Tenkeš charda (Tenkes csárda) is located some 15 kilometers north of the former, pre-Schengen border crossing Donji Miholjac, and also some 15 kilometers south of the beginning of the largest city of Baranja and the seat of the Hungarian Baranja county (Baranya vármegye) - Pechua. About twenty kilometers east of Tenkeš čarda is the wine capital of the Hungarian part of Baranja - Electricity, and some twenty kilometers to the southwest, in the microregion Ormanism there is the town of Szaporca and the Upper Drava Visitor Center (Ős-Dráva Látogatóközpont). Ormánság is very important to the story of Tenkeš čarda, because although it is not located in this specific ethnographic region (but it is located at its door), it inherits a lot of its gastronomic heritage.
Our interlocutors in Tenkeš čarda were Kornélia Koczka, a graphic designer and ceramic artist whose work greatly contributed to the visual identity of the čarda (for example, the design of the Tenkeš tea cardboard box is her work) and the owner himself Gábor Kovacs who joined us a little later.
It should be noted that the guests of Tenkeš čarda dine on plates made of Zsolnay ceramics, and Zsolnay ceramics and porcelain is the most famous Baranja brand globally. It all started in the summer of last year when the owner of the Zsolnay manufactory Bachar Najari visited Tenkeš čarda and saw Kornelia's works there. Cooperation was soon agreed and the new "Tenkeš line" of the famous zsolnay tableware was launched.
The čarda got its name from the nearby Tenkeš hill, and its original name was Kövesi csarda by the nearby quarry, which has been exhausted and abandoned over time. Čarda started its work in 1889 as an inn that provides refreshment to travelers. At that time, the distance from one chard to another was so great that a horse (then the main means of transport) could cross it in one day. Back then, čardas functioned as rest stops for travelers.
The next chard under the name of Marica was located in Szalánta. In the conversation, Kornélia reveals the interesting information that the first owner owned both of these chards, and that the Marica chard will soon be reopened by Gábor Kovacs after a long break, and that these two chards will once again have the same owner as in the 19th century. Later, we learned from the owner himself that there are plans to open a restaurant in Slovakia.
With the advent of socialism, the Tenkeš čarda was also supported, and about fifty years ago, as a manager of state property, he took over the management of the čarda Iles Janos, and while he was guiding her, she only worked during the summer. In 2000, Tenkeš čarda was bought by the current owner, who thoroughly renovated and expanded it. Every day on his way to work, Gábor passed by the Tenkeš čarda and watched helplessly as one such building fell into disrepair. He had the idea of how it should be preserved, maintained, saved and improved, and so he decided to buy a farm and started investing. That year is also the only year in the history of the farm when it did not work, because it was in a really bad state when it was taken over.
With the beginning of the new millennium, a new life was breathed into čardi, and since then it has been constantly enriching its offer while steadfastly preserving its originality and tradition. The entire renovation project is the work of Gábor Kovacs, he did everything on his own initiative, without the support of a conservation institute and without the advice of interior design experts. And he completely succeeded! Everything is harmonious and harmonious, there are no details that stand out and cause pseudo vintage impressions, as in some other restaurants that have (also) historicist ambitions, and which are ultimately buried by the arrangement of different memorabilia in one place that have little (or even worse, nothing) in common. We learn that Gábor owns more two garages full of memorabilia that did not fit in the yard.
The wall panels are also decorated with portraits of actors from the television series Captain Tenkeš (Tenkes kapitánya), which was filmed in 1963, and evokes the events of the beginning of the 18th century, when during the Rakošija rebellion, local guerrillas called Kurucs fought against the politics of the Viennese court. Inserts from the series can also be viewed on the screen set up in the garden.
Their menu consists of two thematic units, and one of them is dedicated to the gastronomic heritage of Ormánság, at the door of which Tenkeš čarda is located. When talking about the traditional cuisine of Ormánság, we should mention goose liver dishes such as "Village goose liver in the style of chard Tenkeš". It is a delicacy that was on offer at the chard before it was taken over by Gábor, and for which numerous gastronomic tourists traveled tens and hundreds of kilometers just to taste it.
This delicacy has been offered by chard for forty years and has a mark of authenticity "Hungaricum" which signifies a national treasure. They proudly emphasize that the original peasant goose liver can only be tasted in Tenkeš čarda. This region is also characterized by the fact that even the poorest peasants raised geese. Goose fat was valued, especially goose liver, and for Martinje goose was on everyone's table.
We started the tasting with goose liver pâté with garlic jam and goose liver terrine with red onion marmalade, which went well with homemade cornbread, and ended with a delicious crispy Gundel pancakes containing 80% chocolate and boiled walnut cream. In between, there was a whole series of delicacies such as homemade soup with gigantic semolina, boiled meat, bean stew, then there were various delicacies with asparagus, perkelt, etc., etc.
They are baking own corn bread. Tenkeš čarda was the first restaurant that offered its own bread. They also have red onion jam that is served in the restaurant and can be bought as a souvenir. Gabor was the first to start producing such jam, and in the meantime others copied it.
- He imposes trends, is an innovator and the engine of the gastronomic offer of the entire region, emphasizes Kornélia and adds: what is very important is that Gábor does not work on constantly training the staff. The staff has been the same for years and the food has been the same for years, only the story is further improved, upgraded... Tenkeš čarda is not a restaurant that you are looking for, it is a restaurant that you found. - Continuity of the offer is based on traditional food that only gets better. The waiter is the trademark of the restaurant. Everything that fits on the table is local. Tenkeš čarda has its own food production, and what is missing is bought from local farmers.
In addition to tea, jam and bread, they also make their own homemade juice, elderberry and raspberry syrup, beeswax candles, etc. The wine is exclusively from the Šikloško - Vilaj region, and they also have 17-year-old brandy. In addition to the excellent gastronomic offer, they also offer accommodation services and an integrated package in which guests visit the swimming pool and the castle in neighboring Siklos.
As Kornélia tells us, Gábor was often asked what was the secret of his success?
- Every time he enters his chard, he enters not as a boss, but as a guest. He always observes the situation and thinks if everything is as it should be or if there is still room for improvement somewhere; this includes the ambience and serving and everything else related to catering business, and the point of everything is that every guest must feel comfortable and welcome, Kornélia points out, taking out an album with old photos showing the current owner of the chard in the physical works that preceded the restoration of the building.
With its work so far, Tenkeš čarda has deservedly deserved many awards. In 2022, Gábor Kovacs was named restaurateur of the year at the state level. In 2019, they received a national award Rosemary for the decoration of the building and exterior, and in 2020 Gábor was declared a knight or a hussar.
Gábor also emphasizes the need to strengthen national gastronomy.
- Currently, foreign, imported gastronomy is predominant in Hungary. I believe that national gastronomy must be dominant in every country, and not the other way around. I love all traditional national cuisines, including Asian ones, but I believe that as a restaurateur in Hungary, I must primarily offer Hungarian cuisine to my guests. Similarly, if I, for example, go to Croatia as a tourist, I want to taste Croatian cuisine, not, for example, Italian cuisine.
Although from the perspective of Croatia, which is at the same time a Central European, Balkan and Mediterranean country, and from that logically arise the great differences between the traditional gastronomy of individual regions, Hungary seems rather monolithic and uniform, Gábor emphasizes that there are also great differences.
- For example, let's just start with food processing. When it is slaughtered in our country, the pork is raised on a gallows before processing, while in the northern parts of Hungary, for example, it is processed on the ground. I won't even speak anymore. In the Hungarian part of Baranja, just like in the Croatian part, many ethnic groups live and have always lived, and the local Hungarians have received something from each of them. For example, we adopted a special form of sausage from the Germans, which is called Stifolder.
In this story about Tenkeš čarda, something should also be said about the cross-border EU project Tourex where the partners were Tenkeš čarda from Hungary and a restaurant Međimurje mansions from Lopatinec on the Croatian side. As Gábor himself emphasizes, this project helped him to get to know Croatian gastronomy better, and the result of this project is the book "Cookery according to the recipes of the Zrinskis" in which the delicacies offered by Tenkeš čarda and Međimurje dvor are presented. Incidentally, one of the first cookbooks in the Hungarian language is the work of the Zrinski family, also called Zrínyi in Hungarian, and Nikola Zrinski (Miklós Zrínyi) is both a Hungarian and a Croatian national hero.
Photo source: Mario Jukić