The temperature in Budapest is starting to warm, and with the sunny days and cool breezes come lots of festivals! Richie and I went to the pálinka festival at the Buda Castle last weekend, and the Etyek Pincefesztivál yesterday.
Pálinka is essentially the national alcohol of Hungary. It’s brandy made from fruit, and only Hungary and four provinces of Austria are permitted to market their product as pálinka. It’s usually drunk as an aperitif and as a digestif… and often rounds of pálinka will take place during the meal as well. It’s an anytime beverage 🙂 It’s served in a special tulip-shaped glass to maximize the fruit flavors.
If I’m going to be perfectly honest, before coming here I was dreading having to drink pálinka. The only experience I had with it was the faces that Richie and others made after drinking the versions he brought back to the US after his first work trip in 2007, and those faces were not pleasant… it definitely did not say “wow, this is something you should drink!” Richie tried to reassure me that the brand he brought back was one of the cheaper, lower quality ones and that good pálinka was much easier to drink. Still, I successfully avoided it for about two weeks, until one of Richie’s bosses ordered a round for us to start off a welcome dinner she had arranged. I don’t think I made a yucky face… but it was really, really strong. She then told me that there were “girly pálinkas”, made with honey (mézes pálinka) that I should try instead, and that made a huge difference.
When we heard that there was an annual pálinka festival at the castle, we thought it would be a great way to try a few different brands and fruits without having to buy a whole bottle. We had great intentions of going Friday after Richie got home from work, but a “quick dinner” with friends turned into a deliciously lengthy dinner with dancing to DMB on a balcony overlooking the Danube. Since we had plans with Richie’s coworkers for Saturday, that left us with Sunday to visit the festival. Sunday morning was grey and chilly, so when we arrived at the festival a little after noon, we found very few other people there. It was nice, as we were able to walk straight up to booths and be served immediately, but it also made the festival feel a little lifeless. Still, I was determined to find my favorite pálinka! We started off with a visit to one of the food booths, where I officially had my first legitimate Hungarian food. It was basically a pork stew, with peppers, onions, and potatoes, and it was fantastic. As long as I didn’t look at the large pieces of fat floating in the bowl, that is…. We then went to probably 5 or 6 different booths to try brands that we hadn’t tried before. Sadly, neither of us tried one that made us want to buy a bottle. I made the mistake of trying one that was sour cherry with honey as my first stop, and it essentially tasted like Robitussin cough syrup, and that flavored the rest of my experiences while we were there. We each tried some unique fruits – my favorite of the day was one made of wild apple, and that same booth had ones made with forest berries and quince, which I’d never heard of before but basically looks like an apple and a pear blended into one fruit. We finished off the day by walking down the hill from the castle, across the chain bridge and through the city back home.
Yesterday, we went with friends to the Etyek Pincefesztivál, which is a wine festival in a little village about 45 minutes outside of Budapest by bus. We actually went to the same festival when we came to Budapest last May to visit the Bowmans. This year’s experience was a little bit better because 1) we hadn’t just gotten off a plane a few hours before, like we did last year, and 2) the festival was much better organized this year in transporting people from Budapest to Etyek. Last year, we waited for a long time for a bus that we weren’t sure was the right one, because no one at the station seemed to know why we would even want to take a bus to Etyek – this year, there was a fleet of buses leaving from a central metro stop, with employees all wearing matching uniforms and explaining the route, timetable, and map to everyone in line.
Once we arrived in Etyek, we had to board another bus to get us from the parking area to the cellars, and then we waited in a lengthy line to purchase our festival cards and tasting glasses. At this point, we were about 90 minutes into our trip and still hadn’t tasted a wine, so we headed straight for the largest group of wineries and dived in. Like last year, many of the cellars themselves weren’t open or were private, but we did find one cellar that was open to festival guests and took advantage of the cooler temperatures in there. We liked the wine we tried there so much that we brought back a bottle – and it cost less than $8. That was pretty typical of the pricing we saw there – the most expensive wines were in the 2500 forint range, or about $10.75, and there were wines available to take home for as little as 850 forint, or about $3.65. The prices of tastings depended on the varietal and the quality, but most of the wines we tasted were about 250 forint for 1 deciliter (which was a fairly large pour for a tasting).
The festival also had plenty of other things to enjoy – cheese, marzipan desserts, lavender products, a milk truck making fruit smoothies, various sausages and other meats, and lots of traditional Hungarian pastries. We limited ourselves to a few cheese cups and some delicious chicken and bacon kabobs, but I could’ve eaten something from every vendor we passed, it all smelled so good!
Here are a few pictures from the trip to Etyek!
There are more pictures from the day here.
So, now the question is, who’s going to come to a wine festival with us? 🙂 There’s one in September in Budapest, and the Etyek festival is every year in May!