15 Jul

Save the Earth and Read a Book

I was walking around for several weeks in the 11th district like someone who has just came back from a crazy time travel due to a recently read book called „Ördöggörcs” (Devil’s cramp) from Márton Karinthy. I felt like having a completely new perspective on this district, although I’ve been living here for quite a long time. The streets that were always too busy, too slushy and too boring, all of a sudden revealed fresh colors; I imagined Dezső Kosztolányi (famous Hungarian writer from the late 19th, early 20th century) walking on these streets, when he got off the tram no. 6, also Tibor Déry (also a writer from the same era) whilst visiting Aranka Böhm (another famous writer’s wife) on his way home from Saturday shopping. At the “Hadik Coffee House”, several well-known Hungarian writers and poets, such as Tibor Déry, Milán Füst, Zoltán Somlyó, Zsigmond Móricz, Dezső Kosztolányi and the Karinthys used to have their coffees, debates, reading time – and perhaps sometimes a glass of wine or two. Of course, there were ladies as well: “Aranka (Mrs. Karinthy), the ‘queen with her maids of honour’, Mrs. Erzsébet Guthi Devecseri, Lívia Kondor and Bözsi Klug’. Besides all these famous people, there were also the unknown everyday heroes, who disappeared without a trace during the war, such as “the waiter who – for some strange reason – was called ‘Beautiful Lacajka’ by all the guests.

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The Hadik Coffee House at Gárdonyi Square had so many different functions during the last decades (it was even a shoe store for a while), after being the meeting place for the Hungarian intellectuals in the 20s. However, in 2010 it opened its door for the lovers of literature, jazz, coffee and culture again. Since the Coffee House is right next to one of the favourite bars of Buda (and owned by the same people), called “Szatyor Bar and Gallery”, we will introduce them both in the same article.

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The Hadik-Szatyor couple filled a huge gap in both the day and night life of Buda; it seems that they are only empty when they are closed. No wonder: the waiters c waitresses are nice, the music is great, the creative interior design puts everyone in a pleasantly romantic mood. Plus, I must say, they have the best cosmopolitan cocktail in the whole city! (Attention bartenders of the world! If you’d like to try to convince me that it’s not true, I will happily come and taste some of your creations☺)

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The menu at Szatyor Bár is just long enough: we can always find something besides the daily lunch menu to cope with any level of hunger we might have. On cold winter days, it’s worth to go and eat a nice bowl of mushroom chowder with potato dumplings. “In order to provide seasonal selection, we change the menu quarterly. We don’t use frozen products. Most of our meals represent Hungarian-type cuisine so we try to buy the basic ingredients from local producers as much as possible.” – said Mr. Tibor Bosznai, founder and art director of the bar.

As a vegetarian it is a little harder to find variety on the menu apart from the pasta based courses and a few dishes in the “Let’s eat something” category. Unfortunately, there are only 3 kinds of salads available both in winter and in summer, and they don’t go much beyond the classic Ceasar salad variety (chicken or tuna). We would expect a more dominant presence of seasonality in the gastronomy that considers the environment as well.

In case you can’t finish your portion, the leftover is packed in a styrofoam box – which is the worse such option -, however, they put that in a bag made of recycled paper. As they told us, currently they don’t plan to switch to more environmentally friendly packaging, although they would consider it as a possibility in the future.

It’s outstanding that there’s a WWF choice on the menu card that shows a significant similarity to the Heroes of Responsible Dining Menu, which was available in a few restaurants in November, 2012. The most important aspect is that these menus are prepared with energy- and water-saving methods, and 10% of the income from these goes to the WWF as a donation. We think that these initiatives are very important, because there’s still a lot to do in Hungary to improve the charity culture and “donation-mood”. When we asked what the motivation is behind offering such a menu, Tibor said that Szatyor has cooperated already with civil organizations earlier on a few occasions such as collection, auction, cash donation and organization of joint events (e.g. Fair Trade, Red Cross, Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Conservation Society, Hungarian Cyclists’ Club, BAM (Bicycle to Work!), etc.). “This kind of support and dissemination was the idea of WWF, and we liked it a lot.”

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There are lots of Hungarian products (e.g. “pálinka”, wines, syrups) on the drink menu, although we can find the regular bottled soft drinks, foreign beers and hard liqueurs too. (Yes, I know that without these the cosmo cocktail could not be blended…). But guests can get a glass of tap water any time even without asking for it.

According to Tibor, environmental protection is a critical aspect in their daily operation. “On one hand because we believe that every service provider sector must be up-to-date, on the other hand we often experience that the previous generations did not pay enough attention to environmental issues, so this can cause serious problems nowadays to the whole mankind and ecosystem. We have children, so we would like to find a way out from this negative situation.” At Szatyor,  glass and paper are recycled, the toilet paper and the paper towels are made of recycled paper, and the colleagues in the office are trying to eliminate the use of paper (e.g. two-sided printing). They also use motion detector wherever they can (in the bathrooms, corridors, changing rooms), and on the ceilings they use twilight switches. Besides, they pay attention not to have the lights on when it’s not necessary in the dining area, and they are working on gradually replacing their lightbulbs with energy-saving ones. The water taps are fitted with water-saving heads and the food waste is taken away by a specialized company. “Plus, me and two other owners travel by bike” – said Tibor.

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While in Szatyor the interior reminds us of a ruin pub (chairs and tables of different colors, sizes and shapes – each with a different comfort level), in Hadik we find “decent” furnitures which are appropriate for a café, as well as many daily newspapers, cultural magazines, weekly newspapers. They also organize literature events, dance lessons and exhibitions at both places. So anyone can come who is hungry for culture, food and drinks – or is in the mood for donating. But you can even write a novel here.

By the way, people from Pest shouldn’t be disappointed if they can not come over to Buda, because at the beginning of Ráday Street, there is a very similar bar like Szatyor,  called “Púder”, which operates by the same principles, in an environmentally friendly way. But this will be another story…

The article originally appeared in Hungarian on 24st Jan, 2013
Hop-hip hurray to Kati Hall for another awesome translation; and for Juci Zollai for helping!

 

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

09 Jun

Breakfast at Zsoltis’

Although it’s a tiny place in Frankel Leó street, it’s still easy to find: a small red Renault from the sixties parks at the front of the entrance like it decided to spend its remaining 20-30 years on the spot, before going to the junkyard. Originally, a good friend of the owners owned it, who used to park in front of the building, but now it has become one of the symbols of the breakfast place called “SzendZso”. The place became very famous in no time since its opening 2 years ago. Thanks to its “Egg cream bagel”, it received the 2nd best breakfast place award from Dining Guide in that a year, and by 2013, it already moved up to the first place with the “Ham&Eggs bagel”. Frankly, it wasn’t the Dining Guide award that made us curious about them; rather the graphics on the website which made us think that this place must be a responsible one. Well, they didn’t disappoint us, because it turned out that there’s a lot more behind the Hungarian style graphics and decoration – it’s not just simple esthetics.

When we entered the little room with only 5 tables, we felt like traveling back in time to Hungary as it was 200 years ago. You can hear folk music, the waiters and waitresses come and go wearing shirts with baggy sleeves and folk motifs, and the walls are decorated with jugs and cutlery that even our ancestors have already inherited. So the place is really charming, and we highly recommend it to those who admire Hungarian traditions; but this just wasn’t enough for us. We’ve had a chance to catch one of the owners, Mr. Zsolt Horváth. Out of the two owners – both called Zsolti -, he is the one who is usually there, supervising and entertains the guests. The owner explained to us that most of the dishes here are prepared with authentic Hungarian ingredients, just as the soft drinks, beers and yogurts.

We can also buy here products from local farmers and producers, such as salami of Szilváshús Ltd., products of Bükki Sajt (traditional cheese manufacture in the Bükk Mountain), chocolate from the Falmich Gall Manufacture and the Méhes-Mézes syrups. Our host was very proud of their homemade bread and pastry that he buys from a young pastry-cook in Budapest – the selection also changes daily. This summer we’ll be able to buy ice-cream too at SzendZso’s, thanks to their supplier, the famous “Fragola” ice-cream shop. We were pleased to see the energy saver light bulbs, the glasses functioning like lampshades and the induction oven, but the moment we found out that they don’t deliver because they don’t intend to produce any plastic waste, we became so happy that we decided to sit down and have dinner there. Since most of the morning offer is available also at dinner time, we have tasted the famous ham&eggs bagel and a cheese salad.

fotó: Németh András Péter

fotó: Németh András Péter

 

I really enjoy nowadays the different fruit juices that are made by the cannery of Kiskőrös, and what I received at several similar places that intentionally offers locally produced goods, selling them like “soft drinks”. The best places, such as SzendZso, serve them without a straw, and by this they reduce unnecessary waste. The owner chose this particular cannery, because it’s possible to return the 3 dl bottles, so they don’t have to throw them out. Considering the alcoholic beverages, they don’t have a permanent wine selection, the exclusively Hungarian wines that they buy change every second month, depending on the actual offer.

They also sell crafted, Hungarian beer and as a specialty, a Czech-alike pilsner with 12% ABV, called “Ogre” that was created by Szent András Brewery at Marosvári. „Ogre” László’s desire, who is for sure one of the greatest beer enthusiasts and critics in Hungary – explained the owner.

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Although unfortunately Coca-cola nowadays can be considered almost as a Hungarian product – and therefore it can be part of the selection at such places like this – but it still has disappointed us that we discovered one Coca-cola cooler behind the counter. I start to think that in Hungary, one of the requirements for opening a new restaurant is to offer Coca-cola…

Fortunately we have found something that distracted our attention from the Coca-cola „disappointment”; it was another small room behind the guest area and washrooms with toy animals and little chairs, so parents with small kids or babies can leave them or they can even play with them until the food arrives. The owner told us that according to his experience, children are not really welcome in restaurants, because they’re loud and cannot behave properly and thus aggravate the waiters or the other guests. So they have decided to dedicate a separate room for the kids, where they can yell and shout and misbehave as much as they want, without bothering the guests in the other areas. We can totally agree with this, because there’s not many places in Budapest where young mothers are welcome with their kids. Now this is what we call CSR! So mommies, this is a place for you!

The article originally appeared in Hungarian on 4th Sept, 2013.
Many thanks for Kati Hall and Juci Zollai for the translation!

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

21 Mar

The Hamburger Dilemma

Black Cab BurgerA few years ago, on a gusty London morning, József Tóth noticed a group of London cab drivers huddled around a burger stand that lay along the route of his morning commute. He followed his nose, encouraged by the physical indications that this collection of men knew what they were up to when it came to eating, and soon discovered that the burger stand they huddle around was an unassuming gem of traditional English fare. Years later, Mr. Tóth opened his first restaurant in Budapest, and the burger stand, called Black Cab Burger was born at the corner of Mester and Viola streets.

“I got back,” explains József Tóth, “and I could make a real burger, but I couldn’t find one, anywhere.” He is sitting in Black Cab Burger’s second location, at Rákóczi út 19, between Astoria and Blaha Lujza tér. The restaurant’s interior is spotless and unpretentious. A large LCD screen displays order numbers, and customers watch it eagerly, sipping from (unfortunately plastic) pint glasses of London Pride, while they wait for their food. The placemats on their trays show a diagram of how to recycle their leftovers and packaging materials, once they are done.

Black Cab Burger - outside

We have just finished a couple of the most serious hamburgers I have ever had in my life, certainly the most serious I have encountered outside of America. When ordered rare, they come in glistening pink, dressed with everything. Double hamburgers are cooked to order as single larger patties, “So everything is the right temperature,” says Mr. Tóth, and are dressed in the increasingly popular every-topping-possible fashion: 300 grams of seared prime beef, topped with bacon, sharp cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, jalapenos and a pickle, dressed with mayonnaise, barbeque sauce, mustard and ketchup, and served on a toasted bun.

“We get all our beef from Vásárcsarnok,” he points out, referring to the Great Market Hall, the largest and oldest market in the city. “Even our Cumberland sausage is specially made by a local butcher… We even use fresh potatoes in the fries,” he adds, “as far as I know, everybody else uses frozen. I don’t know why. All the overhead is in the oil, the potatoes cost almost nothing.” Black Cab uses cholesterol free peanut oil.

What Mr. Tóth has tapped into, and part of what has made his business successful, is the natural intersection between quality and responsibility. He has made a series of small changes to streamline his business, by introducing guidelines for recycling and seeking out the best ingredients. He uses local distributors and farm fresh ingredients. Black Cab offers an array of healthy fresh-squeezed juices, in such exotic flavors as pumpkin and beetroot. He recycles everything he can and encourages his customers to do the same; A large flow chart is behind the trash bins, showing where to put the recyclable component of each meal’s remainder. Plastic bottles are banned, outright.

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“We don’t have a veggie burger on the menu,” he considers, “but we make them under the counter. We fry an egg, put potatoes wedges between the buns, and double the [veggie] toppings. But this is a meat place,” he shrugs. “It’s for people that love meat.”

Beside dishes like the Cabbie Burger and Cab Dog that are made of mostly local ingredients, sit high-carbon footprint items (with lots of food miles) like Norwegian Salmon. Authentic ale and cider must be imported, and so are condiments like barbeque sauce and toppings like jalapenos. “We use the same buns as Burger King,” says Mr. Tóth, “they’re baked in a big factory outside of the city. They’re the right buns.” As for the cholesterol-free peanut oil, Hungary grew only 10 tons of peanuts last year and it is unclear how much of that has found its way into Mr. Tóth’s kitchen.

It raises an interesting question: When failing to compromise affects the quality of a product, where does a responsible business owner draw the line? Mr. Tóth’s heart is certainly in the right place; he produces fresh food with minimal waste, but the authentic food he serves necessarily involves ingredients that are not locally available. One cannot get Fuller’s London Pride, after all, from anywhere but London, but one can, and Mr. Tóth does, provide healthy low impact alternatives like market-fresh juices. When is it the consumer’s responsibility to avoid ingredients that are obviously high impact?

“We found out that a lot of what we wanted, wasn’t possible,” confesses Mr. Tóth, looking around the restaurant. “I wanted to recycle the heat from the grill, to heat the restaurant… I wanted to install this filter, this perlator, on the taps,” he trails off. He is referring to special aerating taps that help conserve water, which the restaurant is still in the process of installing. Black Cab also uses energy saving LED lights, and only environmentally friendly cleaning products.

Despite these practical measures, a hamburger is naturally a high impact indulgence: beef uses 28 times more space, 11 times more water, and generates 5 times more greenhouse gas than diary, poultry, pork or eggs. What Mr. Tóth has done, is to serve his hamburgers as responsibly as possible, while maintaining an unwavering standard of quality. As a burger purist, I cannot help but want him to succeed, his product is so delicious; and in the end, it is the food that makes Black Cab Burger exceptional. If you have a craving that only a hamburger and fries can satisfy, your first stop for taste and responsibility should be Black Cab Burger. Until then, eat more veggies.

 

Written by: Duncan Robertson
Originally appeared in Hungarian on 12th Febr, 2015

05 Dec

Wastless supper

Next year we’ll eat up Milan.

The  theme of the World EXPO (which will be held between 1 May 2015 and October 31) is health, the environment and sustainable development will be wonderful, isn’t it?
EXPO-2015-Milano-Mascots-mascotte
We’ve been approached by the organizers of the Live Inspire campaign (Intesa Sanpaolo CIB Bank)  to help communicate to the EXPO’s message, and to help them send two readers to Milan! We agreed: we write two articles, you vote for their favorite Hungarian recipe for Hungarian, and some of you may fly well. Bring It On!The organizers asked a recipe from us in the first round. Because last week was the European Week for Waste Reduction –which this year focused on food waste-, we thought about combining the two. You might already be aware of the fact that we put a huge focus on minimizing food waste in bars and restaurants. But what could an average person do in this matter? Would you believe that there is a meal which is based on “food waste”? The answer is yes! Not to mention, it’s a well known Hungarian desert, called mákos guba.
DSC01083_Originally, it was called “lőnye”, and its first recipe goes back 300 years. Back then it was made of pretzel or dough that the mothers hand-made during Christmas. It’s still a popular Christmas desert in a lot of Hungarian households, besides the good old bejgli. According to the legend, the poppy seed filling had a magical power: you will receive as much money in the upcoming year, as many seeds you consumed. As for the old recipe, they soaked the dry baked dough pieces (or pretzel) into warm milk with honey, and then spread ground poppy seed on top, et voilà! mákos guba was ready to eat!

Nowadays, most of the housewives don’t struggle with baking the dough at home, but I’m pretty sure that everyone has some dry leftover kifli (Hungarian bakery product, size and shape wise similar to the French croissant, but it’s texture is more like a baguette’s), which is ready to be cut into small pieces and served as a delicious meal. Good to know, that poppy seed is higher in calcium than any kind of cheese, also that it’s a perfect substitute for vegans and vegetarians to replace vitamins B1, B2 and B6 which are normally consumed by eating meat.

DSC01085_Now that we heard so much about this wonderful meal I should really reveal the mystery how to prepare it. Every household has their own way to make it: someone covers it with custard, someone serves it in small bowls, someone bakes it in the oven. Personally, I eat it as a quick lunch, so here is the simplest way to make it.

Ingredients (2 adults’ lunch portion and a half to sneak out in the kitchen for later on)
4 bigger or 5 smaller size kifli
150 gr of poppy seed
100—150 gr of sugar (depends on how sweet tooth you are)
Half liter of milk
2 vanilla sticks

Preparation:
Cut the kiflis into 2 cm diameter circles and put them into a bowl. Measure the poppy seed along with the sugar, ground them finely and spread it on top of the bowl of kifli. Cut the vanilla sticks into halves and carve the seeds out, then put the sticks along with the seeds in the milk. Heat the vanilla milk and pour it on the kifli mixture. Stir it carefully to mix all the ingredients and let the kifli soften in the delicious vanilla milk. Finally, after preheating the oven of 150 Celsius, bake the mákos guba for 10-15 minutes in a baking pan (don’t forget to put a cover on the pan otherwise it will dry out!).

After this you just need to be a bit more patient whilst it cools down and then… Enjoy!

Alternatives:

DSC01093_Supposedly, it can also be made of dry rolls or bread but to be honest I never tried it that way. However, if there is a volunteer between our lovely readers who wants to give it a go, please don’t hesitate to share the experiences with us.

In summary: please don’t throw your dry kiflis in the bin but recycle them as a delicious lunch next day.

Although mákos guba is not among the contestants, don’t be discouraged from voting for your favourite recipe here to represent Hungary at the World Exhibition 2015!

 

Thank’s for the support, Live Inspire Team! Graphics credit: Disney Italy

Thank you, Judit Zollai, for translating the original article!!

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

28 May

Health delivery

Our campaign before Christmas – which more than 200 people joined online -, encouraged people to reduce their meat consumption. Meat production (feeding and keeping the livestock clean) is a lot more water-, energy- and raw material intensive operation than growing vegetables, fruits or grains; thus having a higher impact on our environment. Nevertheless regular meat consumption has become such a strong part of our eating habits, that many of our readers cannot even imagine what they would eat if they had to leave out the meat from their lunch now and then. There is pasta, potatoes, grilled or steamed veggies and fruits, walnuts, almonds, peanuts and chestnuts…and we haven’t even mentioned cheese or fish yet. Unfortunately, traditional Hungarian cooking does not provide a lot of choices for meat-free meals that are healthy and delicious. Fried mushroom or cheese with tartar sauce and rice, pasta with cheese and sour-cream or with tomato sauce – these are the well-known vegetarian dishes that can be very boring even after a short time.

avokado_logo

Luckily however, every now and then plum- or cottage cheese dumplings, or a sztrapacska can „peek in” at the canteen. Oven-baked casseroles are also getting very popular nowadays. But for instance millet or buckwheat can be hard to find, and when we finally see them on the menu, they are dry and tasteless. Eggplant and zucchini are very rarely prepared the way they really should be. If catering had a penalty code, surely cooking the vegetables in water would be a serious offense. All the nutrition content and taste stays in the water – which is poured out after the cooking -, so no wonder that a Hungarian tongue, being used to very intense tastes, will not choose greens on the side very often. Beetroot, sweet potato, rhubarb, or chard are not familiar to many – and I wonder how many people know what a pattypan squash tastes like, which grows in Hungary from July to February? Even spellcheck does not recognize this word. Pumpkin was „discovered” a couple of years ago by Hungarians, and luckily since then we can eat a creamy pumpkin soup – rich in vitamins -, almost anywhere when it is in season. Of course above I was talking about the canteens where an average worker goes every day to fill up his tired brain with vitamins and minerals for only a thousand Forints. So the target of our post today are those who generally do not cook for themselves, thus have an everyday problem to find a decent restaurant near their workplace, or they follow a special diet to stay healthy or regain their health. The popularity of our previous article on a gluten-free restaurant proves that in Hungary restaurants that offer special meals are in demand.

1238323_661775943841180_1221134096_nSo far we have not been investigating too many food delivery service providers, since we can hardly imagine less environmental damaging activity than throwing out tons of plastic dishes every single day. There are a few establishments that are willing to collect these and after cleaning them out thoroughly, reuse them, but many of the delivery companies think of this process as a real burden. According to public surveys, customers are also not in favor of returning the plastic dishes, because then they have to wash them and store them somewhere, and they feel obliged to order from that place again where the dishes came from. Biodegradable plastics just starting to become popular in Hungary, but they are still quite expensive. (So this particular problem is still waiting to be solved by the Heroes of Responsible Dining!) However, we start to recognize that ordering food is more popular than the traditional „dining out” at the restaurants, especially when the employees have only about half an hour for lunch, or there is no restaurant around that serves decent food.

We bumped into the Avocado Food Manufacture through our meat-free campaign that we have mentioned earlier. This company provides with food delivery only – without the dining in option. Daily menu can be ordered easily over their website, but breakfast or dinner is available also. They even offered a special menu and the very seasonal poppy seed roll around Christmas!
But why are they so unique? As in most of the cases, personal reasons motivated the owner to reform his own eating habits, when a few years ago Gábor Szűcs was forced to go on a heart friendly diet. He started to wonder: if he cooks healthy meals for himself, why not help others to be healthy as well?

10308275_790418370976936_4528607000154879757_nThis approach represents the whole company: they only offer food to their customers that they would happily eat themselves. There are three different kind of menus available: reform, vegetarian and vegan. The meals are totally free from preservatives and additives, they do not contain artificial flavor enhancers and colorants, and they consist mostly of organic ingredients. When buying goods – contrary to their name „Avocado” – they prefer to choose local producers. The menu they offer had become more and more special in the course of time, and is adapted to the needs of the Hungarian population. They are among those rare places which sell vegan menu es well, thus saving plenty of time for those who follow this lifestyle. We especially value that they have such a wide range of menu selection that almost all types of diets are covered by them: restoring pH balance in the body, protein-rich for athletes, low in salt- and fat for people with heart conditions, gluten- or lactose free for people with food allergies. The next week’s order must come in by Friday midnight the latest, so that way they can calculate the portions precisely and by this, they can practically minimize their food waste. Moreover, they can plan the delivery routes to minimize the distance traveled. Sometimes you can even get get your lunch from the owner himself! Menus can be combined, so if you are not totally vegetarian, but you just rarely eat meat, you can choose from both the reform and vegetarian menus alternately.

IMG_7208But what do those meals really taste like? Many people tend to avoid „reform” or vegan meals because they think these have no taste at all. But the owner’s more than 30 years of experience with gastronomy guarantees the variety and tastefulness to all the meals that are served under his lead. Avocado organized a culinary event in December, where we tasted some of their meals. There was fake cottage cheese dumplings made of millet (I could not tell that it had no real cottage cheese in it!), pea puree with mint, fake potato casserole, seitan, carob cream, chickpea sauce, etc. Unfortunately we couldn’t try everything, but the ones we did were really delicious! It is better not to expect McDonals-type of salty and fatty tastes when trying these goodies – but those of you who read this blog already know the taste of real food.

At this event, the owner shared long and encouraging stories about the environmental principals he respects. We also heard about his regret of not being able to solve the problem of setting up a system for collecting and reusing the plastic boxes so far – but that they have managed to use recycled plastic boxes for delivery. They installed aerators into the faucets, the staff uses water-saving toilets and they have energy-saver lightbulbs. They collect their recycling separately, which is taken away monthly.

254417_223478491004263_1315526_nSeasonality is a great concern for them at the time of purchase, which also makes economical sense since the prices of vegetables and fruits can change seasonally. They also like to use fresh ingredients, and not ones that travel thousands of miles. When they buy organic products, they base their decisions on personal experiences and trust with the producers. Although they believe that there are no products anymore that are totally free from chemical derivatives – due to the overall contamination of the ground (e.g. waste water, flooding of the Danube river, contamination of the groundwater supply) -, they avoid buying chemically treated products.

The point is – which we have made already long time ago – that healthy life starts with what we eat and continues with what we do for our environment; and the two are inseparable! It’s comforting to know that some of the people out there whom we entrust with „feeding” us feel the same way.

Thank you, Katalin Hall for translating the original article to English!