Pub food - options to better the Hungarian selection

Let’s face it, after a night of drinking it’s not only the amount of beer we drank that determines if we have a productive day or not. What we ate alongside matters just as much!

It’s a shame that the majority of Hungarian bars serve nothing but salted sticks and peanuts as beer sides. I have been thinking about why this is, especially after experiencing the Czech pub culture for the first time. It might be because we are a wine country by origin, without any significant cheese culture? Or is it because in past times there was always something cooking at inns in our signature kettle – bogrács? Well, I have no clue. However it is certain that the current situation is dire. But what should we look for, what dish should be accepted into the norm?

Whilst it is ever more common to find the typical hamburger – pulled pork – fries type of pub food around the country, I believe beer needs a more simple, and perhaps cheaper side dish. Enter the world of zakuski. It is more of a concept than a single dish, a staple of Slavic cuisine. It is common knowledge, that the Eastern Slavs drink a lot, especially vodka, beer and kvas. To keep up, they developed a type of dish, that is easy to prepare and handle, tasty, and full of all the good stuff your body needs to fight a hangover. We are talking mostly cold served bites of food, such as ham rolls, pickled vegetables, cheese, egg and also small baked goods and salads full of mayo and/or sour cream. Caviar and smoked fish can be served too, for the wealthier guests. The idea is simple: have a wide variety of bite sized pieces, without any fanciness. After Sergei grabs his glass to down a shot of vodka, he can easily follow it down with a mayo and egg spread filled ham roll. Rinse and repeat. Of course, vodka is optional, and can easily be swapped for beer. The whole point of zakuski is that it’s diverse, and if you follow the basic idea, you can make your own variations. If your fridge is decently stocked, you could probably whip out a whole plate right now. And also grab a couple cans of Fehér Nyúl beers while you are at it. A well-stocked fridge should already have them too!

As I stated, zakuski is a staple of Slavic cuisine. But the Czech went a different way, when it comes to pub food. The following two are just the most common examples of their staple bar foods. Utopenec and nakládaný hermelín can be found in any proper Czech pub and tavern, since they are so basic to prepare, and still have everything you need from a beerslide. Both of them are aged in marinade, and since they are fatty, they help with preventing a hangover.

Utopenec might be the more bizarre one of the two, so let’s start with it. The base of this dish is a Czech sausage, similar to polony, usually with a diameter of around 1.5 inches. This sausage is placed into a glass jar alongside a generous amount of onions, then drowned in seasoned vinegar. After sealed, the utopenec is aged for one-to-two weeks. It’s basically a sour hot dog. Saying it is quite bizarre might be an understatement; in fact it is downright dividing. However if you get a taste for it, and add some toasted or fried bread on the side you get everything you need to survive a long drinking session in one package: it has carbohydrates, fats, protein and if you eat the onions too, which I recommend highly, a bit of vegetables to ease your conscience too.

Now let us look at the second contestant, hermelín. Probably more famous, and maybe even more popular than utopenec. In my personal opinion, it is one of the most important dish in Czech cuisine, next to Pilsner beer, Koleno and Sauerkraut and of course the dumplings. The main ingredient is always a white moldy cheese, usually a local version of camembert, but any variety would do, such as a brie. Seasoning is varied, but you can almost certainly find garlic, black pepper and paprika in the ingredients list. Packing the cheese into a glass jar with a lot of onions – just like with utopenec- is the next step, but instead of using vinegar, some kind of oil is added. The oil keeps oxygen out, and helps carry the flavor. Warning! Don’t use oils that have too much flavor themselves; reach for sunflower seed instead of olives. The sad part is, that you need to wait once again to be able to taste your creation. Depending on the ripeness of your cheese and also your taste, it is once again a one-to-two weeks endeavor. If you are in a hurry, you can instead quick-age the cheese by placing it somewhere warm instead of the fridge. But be warned, this way you can quickly overage, resulting in a melted mess, and potentially an upset stomach.  But if it is done right, the creamy interior of the cheese pairs exceptionally well with fresh or toasted bread, some nuts and maybe some sweeter fruits. Whilst utopenec can be a no-go for some, I haven’t met anybody yet who didn’t like a well-aged hermelín. In my personal opinion, nakládaný hermelín is the Crème de la crème, when it comes to beer sliders. If you have the time to prepare it for yourself, you should try it. Alternatively, you can find it at our Brewery and Taproom, where you can pair this iconic dish with a huge selection of ales and lagers!
Author: Máté Farkas

Are you of legal drinking age?