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What pálinka can’t heal, nothing can!

Having warmed both our hearts and bodies we left the fifth Palinka and Sausage Festival in the Buda Castle we visited this past weekend. Despite the bitter weather conditions the atmosphere was really pleasant and the event was extremely well organized. One might say it has ripened. Since last year’s was a full house festival, the organizers extended the grounds with the Oroszlános courtyard. Thus, not only were the stalls placed more sparsely but the visitors also had more space to loiter and stagger around.

Before we set out to the Castle we had expected that we would be one of the handful of gastro-fans who venture out of their safe homes in spite of the cruel weather, but we were positively surprised. Though there wasn’t such a bustling crowd reminiscent of the Wine Festival, quite a lot of people came, just enough to avoid an embarrassing emptiness. But enough of this, let’s move on to our sampling.Pálinkas – to the point

We didn’t wait for long for our first shot, as we had to act fast not to let our blood freeze in our veins. Of course, the well-known, well-selling, “mainstream” pálinka houses were present: Panyolai, Rézangyal, Gusto, Zsindelyes, Nobilis, Gyulai, Hírös and Ördögi, but we were more interested in the less known brands. We created our top 5 ranking from among them, which would have included more than five pálinkas, as we tasted more, but only these deserved to be evaluated the best.

1. Hegyközi Manufaktúra– This was our first sampling but no one could satisfy us more throughout the evening. We tasted prize-winning pálinkas made of quince and pomace. What we got was perfectly harmonic flavor, aroma, and high but not intrusive alcohol content. We hadn’t heard about them before but now we can recommend them to everybody. Give them a try, their pálinka is magnificent.
2. Magna Cum Laude– Their stall stood in the Oroszlános courtyard. It took us by surprise how the band, motivated by their song Pálinkadal (Pálinka Song), could come up with such great drinks. We tasted the milder, 30 % ABV “bedside” sour cherry (aged for at least 3 months together with fruits) and cinnamon apple, and we were fascinated. Also, their exceptionally kind service is to be complimented.
3. Ördögi Pálinkák– The brand new minimalist image of Ördögi caught our eyes immediately, and not only ours apparently, as the visitors were pouring here without ending. We were told at the stall that the new image is only a week old, and the designer is the same as that of We Love Budapest. We didn’t know about it, I swear. We tasted the aged apple and the black cherry pálinkas.
4. Hírös– Their stall was also very attractive with the mixing of folk art and modern elements. This was augmented by the ever-smiling servers and the excellent pálinkas. We took samples of the “bedside” sorbus and the “bedside”-honey raspberry pálinkas.
5. Villányi– Our last top listed station. The design here was cosy, and the wall was covered with an endless succession of accolades and awards. We expected something very special at the end of the festival and the finest fruits of the Villány region provided for brilliant pomace and “bedside” sour cherry pálinkas.Can you speak Russian? Da, vodka!This is the second year that the festival has had an honorary guest. This year Russia got a separate little yard. Here stood the Vodka House, the Arany Kaviár Restaurant, the CMAKRussian food shop, and the stand of Moszkva Tér Bisztró (to our surprise).

At Vodka House a bartender in ushanka offered us the generally accepted best vodka of the world, Russian Standard (or Russkiy Standart)Original. No wonder our Russian friends also drink this. It’s crystal clear, straightforward and elegant. We tried another one with lingonberry, that we identified as Sladkaya Stolnaya Brusnichaya after decrypting the Cyrillic script on the label. It was delicious, and interesting, but unfortunately we’ll never see it again probably… The Arany Kaviár Restaurant has deservedly achieved great renown as the best Russian restaurant in Budapest. Their stand at Budai Gourmet in spring was among the best, so we got very excited to see them here. We tasted their world-famous caviar and a kind of fish pie, whose Russian name we are ashamed to have forgotten but it definitely started with “ch”. It wasn’t that delicious anyway.
At CMAK one could buy and sample original Russian delicacies such as smoked fish or pickled cucumber. What we didn’t understand was the presence of the Moszkva Tér Bisztró (Moscow Square Bistro), of which we share so many lovely moments from our teens. I get it that their name could qualify them to be a part of the Russian corner but the products they offered were not specifically in line with the event, so they were kind of an odd choice.“Truth is in the bowels”The motto of the Országkonyha (cuisine of the country) made many a visitor smile but after all the allusion to sausages turned out to be quite an appropriate slogan. As for food, it was obviously sausages that were the most prevalent, with the best stand belonging to Lukullusz Kft, where, one might say that, as the Hungarian saying goes, even the fence was made up of sausages (the ceiling indeed was). We had the chance to meet again an old acquaintence, Mangalica & Társai Húspatika (Mangalitsa & co. apothecaries of meat), who brought to the event their pride, the Monte Nevado ham and the Mangalitsa sausages.
Apart from sausages we have to mention Nagykőrösi Sajtok (cheese from Nagykőrös), where the home-made cheese made a good job of soaking up excess alcohol after a few shots. At the stand of Papp Jam we were happy to taste first-class home-made jams, as a continuation of experimenting with the different flavors of fruits. The Fűszerész (spice specialist) is also a returning guest at gastro festivals, and the nicely packed assortment of spices they brought here was of daunting variety.

Warming upThough pálinka did its job of warming, we had to walk in 5 degrees Celsius all evening, so from time to time we felt like finding spots where we could warm up our freezing limbs. The 895 Hunnium Pálinka had the clever idea of bringing two radiators, thus making sure to have a constant flow of visitors. No one else had thought of this apparently. Apart from this, the guests could only spend some time in warmth at the place reserved for VIPs, so we were left with the only option of dressing up from the inside. DiVino’s mulled wine or the tea and hot cinnamon apple drink of Lepény és Más (pie and sundry) were of great assistance.Some criticismWhat didn’t hit the mark, though, was the card-based paying system installed by OTP. The idea is the same as that of the summer festivals, such as Sziget. While the queues weren’t long and charging went smoothly, the system crashed twice as we were waiting to use it. It’s still a mystery if we were cursed or the error was this common but the OTP maintenance wasn’t fast enough to get it up and running again. There was even a 15-minute period when hapless bartenders were left on their own without guests to serve because of this. Anyway, what’s important is that you could win an iPad, even though luck evaded us this time...

Lasting thoughtsIt’s almost our tenth pálinka, we’re getting more and more cheerful. As there was no more food or drink to be tasted we paid a visit to the Hungarian Customs and Finance Guard, as we were taken aback to see they had a separate stall. The utterly kind gentleman straightened himself at once, he was seemingly very happy to see someone at his stand, where we could find only legally sellable candies and some flyers. He told us that their presence is merely symbolic. The visitors and the exhibitors alike can feel secure, the Guard assures quality at the event.

We circled around aimlessly under the big tent once more and heard as the Russian cult song “Kalinka” gets underway with the adapted lyrics of “Pá-pálinká-pálinká”, to which the audience joined in, too.

We thought the time had come for us to go home, take a hot bath, and crawl under the blanket...

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