A chocolate museum next to the Parliament
Everybody loves chocolate – but not many of us know how that dark deliciousness became one of the most popular sweets in the world. Luckily, now we have the chance to not only learn about the process of chocolate making, but also the history behind a Hungarian chocolate manufacture while indulging in some sweet pleasures.
Just a few steps from the Parliament, Szamos Café has opened its doors a year ago on Kossuth Square with the Szamos Chocolate Museum on its first floor. I’ve had the chance to go on one of their fantastic chocolate tours and discover not only their exhibition about the history of chocolate but also the story of the Szamos Manufacture. After all, it’s one of Hungary’s most prominent chocolate factories, producing different kinds of sweets since 1935.
Szamos is still a family business, now headed by members of the third generation. The museum’s collections are the fruit of the 30-year-long researches of Gabriella Kelényi Szamos and her husband, Gyula Kelényi. Curated and organized by historian and museologist Anikó S. Nagy, the exhibition’s methodology and logic is very professional. At the beginning, you can learn about cocoa beans, the base of chocolate and, naturally, there is a tasting as well. They reminded me of dark chocolate with hazelnut, a very pleasant taste. We also learned that the easiest form to transport chocolate is in the form of pastilles.
The next room of the exhibition showcases a particularly dear topic of mine: the history of hot chocolate. Similarly to a number of other delicacies, we can be thankful to the French or, to be more exact, Louis XIV for the cult of hot chocolate. It was served to the rich and noble in his court and it quickly became a fashionable symbol of luxury. Special pots, glasses, cups and other instruments were developed for drinking hot chocolate. As it became less of a luxury and more of a popular but still a special kind of hot drinks, even the Herend Porcelain Factory designed a set especially for hot choc. Using different kinds of spices, flavored versions were also popular from the beginnings. After tasting the real deal – which was made even more delicious with dunking marzipan in it –, I have to say that the products of popular coffee shops are basically just sugary brown milk compared to it.
Following this heavenly experience, there’s a short film about the production of chocolate with a lot of interesting information. For example: did you know that cocoa plants are often pollinated by hand? The next unit is about selling and marketing chocolate where we learned that it was the first product ever that was actually widely advertised and special marketing techniques were used as well. A significant part of this was creating those beautiful tin and cardboard boxes that were not only decorative but could be used to store things after they emptied as well.
It was a surprising fact – for me, at least – that there were 33 working chocolate factories in the beginning of the 20th century in Hungary and that the beer factory Dreher also produced chocolate back then. Hungarian chocolate manufacturers were definitely among the pioneers of the industry, developing a number of new methods and processes later used worldwide. Besides showcasing all this knowledge, the exhibition also contains a sweet shop filled with artifacts from the first half of the 20th century. On the packages you can discover world-famous labels that are still on the market nowadays. Naturally, a bit of tasting is in order here as well, making the experience even more memorable.
The last part of the tour is a chocolate workshop similar to the one that founder Mátyás Szamos had worked in, full of old equipment – some of it still working – that he had actually used. It’s a mesmerizing experience made even more special by the opportunity to create your very own chocolate bar. After the tourguide has explained the different phases of preparation, visitors are able to decorate and take home a piece with them.
A perfect ending of the tour is to sit down for a piece of cake or, if you feel like you’ve already satisfied your sweet tooth, a delicious sandwich, all of them original Szamos creations. The 60-minute tour is an exciting travel through time, with the chance to learn a lot about chocolate as well as the success story of a Hungarian family manufacture. For me, a myth has become more tangible through it since the name ’Szamos’ means quality marzipan and confectionery for every Hungarian.
Together with a romantic stroll around downtown, the chocolate tour can be a great program for a date. As it’s quite popular and the number of visitors is limited, my only advice is not to forget booking it beforehand. Other than that, just enjoy your time and indulge in everything the Szamos Chocolate Museum can offer.
Author: Zoltán Bámli