March is a wonderful time of the year for us, it brings 5 months of semi enforced idleness to an end, we get out in the garden, the weather improves and the first real ‘festival’ of the year happens. It takes place in a small town on the banks of Lake Tisza called Abàdszalok and it is called the ‘Bollér Fesztival’, essentially it is a sausage making competition . Now Hungarian sausages are unlike your average English Banger and whilst I now find them in all of their various forms very tasty they are certainly an acquired taste, heady with Paprika and all the parts of the pig that many will turn their nose up to, however I now find them delicious although they are certainly not for those who are watching their waist line!
But the festival is much more like a celebration of pig combined with joy associated with the end of Winter and the on set of spring, as you can see from the images we were blessed with a beautiful day on Saturday and the town was as busy as I have ever seen it in our 7 years here. At the heart of the festival is a competition that is primarily entered by villages, as part of the entry each village receives an area to set up an al-fresco eating area, a food preparation area and cooking area.
Almost all of the cooking is done over a wood fire so the air is not only heady with garlic, paprika and lard but also a mesmerising waft of wood smoke which is heavenly as far as I am concerned. Now whilst that may be the core aim of the festival is a competition, there is no way that a large portion of residents from many local villages would turn up to watch a group of people cook sausages. It is all in the eating and drinking, after paying your entry fee (which cost one of you English pounds) you could purchase tickets (for fifty of your English pence) to exchange for a small portion of what ever took your fancy, unfortunately the queue for this spit roast pig above was far too long for myself or my wife to consider, but it smelt and looked divine. We went along on Saturday this year which means we missed the procession of the competition plates to a select group of mysterious VIPs who will bestow the honour of the best sausage on a village or organisation.
Some Hungarian food is actually fairly well known in popular culture with dishes like Paprikás (pron paprikash) and gulyás being almost universally known… Although as with most universally known dishes, the internationally recognised versions are nothing like traditional dishes but as you will see from my recipes I am hardly a stickler for ‘authenticity’ so will not be offering any judgement on folk calling their pörkölt a gulyás, but for the record gulyás is always a soup. Now given that we had a fairly hefty evening on the beer with friends on Friday night my consumption of food and the ubiquitous Pálinka (a rather potent fruit brandy) was extremely moderate, with just a small portion of stuffed cabbage, another classic Hungarian favourite, lasting me the day. But the specialty of the day was without doubt either Hurka or Kolbasz, arguably the two most quintessentially Hungarian of sausages, Hurka is always boiled after preparation and then cooked again afterwards and comes in two varieties, blood (véres) or liver (májas), unlike British bangers there is no ‘cereal’ content and they are made more substantial with rice and a liberal helping of spice of which of course Paprika is dominant.
Kolbasz on the other hand is much more ‘meat’ based, by that I mean from parts of the pig that people would not turn their nose up at and in many cases are smoked and just like in the UK are typically made from pork although not exclusively. I have to say I am one of those strange people who loves offal, although that is not so strange here in Hungary, so Hurka is usually my sausage of choice!
It was wonderful to get out and about and see so many people milling around Abádszalök as it is somewhat of a ghost town over the winter months and the profusion of singing and dancing is a real sign that summer is coming and I can’t wait for the next foodie festival!
I genuinely love this time of the year, this festival is all about the pig so much so that I will leave you with one final curiosity from our time at the Böller festival, I wonder what sort of person wakes up in the morning and thinks… ‘I know what I need to do today, make a house made from sausages, lard and bacon an put it on a polystyrene base ’!!! The mind boggles 😀