It is possible to cultivate Tokaj vines in other soil types, but the unique taste of the wine cannot be reproduced without the region’s special micro-climate and volcanic soil rich in minerals. The barrels made of the oak trees of the Zemplén Mountains also add to the flavor. In the region, not only wines have this characteristic taste but also fruits, forest mushrooms, aged cheeses and herbs. Together with local dairy and meat products, these provide the ingredients for the region’s handmade specialties.
The gastronomy of Tokaj-Hegyalja is influenced by other Hungarian regions and foreign cultures, as several merchants and settlers arrived in Tokaj-Hegyalja throughout the centuries, many among them of Jewish and Greek origin. Merchant coaches carried various goods from near and faraway lands to Hegyalja, from Szatmár plum through Milota walnut to Polish and Russian specialties. This lively trade created a rich cuisine in the region. For the gourmand, a large selection of specialties are available to taste or take away.
Handmade delicacies can be found inthe Tokaj-Hegyalja market in the parking lot of the Disznókő Sárga Borház Vineyard and Winery. The market opens every second Sunday of the month. It is easy to find the market along Road 37, between Mád and Bodrogkeresztúr. It offers a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, cow, sheep and goat cheese, Mangalitsa pork, oil, vinegar and honey. Marmalades and syrups, bread and pastry made with special wheat varieties, as well as bio products are available.
If the market is closed, visitors can still buy products from local farmers. For instance, the Mád family cheese manufacture produces aged cow and goat cheese, blue cheese, charcoal-grilled camembert, ewe-cheese and other dairy specialties. The cows are pastured in mountain meadows of a protected area with several herb species, which further increase the quality of dairy products.
In Mád, there is a special place to find these herbs. In the middle of a large, romantic garden, the Leskó Winery and the Napudvar Guesthouse offers aromatic herbs, delicious fruits and traditional cuisine with a beehive oven. The hosts of the house are famous for their herbal tea made of 13 different plants. Visitors also have the chance to learn about the 50 or 60 herbal species in their garden.
We cannot say that cocoa beans are typical of Hegyalja, but the region is also famous for the handcrafted chocolate of Szerencs. In spite of economic difficulties in the area, the sweetest city of the country still has a flourishing sugar and chocolate industry. The Szerencsi Bonbon Kft. manufactures its own handcrafted products. The company also created an interactive workshop where visitors can test their chocolate-making skills. The annual Chocolate Festival in late August presents a huge variety of sweets. (Although, a regional specialty, the salty caramel is hardly sweet, but delicious nonetheless.)
But what do the chefs have to offer? Let’s start the list with the multiple Restaurant of the Year Award-winner ‘Anyukám mondta’ restaurant, which can be found in Encs outside the Tokaj-Hegyalja area, 12 kilometers (almost 8 miles) away from Abaújszántó. Their traditional Zemplén kitchen and beverage selection are influenced by Italian cuisine culture. We try to provide a brief introduction, knowing that most visitors could speak volumes about this restaurant. A principle of theirs is that “if the ingredients are not right, there is no point in creating meals”. Their menu includes Zemplén lamb (with pearl barley risotto, mushrooms and thyme), fatty duck liver with quince and pears. They also offer pickles with their appetizers and marmalade and syrup with their cheese specialties.
We already mentioned the ‘Sárga Borház’ restaurant, the menu of which is based on locally caught fish. Here, visitors can taste several meals featuring the famous Tisza catfish as well. The local flavors of Mád cheese, Tokaj handcrafted marmalade and Gönc peach are also represented on the menu. The ingredients of their cold appetizer named Tokaj-Hegyalja (ham, sausage, bacon, cheese and homemade bread) are provided by the Kocsis Homestead and the Mád Cheese Manufacture. The menu of the Hotel Mádi Kúria is also based on local specialties. On their wine dinners they serve duck breast with Furmint wine, cream sauce and noodles; cold goose liver with Aszú wine and peach chutney; and also duck breast and polenta roasted with handcrafted sheep cottage cheese from Mád. Finally, we introduce the Gusteau Culinary Experience Workshop. The meals of the impressively named restaurant are prepared with the quality white wines of Mád. They have a characteristic local taste. As they say, “the terroir shows up not only in our wines but also in our ingredients.” Rabbit, goat, duck, boar, lamb and calf are all available from the restaurant’s menu. Of course, the menu also has chicken breast, albeit a bit differently. They serve chicken breast poached in butter with homemade chestnut paste, mandarin and Brussels sprouts.
These were just a few examples from their unusual list of meals. The restaurant represents the highest level of local cuisine.