Type “Baja” into Google and you get the resort area of Mexico and not this ancient Hungarian city. Baja is approximately 140 Km south of Budapest, sitting at at the confluence of the Danube and one of its tributaries the Sugovica. The town has been settled since the Iron Age and has had town status for over 300 years. It was a major trading centre then manufacturing centre. It has been ruled over by the Turks, Austrians, Serbs and now Hungarians. Yet until a few months ago, I had never heard of it.
Baja holds an annual Halászlé (Fisherman’s Soup) Festival which is what drew us to town.
Fisherman’s soup is a bright red spicy paprika-based river fish soup. It is cooked in kettles on open fires by fishermen on the banks of the river. First, chopped onion is fried with oil until caramelised. Then, ground paprika is added and the kettle is filled with water. When the water comes to a boil, other spices including black pepper, white wine and tomato juice are added, and finally the fish (carp, catfish, perch or pike) chopped in large pieces. The soup is poured into the plates and eaten with bread.
In Baja, the main square (Szentháromság Tér) was turned into “fish soup central with fires, tables and chairs set up across the square.
In front of the a city’s town hall, a large stage was set up. Traditional and contemporary Hungarian music and dances were performed through the afternoon and evening. People arrived early and stayed through the night. There were some very, very drunk Hungarians wandering around.
The soup itself was delicious. Being a river fish, the fish itself had quite a strong earthy taste. I am not sure if we had a less spicy version but it did not bring tears to my eyes!