Past and present of the beach food movement at Lake Balaton

All of us, Hungarians have experiences of the gastronomy at Lake Balaton: about the retro hamburgers, the Hungaricum ‘langosh’ (lángos) and the present beach food gastro-revolution too. The catering of Balaton beaches is so much a determinative segment of the Hungarian culture that even cult films were made about it: Zimmer Feri (by Péter Tímár) or Szezon (by Ferenc Török). In our exhibition we are going to review how an impoverished region became the most popular holiday location in nearly a hundred years and how we got from the langosh-frying huts to the culinary delights served on the coolest terraces of the country.

Sági János: Halsütés nyárson (1907) - Balatoni Múzeum, CC BY-NC-NDThe catering that was accessible to masses of people appeared only at the end of the 19th century in the coastal areas, but certain settlements of Balaton were popular already at the beginning of the 18th century. In this aspect, Balatonfüred is the earliest-discovered town, thus it deserves the name ‘capital of the northern coast’. Its carbonated springs were visited as of the first decades of the 1700s, but visitors had to stay in tents because of lacking accommodation. Soon, a bathing house was built and the catering services started to be installed. Later, in 1825 the Anna Ball was first organised in the town and became a tradition.

Poet Mihály Csokonai Vitéz visited the Amazon Hotel of Keszthely in 1798 – a memorial tablet commemorates it on the spot. Halászcsárda (Fishermen’s Inn) of Keszthely was also famous, mainly for its fish dish specialities. The first catering units also appeared in Badacsony: like the Hableány (Mermaid) and Neptun Hotels. The ‘Mermaid’ is a frequent name here (see the names of restaurants later), because a legend says that the master of an active volcano fell in love with a mermaid, he jumped into the water after her and the splashing extinguished the volcanic activity in the area. Another legendary place is the Kisfaludy House Garden Restaurant the former press-house of poet Sándor Kisfaludy. The hill was the location of lyric events: the poet saw his future wife Róza Szegedy here for the first time at a vine-harvest, he was inspired by the scenery of Badacsony and wrote about it in his works.

Sági János: Halászléfőzés a Balaton parton (1910) - Balatoni Múzeum, CC BY-NC-NDThe beginning of tourism around Balaton dates back to 1861, when the Southern Railway line started between Buda and Nagykanizsa, passing along the southern coast of the lake. The life around Balaton was restricted to Balatonfüred, Siófok, Balatonalmádi, Révfülöp, Keszthely and Badacsony and had very little catering infrastructure. Viniculture was decaying due to the vine-pest, the mass tourism has not started blooming yet and many people impoverished in
the countryside.

Siófok-Balatonfürdő Corporation was established in 1891. It boosted tourism and many hotels and restaurants expected their guests at the Hungarian sea by the turn of the century. The steam-boat transport was also launched in that decade, including the Siófok-Balatonfüred line, reaching to Badacsonytomaj and Balatonalmádi. The railway line of the northern coast was inaugurated in 1909. Bungalows and villas started propagating slowly around the lake.

Pecsenyesütő, borkóstoló (1965) - Bertha Bulcsú Művelődési Ház és Könyvtár, CC BY-NC-NDThe image of the holiday culture that still prevails developed in the 1960s, when more hotels were built: for example the SZOT (National Council of Trade Unions) holiday resorts of the Kádár era and the plan of the Zánka Pioneer Camp was born in 1962. The simple, cheap canteens, beach buffets and langosh-fryers were spreading around the Balaton during the 1960s and 1970s. That time it was the only opportunity for unprofessional catering. In the 1970s, German tourists discovered Lake Balaton, and the two-decade long period of ‘Zimmer Frei’ show-boards began. A lot of entrepreneurs built on their demands.

Lake Balaton is still very popular, thus the week-end trains to the lake are always overcrowded. But regarding catering, the wind of change has arrived. From our childhood we can remember queuing at the beach buffet, smelling garlic and fried sausages, eating hamburger with mixed pickles made of frozen meat, sitting in our wet swimsuits and after that having some pancakes on pasteboards filled with cocoa powder and topped with thick layers of icing sugar. Nowadays, the beach food movement using local raw materials mainly and having an increasing part of the gastro-industry of Balaton has declared war against the uniform buffet culture.

Halételek a német konyhában (1960-as évek) - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

One of the path-breakers is KisHableány (Little Mermaid) Terrace in Badacsony that was opened in 2015. It offers ‘basalt’ burgers with 200 grams of beef and basalt salt among others. The typical building was the home of Hableány (Mermaid) Restaurant since 1964. Last year they won the title ‘the best beach-food of the year’. In 2015, when the prize was founded, the Kalóz Strandbisztró (Pirate Beach Bistro) of Fövenyes won it with a Hungarian version ‘fish and chips’ called Harcsa & Krumpli (Catfish & Chips). Making Hungarian versions of foods is rather wide-spread: for example you can taste a ‘waterdog’ made of catfish sausage instead of hotdog at KisHableány or at Paletta (Palette) in Balatonboglár. All of that are of course under the aegis of using local raw materials and the products of primary agricultural producers from surrounding areas. We can also mention the ‘Neked főztem’ (Cooked for you) of Zánka, and the Kistücsök Restaurant (Little Cricket) of Balatonszemes, which has a huge number of fans. There are so many cool places around Balaton that in case of travelling there you had better search for the special gastronomic spots of a certain region before approaching your destination.


Translated by Zita Aknai

Sources:,, KisHableány


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