Something is definitely going on with the food at Sziget
Unofficial gastronomy guide to Sziget Festival
Sziget is not primarily The Place To Eat At, even if things are definitely looking up this year, however, eating is oftentimes considered a basic necessity for human beings. So you've gotta do what you've gotta do - and we are here to give you a few pointers.
For many long years, the act of looking for food at Sziget Festival was not as much a gastronomical experience as it was like arriving at an alien planet where you have to make life-or-death decisions on the spot. It's never an easy task to determine if eating that suspicious sausage is a good idea or if you should keep walking in fading hopes of finding something more edible. Especially not when you have a group of half-naked, inebriated Dutchmen breathing down your neck, a bucket of strangely coloured, most certainly alcoholic liquid swung above your head, and enough EDM noise to drown out whatever you're trying to relay (at the top of your already painful lungs) to the food-truck guy.
But you DO have to eat, particularly when you happen to visit Sziget on the festival's busiest days, when the headliners are real superstars, such as Sheeran was on the first, or as Foo Fighters will be on the last day. Finding your way to a food truck through the dark and noisy crowds is, in itself, an athletic achievement only comparable to running a double-marathon, and under these circumstances, it is vital to know which way to go if you don't want to waste your last morsels of energy on aimless wandering.
But Sziget does not make that job any easier. The information available on restaurants and fast-food on the island is more than lacking. The Sziget website does indeed have a page titled "Got the Munchies?" presenting a selection of eateries, but it provides no clue as to where they are - not too helpful, especially not to someone with the munchies.
What is striking at first is that
there still seems to be a huge demand for stale fried food that has been out, sitting under the sun for the whole day.
These were probably made to facilitate the quick feeding of the inordinate amount of visitors on the first day, as it only takes thirteen seconds to make a burger menu if you make all the french fries and meat patties in the morning, and the most welcome guest should maybe just be happy for that, and should, maybe, quit all the complaining. Bon appétit. Though it may seem that this trend of hot-iron grills and giant woks of pasta left boiling for hours is on the decline, there are still way too many examples of that than there should be.
But luckily, we have many better options as well. You cannot even run away from a Santa-costume-wearing twentysomething with dilated pupils without bumping into a Zing or a Casa Piadina. There, you can still buy proper food at reasonable prices and it seems like there are a lot more places like those now than there were in previous years. Aldi's Grill Terrace is also finding its way, it is almost starting to look like an actual venue. Here, they will grill whatever you bought in their store at no extra charge, though only if you're willing to wait in the seemingly endless queue, and if you're in the mood for such mundane activities as rummaging through supermarket shelves before going to see Foo Fighters or The National.
But what to do then? Zing, Casa Piadina, Napfényes, and Che Che are still reliable choices, but Sziget seems to have finally taken gastronomy at the festival to the next level simply by creating two distinct food areas at the festival where restaurants are divided thematically, but more on those later.
"Vegan balls," I cried out gleefully upon noticing Boccacini's small food truck from afar, as I immediately sensed the wonderful opportunity to make childish, testicle-related jokes in my article. This feeling just intensified when we read the menu and learned that you can even order a Bald Sausage to go with your Vegan Balls. By the way, the Mad Magazine-style humour must not be a coincidence, Boccacini is located right next to the Magic Mirror tent. It's a pity that what they are selling is not that funny: the little things hastily fried in breadcrumbs never managed to avoid looking a bit like something went awfully wrong with them, whether they were balls or sausages. By the way, the menu is confusing right off the bat: there are two kinds of Vegan Balls and six versions of Bald Sausages, with two kinds of sides (quinoa or bacon-flavoured chips) with four different sauces (salsa, ayvar, beetroot and raspberry, apple), which, for the food truck's staff, makes completing orders not unlike solving a Rubik's cube. This was not an issue at the early hours of the first day, but I'd like to see them pull this off when the neighbouring Magic Mirror's crowd descends upon them after a program finished. Also, I'd like to hear what that crowd has to say when they realise that the food resembles sub-par dumplings, soaked croquettes, and leftover breadcrumbs stuck to a plate. With beetroot sauce.
Hungarian sausages in a hot-dog bun, the so-called HunDogs were an unavoidable food staple at Sziget a couple of years back, but it was hard to see another, similarly omnipresent trend this year at first glance. Goulash served in a loaf of bread is still a hit with tourists, however, we saw a suspicious amount of giant crepes everywhere, so we had to investigate. We were particularly interested in the savoury ones. This all seemed like a good idea until we saw how they made one. The process started with a paint bucket filled with batter, from where a spoonful of the stuff was poured onto a large pan. After it started to take the shape of a crepe, they proceeded to slap sour cream on top of it, along with dices of the kind of processed deli meat you avoid even at the very far end of your paycheck, and they topped it off with grated cheese of similar qualities. With the ingredients in place, they folded the crepe up on the sides, and handed this whole construct fashioned after the trunk of a flu-ridden elephant over to us for a mere 2400 Forints (for comparison: a slice of pizza is 900-1100, a gyros in a pita is around 1800-2200, a box of asian noodles is 2500 Forints).
It was a terrible experience, the crepe itself was an oily mess, and its contents were an ill fit to it. Eating giant crepes is a menace, and it almost ruined our test.
The BBQ section
But luckily we stumbled upon this. The area that might be called BBQ and Vega Stage (there is no distinctive signage, but this is what it said on the side of one of the restaurants) can be found somewhere around the Main Stage by the road on the west. This is where most of the acceptable meat-centric food places are concentrated: There is a Zing (hamburgers), a Nemo (fish and chips), Digó (pizza), the BBQ Smokehouse, and by far our favourite, +52.
+52 is an events centre in a small town west of Budapest, Etyek, run by, amongst others, the former staff of a BBQ restaurant. Finding them after our previous gastro-experiences was like an hour-long, free wellness treatment. There is a limited menu with two choices (wrap or plate) which you can have with any of the five kinds of meat they offer, and they also sell a dessert. We asked for a duck plate, which meant an astoundingly nice duck sandwich escorted by some salad with dressing sauce and a few nachos, all for 3500 Forints. Yes, that much, but I'd invite everyone to recall the 2400 Ft giant crepe from before. The duck plate is marvellous, delicious, and the food really looks like something assembled by a restaurant's experienced crew instead of some guy that chucks proteins into a microwave or a frying pan while scrolling down Instagram the whole time with a bit of ennui on his face. Their poppy-seed noodle with custard (1800 Ft) fares at least as good as a dessert as the main course did in its own category, it's a respectable noodle with soft, fluffy, perfect custard.
This place operates at gourmet festival standards, I don't know how they will handle the challenge of the large crowd later on, but at the time we were there, there weren't that many people in line for the 3500 Forint plates, though there could as well have been. And if there would be when you're there, you still have the entire BBQ court to you where you can even buy a brisket sandwich in one of the hidden corners for 3200 Forints. Please, do not eat crap once you have already made your way to Sziget.
MAMA EARTH EATERY
The antithesis to the BBQ court described above is Mama Earth Eatery, which is not a single restaurant as the name would suggest, but another bloc of smaller stalls, but with sustainability, composting, and meat-free eating in focus. With that said, there is a rotisserie chicken place right in the middle of the area, and the longest queue is alway at the by-the-bucket cocktail bar. But still, this is where you can get a taste of Vegan Love's famous 'Beyond Meat' burgers (for the overhyped price of 4500 Forints, the other burgers are 3000 each), this is where Almapoint juice bar found a place (half a litre of a fruit and/or veggie juice is around 1800 Forints), and Victor's Taco is at the end of this bloc where you can buy two tacos made with seitan accompanied by a handful of nachos for 2390. The Dutch youth sitting by our side were amazed by the wide array of Vegan food choices available, and we settled for the seitan tacos. The seitan was a bit like rubber, but at least it was made with quality flour, and there was a bit of pico de gallo on it as well. Victor's operates a meaty stall too somewhere, but unlucky as we are, we have never found it.
KANÁLGÉP (Spoon Machine)
Seeing those two blocs could lead one to believe that the festival wants to herd everything edible together in those two areas, and if something is sold elsewhere, it's not even worth trying. But right away, there are two great exceptions, the well-known Budapest burger chain Zing, and Kanálgép, who also flip decent burgers for when the line gets unbearable at Zing.
You can have your burger there with pineapple, blue cheese, and a lot of other things. We tried their Catalonian burger (2300 Ft) which has serrano ham and a sauce made with olives and raisins - this gave the entire burger an interestingly sweet and savoury, but really nice taste. The bun is your classic sweet kind, which, for some reason, was never my favourite, but that is my private matter. The point is, Kanálgép is a much better choice than any of the horror-stalls and their sun-dried, premade burgers.
A man has to eat, even in the VIP section, even in the VIP section of the VIP section, or in the special area separated from the VIP section of the VIP section exclusively for the VVVIP. Seeing as this area segregated for the elite expands year after year in terms of area and levels of VIP-ness, there is indeed a market to be found here. Filling that market is Digó (2600 Forints for a Margarita pizza) and Costes Downtown, but by the time we ate our way over to them, we were filled to the brim with hamburgers, so we had to pass upon theirs (3290 for the Costes Burger), instead, we went straight for their dessert called 'Peaches and Rock & Roll'. This is a dessert with mint leaves, pieces of meringue, peach jam, and peach cream, served in a paper cup.
If you're going for at least an entry-level VIP experience, this is the stuff to get: First of all, it is ridiculously delicious, a completely surprising, near-perfect dessert somewhere you would never expect it. People around us kept loudly ordering their Caesar-salads and hamburgers, the hot iron was ceaselessly sizzling, filling the VIP section with the smell of barbecue, but as we dipped our spoons into this thing, all of that became unnoticeable background noise. If you happen to be blessed enough to find yourself amongst the very people of entry-level importance, do not leave without trying it.
This article is a slightly edited translation of the original published in Hungarian by Index.
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