a regular meat soup.

If we would only wanted to praise how delicious the food is at Funky Pho, then we could have just written an article for the restaurant’s blog. So after having a big meal, we looked around in the kitchen and the bathroom too.

Funky Pho - zacskóBefore the opening we already had a chance to meet the couple behind the Funky Pho, because they asked for some ‘green’ advice from us. During the meeting we had a chance to realize how much energy was invested in this idea. András and Éva have visited Vietnam on several occasions to have a closer look at the local gastronomy. Since they don’t hold a special degree in hospitality – and have very limited spare time besides their regular jobs – it took them a few years to get to the point of considering the environmental impacts of their start-up restaurant. One of the key issues was about packaging: which is the less harmful method for packaging the soup up for take-away?

Funky Pho - AndásSince the Funky Pho has only a couple tables, the owners thought that many people will choose to take away their soup instead of eating in. Finally the problem was solved: these guests will get a ‘cup-a-soup’. They will receive the pho and its ingredients (noodles, spices, etc) in a biodegradable bag, which are then placed in a bag made of recycled paper. This well-operating and practical system was tested before the opening, in order to evaluate the bag’s ability to keep heat and liquid. And don’t look for spoons in the pack! As an effort to minimalize waste, cutleries are not included: the owners believe that people will most likely eat their meal in their office or at home (and not in the park on a bench), where there is a high chance of finding a spoon. As these soups are quite large in quantity (at least half a liter), the owners plan to sell real Asian soup bowls to make things easier for the frequent pho-eaters.

The other big discussion topic was related to the basic ingredients. „We would like to prepare authentic Vietnamese dishes, but we wouldn’t want to fly in ingredients that we can buy locally. So we try out many things currently: for instance you are eating a high quality local coriander leaf right now – but unfortunately it is not always this good.” – András explained.

We found this attitude very impressive. We think that although trying out a variety of exotic meals can be very exciting, if foreign eateries take over the local gastronomic market, then the amount of imported products could become significantly higher. We understand the demand for authentic flavors, but we still believe that very slight differences in taste are not worth the additional food-miles. It is especially true regarding perishable products, which generally arrive by plane.

By the way, the owners import rice noodles, fish sauce and similar items, but these are not perishable, so hopefully they arrive here by ships, which is less damaging for the environment than the shipping by air.

Funky Pho - Sustainable Restaurant

Funky Pho – Sustainable Restaurant

Although many things were realized already (LED lighting, energy saving air circulation heating system), Éva and András plan to make their eatery even greener: they would like to add a sensor faucet in the bathroom, motion detector lighting, and to install the currently most environmental friendly “Airblade” hand dryer that uses 80% less energy compared to the traditional one that blows hot air. We’r also happy to announce that Funky Pho received the Sustainable Restaurant certification and joined the Heroes of Responsible Dining network!

If it’s important for you to spend your money at a place where you don’t only eat well, but the profit will be spend on environmental friendly improvements, we gladly recommend Funky Pho!

Hip-hip hooray for Katalin Hall! Thanks Kati for volunteering
to translate this article from the original!

19 Jun

Sustainability engraved in stone(soup)

According to an old saying, sometimes we can’t see what’s right in front of us. Although my mom uses this phrase most frequently when my dad searches through the fridge for butter, I suspect that this expression might have a deeper meaning. Cliché, but we’ve realized only recently that we too fell into the trap of not seeing the forest from the tree.

Stonesoup logoDuring the past two years – since we started this blog -, we visited the Stonesoup Restobar and the Mika Tivadar Bar on several occasions. I don’t even remember how we ended up there at first; perhaps the name ‘Stonesoup’ attracted us – there’s an old folk story about it-, or maybe as we peeked in through the window, we liked the lampshades made of cheese graters and wine glasses. Anyway, the Restobar quickly had become ‘THE’ place, where we took our foreign friends for dinner on their first night in Budapest. I must admit that I liked the original restaurant on the corner, although navigating between the chairs in the small dining area was probably not exactly the waiters’ dream. Most likely there were a thousand more reasons behind this, but finally the Stone Soup has moved a few buildings further up the street, into a previously run-down, but recently renovated house.

That last time when we were there, we finally had a chance to experience the “Eureka moment” and we finally looked around in the Stonesoup with the intention of sharing our thoughts with our readers. The first and perhaps the most important thing to take a note of, highlight in yellow and remember even when someone wakes you up in the middle of the night is the restaurant’s Ars Poetica, according to which:
They do not use:
– pork meat
– additives
– granules
– microwaves
– flavor enhancers with MSG including „Vegeta”
– meat tenderizers
– stock cubes
– semi-finished food products
Instead they offer:
– Free-range eggs and poultry
– Vegetables from eco-farms
– Fish that is always bought and served fresh
– Local products that are purchased mainly within a 60 km range
– Homemade bread, pasta, chutney, sauces, dressings, pesto free from additives and preservatives

Moreover, they promise the following things:
To keep stay open for change, no to lose our sense of humor, and to keep progressing.

koleves_csomagolo„The new restaurant opened in November 2012; before it was in a run-down building. Environmental aspects were important already in our former restaurant, and we pay as much attention to those as we can here as well. Besides basic things such as using energy saving light bulbs, recycled paper, selective collection of glass, paper and aluminum, etc., we place great emphasis on waste reduction. We plan to restart composting (which was were doing earlier), and we use biodegradable delivery containers most of the time, made of vegetable raw materials. I’m saying most of the time, because unfortunately these containers can be purchased only from abroad, and timing is not always perfect – so every now and then it can happen that our guests receive their food in plastic containers.

koleves_lasagneWhile our dinner arrived – lactose and gluten free vegan lasagna, sweet potato cream soup, stuffed eggplant and tapas plate – we had a discussion about the ingredients and purchasing principals. Since Stonesoup Restobar delivers the food to Mika Tivadar Bar as well, we consider the two places as one. Besides the quality of the ingredients, another very important aspect is for them to arrive from the closest possible distance – thus seasonality is strongly reflected in the menu. “We try to buy everything from farms within 60 km, however it is not always possible; for instance sometimes we serve a soup made with coconut milk. We prepare everything here in the restaurant, from pesto through jams, dressings, etc. We don’t even have a microwave.”

koleves_savanyusag

There were a few more little things that we really liked, such as the vegan section on the menu, the marks besides gluten- and lactose free meals, the tap water they brought to us, the fine Hungarian wines, the friendly waiters, the mincer, the pots and pans and antiques used for decoration…

I don’t know about you guys, but it seems to us that the Stonesoup team shows quite a good direction to other restaurants in Hungary on how to be responsible. That is why we are happy to welcome both the Stonesoup Restobar and the Mika Tivadar Bar among the members of the Heroes of Responsible Dining network!

Heroes of Responsible Dining

A big HURRAY for Katalin Hall who translated the original article to English!!