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