The great fish soup war
Carp, paprika, water, salt cooked on open fire in a cauldron – this is Hungarian fish soup. But things are never as simple as they seem, we are a divided nation, and not only when it comes to politics. Fish soup is a sacred dish, but also a dividing dish. You can join the ‘Bajai’ party or the ‘Szegedi’ party. Thanks God, when it comes to wine, there is no question: drink it with Kadarka! We have collected the differences between the two fish soups and certainly recommend some wine to drink with. Read our ultimate fish soup guide!
The secret behind
Being a Hungarian, I have eaten many plates of fish soup in my life (fish soup is also the obligatory meal for Christmas dinner), but now, when writing this article, I read several articles about the topic, but I could not find the most important piece of information regarding Bajai soup. Fortunately I have learnt it from the most authentic source, a man from Baja, so soon I will share it to you. But first let’s look at the main differences.
The origin of the thickness
Like many other Hungarians, I used to be familiar with the Szegedi style. The soup itself has a brownish colour, the liquid is thick and opaque due to the pureed base soup. Delicious, no doubt. But then I met Tamás Gay from Baja, he cooked for us, and in an hour I converted. As he explained, the Bajai procedure is shorter, but it does not mean that they pay less attention. All the fish parts were cleaned and prepared when the moment came: the temperature in the cauldron was extremely high, and the short but intense cooking began. As Tamás explained, the extreme heat melts the fishbone, and the natural glue is released into the soup making it thick (not as thick as the Szegedi) and adds some extra flavour to the soup. Well, that’s my story, but you should try both to find your own path. It is something like Star Trek or Star Wars, Apple or Windows.
A recipe to make Bajai fish soup
Vesztergombi – the “Kadarka King”
The spicy soup needs a spicy wine, but it should not be too full bodied, since our meal is still a soup. This summer we took the winners of our WebWineWriting competition to a riverside restaurant near the Danube to enjoy the traditional Bajai fish soup, and we had a Kadarka expert to, Csaba Vesztergombi to present two vintages of his Kadarka wines. This what Julia Scavo star sommelier, the absolute winner of our contest wrote about the wines: “Both 2017 and 2018 have pale ruby colour, showing cherries, strawberries, with hints capsicum. Medium alcohol with elevated acidity and light body. Drink young but certainly 2 or 3 years cellaring should bring more silkiness to this wine. Very good pairing with Danube freshwater fish soup Baja style.
Julia Scavo’s wine reviews
Pale ruby colour with a garnet tinge. The nose is clean, elegant and delicate, showing red fruit, cherries, strawberries, interlacing with herbal hints, some paprika and lots of spices such as pepper. Texture is silky, the wine is dry, with elevated acidity, moderate alcohol and light tannins with a firm grain. The wine is intense with red fruits, glints of flower such as peony and long peppery finish.
Pale ruby colour, the nose is delicate with notes of cherry, sour cherry, herbal hints and floral peony character, intermingling with spices. The palate is dry, acidity is medium plus to elevated, with light fine tannins and digest, moderate alcohol, the wine is silky with intense cherry and sour cherry notes, an herbal touch and capsicum on the long finish.”
Eszterbauer – the master of Kadarka
Szekszárd, where the Vesztergombi Cellar is situated is closer to Baja, so it was an obvious choice. Still in Szekszárd there is another keen Kadarka grower called János Eszterbauer. He believes in this grape variety, uses different clones and pays special attention to Kadarka. ‘Sógor Kadarka’ is the entry level Kadarka of the estate: “Playful, easy going, charming, full of fruits. We wanted to bottle a ‘naked’ Kadarka’“. ‘Sógor’ means ‘brother-in-law’, while the premium Kadarka of the estate is named ‘Nagyapám’, which means ‘My grandfather’. This wine is the result of clone selections and the fruit of old vines. It proves that Kadarka has the potential to give a complex, elegant wine.
Frittmann – the knight of Kadarka
Let’s go to the “other side” to pair some Kadarka with the Szegedi style fish soup. Frittmann Winery in Kunság wine region is only 80 kilometres from Szeged. János Frittmann, one of the founding Frittmann brothers has received received the Knight of Cross from the Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic from president János Áder. The Winemaker of the Year 2015 is a specialist of aromatic wines, but rosés and barrel aged white wines are equally important. Kadarka cannot miss from the portfolio. 2016 Kadarka has light garnet red colour, typical of the grape variety. “On the nose, it evokes cherry, sour cherry and spices. The fresh and medium acidity contributes to the loose and dynamic feeling of the sip. Alcohol content is low, tannic acid level is slightly moderate. Spicy aromas on the palate, together with red berries in the background. A vigorous wine, which can be matched in many ways to such typical Hungarian meals.“
Koch – and the happy Kadarka
Another Winemaker of the Year (2019), Csaba Koch has his own viticultural concept called “the happy grape”. Last summer we took our WebWineWriting winners to Koch Winery, and one of our jury members, Chris Boiling was with us, the chief editor of Canopy magazine powered by International Wine Challenge. He wrote a detailed article about the happy grape concept. Csaba Koch has a wide range of wines of each of his grapes, certainly Kadarka gets special attention as well. His estate is situated in Hajós–Baja wine region, his fruity Frisch Kadarka can be paired with Bajai fish soup, but you can try the longer barrel aged Hajós–Bajai Kadarka with Szegedi style fish soup as well. The 2015 vintage is “A beautiful Kadarka wine reflects the warmth of vintage 2015 and its aromas and flavours express the richness of the black soil of ‘Bácska’ territory. The wooden vat fermentation and barrel ageing makes it spicy, velvety, vivid – full of fire!“ It might be a lovely peace drink to bring the two parties closer!