It was a smooth flight with an abrupt ending. I had the feeling that the pilot had daydreamed a bit, woke up, looked down and seeing the airport immediately below pointed the nose down. The angle was steep, but no one seemed to notice so I went along with the flow. So it was, with the rush of landing on an aircraft carrier, that I arrived in Budapest. I was there for wine, of course, and after a quick lunch at a traditional Hungarian restaurant we were off in a car for the long drive out to the Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region in Northeastern Hungary, home to the legendary sweet wines of Tokaji, in this case the sublime wines of Oremus.
This was my first visit to Hungary and, while anticipating the culinary adventure I was thrown into a new and unfamiliar food culture. I could handle a menu in Western Europe, but as I gazed at the menus here nothing rang a bell, nor did it to my compatriots, one of whom ordered two courses at a dinner one night. His first course arrived, which was a beautiful and delicious smoked trout. After a short wait his main course arrived, which was two beautiful and delicious smoked trout. Thankfully he loved smoked trout.
After several days of fabulous sensory overload in the cellars of Tokaj, my wife and I headed back to beautiful Budapest for a small vacation. Armed with the few travel guides we could find we ate badly at tourist restaurants for the rest of the weekend. As usual, the guidebooks and concierges fail the devoted gastro-tourist.
The big travel guide books, Zagat included, badly let down the traveler that seriously wants to seek out the best local food and wine, but I was recently introduced to a wonderful set of guides for travelers that are as serious about wine and food as seeing the next cathedral. Publishers The Little Book Room offer a collection of guides that will lead you to the best tables in town. Their two current releases, Best Wine Bars and Shops of Paris by Pierrick Jégu with photographs by Caroline Rose and Food Wine Budapest, by Carolyn Bánfalvi with photographs by George Konkoly-Thege, which is part of The Little Book Room’s The Terroir Guides series, will make any gastro-tourist salivate. This latter guide took me wistfully back to Budapest where having this book would have made a tremendous difference in our experience of that beautiful city.
Best Wine Bars and Shops of Paris can be tossed in a backpack or purse and the extensive list of wine bars is conveniently listed by arrondissement so you can easily find a great glass or bottle of wine as you wander about the city. It’s light, fun and packed with pictures. Food Wine Budapest, while bigger and heavier, is still backpack size, but contains far more information. In addition to being a guide book, it also is a thorough primer on all things culinary in Hungary, which means that you can depend on not ordering the same dish for first and second course like my friend did. This is a must-have for anyone on their way to Hungary.
Guides like these make travel a delicious adventure.
Find these books on Amazon: Food Wine Budapest Best Wine Bars of Paris