Hungary: Budavári Libamájfesztivál (Goose Liver Festival in Buda Castle)
As I visited Budapest I saw widespread advertisements for a Goose Liver Festival. Huh? Are they serious?
But I admit it. I’m a secret liver lover. I do enjoy a good chicken liver spread or fried liver – be it chicken or beef. And I do know that goose liver is a delicacy almost as expensive as caviar. Furthermore goose liver is a signature Hungarian delicacy. So I really wanted to check out this Goose Liver Festival they were advertising.
The festival was scheduled for Saturday. It was to be a full day. I had planned a personal family engagement for the morning, the liver festival for the afternoon, and the Franklin Graham Festival of Hope for the evening.
The day started out on schedule but the schedule quickly fell apart. The family engagement included a traditional trip to the cemetery to honor dead relatives. We finished that on time. Upon returning to “home base” our hostess invited us in. It was an offer one can’t refuse without grave insult. Out came the home-made Hungarian pastries and cookies.
“It’s good. It’s made with…”
Leaving quickly at this point is impossible and would be huge personal insult, given the effort made in advance to prepare the spread. There was nothing to do but enjoy the food and the company. Two hours later, after several failed attempts to depart, it was finally time to head off – but not yet to the Goose Liver Festival.
First I had to locate the Budapest Sports Arena and decide how I’ll get there by 6:30 pm for the Festival of Hope. I didn’t want to get lost on the way and miss the event! Will it be quicker to drive a car or take public transport? How about parking? How long should I allow? Which trains, trolleys, and buses should I use? The questions piled up and I had to return to the hotel to answer them.
I had always used the public transport system in Budapest – it’s excellent – but there was most likely insufficient time to attend the Goose Liver Festival in Buda and then travel to the Festival of Hope on the other side of the city in Pest on time by public transport. Thus driving seemed much more sensible. After all, the Sports Arena is located at the intersection of two major arteries; it should be virtually impossible to miss such a huge facility; surely easy parking is provided; and I understand the basic layout of the city.
I studied the maps carefully before heading out; unfortunately my map focused on the downtown heart of Budapest and the map’s legend obscured the Arena and its neighborhood. So I looked it up on Google maps and committed it to memory because there was no printer available. I also carefully wrote down the directions, and set out on my quest at about 3 pm. Time was short, but I figured I could drive by the Arena, then head over to Buda Castle just in time to sample the goose liver and still make it back to the Festival of Hope by 6:30 PM. The whole drive-by should add no more than 20 minutes to the adventure.
But all is not as it looks. Don’t even consider exploring Budapest by car without GPS! Don’t do it! And be sure to recruit a good navigator for the passenger seat. A map alone won’t help you; perhaps not even GPS:
The streets are well marked with plaques attached to corner buildings. The whole scheme was designed in the 19th century when pedestrians, horses, and buggies ruled the day. They even work quite well for the subway and trolley passenger, but they’re virtually useless for the driver of a moving car, especially a driver focused on trying to avoid other drivers and various unexpected obstacles in the narrow, constantly shifting, appearing, and disappearing lanes. Major intersections have signs with lane markers depicting which lanes are straight-through or turn, but typically include no street names. Furthermore, the traffic signs provide no indication that your particular lane is about to become a right or left-turn only lane. There are absolutely no clues provided in advance of approaching intersections to allow the driver to position oneself in the correct traffic lane. To top it all off, many streets are lined with beautiful, old trees; thus some street names are totally obscured by a tree strategically placed to provide aesthetic pedestrian shade right at the corner.
It all looks beautiful and elegant, but one never really knows when it’s time to make that critical turn until it’s too late. Inevitably I would drive through the intersection before I could read the street sign just after I had already missed my turn. This happened not just once, twice, three times, but more!
Usually a simple “U” turn is not possible to correct the situation because one way streets and other obstacles abound. Sometimes you can go around a few blocks; however quite possibly you’ll have to take a long, unguided, circuitous tour of the entire city to recover. It may be adventurous, but it certainly isn’t time efficient. In one case I ended up literally covering about ¼ of downtown Budapest in weekend traffic jams just trying to circumnavigate Ligetpark, a large amusement park. At least I chanced upon the world’s largest hourglass and some mind-bending architecture during this expedition. Hey it was an adventure – but not the Goose Liver Festival.
Finally, after innumerable false turns and false starts I found the Budapest Sports Arena where the Festival of Hope would be held. It was only about eight stops – about a 20 minute ride – on the very trolley line that went by my hotel! I had to spend nearly two hours just to find this out? I couldn’t have simply asked the front desk at the hotel? No, I could not. Men don’t ask.
By now it was 4:30 pm and decision time: The Goose Liver Festival or the Festival of Hope? Well, I could hope for goose liver… “The Festival of Hope it is then,” I said to myself.
I returned to the hotel to drop off the car and quickly eat. The restaurant was closed. It didn’t open until 6 pm. Man, what a disappointment! No way I could eat and get to the Festival of Hope by 6:30! Hope was quickly fading.
But I found the hotel’s “Söröző” – comparable to an American “beer pub” – open. And it served real food. A flicker of hope at last. I sat down, looked at the menu, and there it was: Goose liver special!
I ordered it, quickly started to eat, and then realized I’d be writing about this adventure. So I took a photograph after the first bite (sorry). [picture of meal] It was outstanding, almost beyond words.
I love liver, but this was not just liver. This was goose liver! The flavor was delicate with none of the bitter bite or sandy graininess of chicken liver or beef liver. The Hungarian paprika and seasonings brought out the flavor but didn’t overwhelm. The texture was so moist and tender you could cut it with your fork, and each bite literally dissolved in your mouth like cotton candy. Chicken liver is like eating sawdust patties compared to this. And calves liver? That’s like shoe leather in comparison! What a festival of flavor this was! Sheer delight…
God is so good! He let me enjoy my own personal Goose Liver Festival without missing His Festival of Hope. Thank you, Lord!
For dessert there was the bumble bee ice cream, but regrettably they couldn’t serve me any because they were out of bee wings… I guess you’ll just have to go to the Danubius Grand Hotel on Margaret Island in Budapest and experience that for yourself.
 Danubius Grand Hotel on Margaret Island in Budapest (excellent!) – the oldest hotel in Budapest
 Don’t try to pronounce it unless you’re Hungarian