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The Good Life in Aggtelek National Park Part 118: Hungarikum Picnic in Eger

ferenc toth vineyard egerThe Aggtelek caves are not just a national park and a World Heritage Site, but also a Hungarikum, something that typifies and exemplifies Hungarian culture and the Hungarian nation. As such, when there is a Hungarikum event, we are often asked to set up an information booth along with others such as purveyors of chimney cakes, black locust honey, the Mohács Festival, the Village of Hollókő and falconers to name but a few. The city of Eger, famed for its Bull's Blood wine and Valley of Beautiful Women organised its first Hungarikum Picnic in March among the wine cellars of the Valley of Beautiful Women.

Parts of the accompanying conference were extremely interesting, in particular, the presentation by Robert Sándor of the Abaúj Értétár. He spoke animatedly about some of Hungary's most well-known and some relatively unknown gastronomic cultural history. For example, aristocrat/author/politician András Fáy invented the sptritzer (fröccs), and introduced it first to his guests Ányos Jedlik (inventor of carbonated water and the dynamo) and poet Mihály Vörösmarty. Another aristocrat Thököly made the first pálinka. And one of author Ferenc Kazinczy's sons imported a load of oranges to make the first orange liquor. The famous Gundel Pancake was actually introduced to Gundel by writer Sándor Márai's wife who asked for "Kassai Pancake" to be served in honour of the premier of the writer's first play. The restaurant then adopted and renamed the pancake as the Márai Pancake until the writer emigrated and the Hungarian authorities required it to be renamed after this "betrayal." The pancake became known thenceforth as the Gundel Pancake. Sándor brought along many samples of local Abaúj cuisine completely unknown to most of us, such as fecskefark (swallow's tail), soros laska, labatlan tyuk (legless chicken), rizskasas kötés, kese lángos and Marai fröccs. The presentation also mentioned that the film Egri Csillagok was Hungary's last silent film, and the country's first historical film.

The chilly weather and the long weekends before and after the Picnic meant that there were not many visitors to the event. I expected crowds, but this just meant that we had plenty of time to sample the wines. Neither the Petrény 2014 Egri bikavér, Sike Tamás Egri bikavér, nor the Kiss Krisztina Egri bikavér were anything special. However, the Tóth Ferenc 2013 Superior Egri bikavér was fantastic. Unfortunately, it was way beyond my means at almost 7000 huf a bottle.notafa restaurant eger

Breakfast was not available at our lodgings at the Tulipán Campground, nor were we close to any shops. Out of desperation I accosted a woman outside one of the restaurants in the valley and asked if there was anywhere I could get some breakfast. She checked with her boss at the Notafa Restaurant, which did not even officially open until lunch, and said that they would make me something. A 3-egg omelette, a cup of coffee and bread for 900 huf. Such flexibility is almost unheard of in Hungary, and it was a life saver. Thank you Notafa!

The picnic was planned as the first in a series. Hopefully the next will benefit from better weather.