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BUDAPEST (Reuters) - It isn't to everyone's taste, and animal rights activists wish the custom would vanish entirely, but anyone who ever fancied eating foie gras - fattened goose liver - would have done well to be in the Hungarian capital this past month.
November is when Hungary - and many other countries in Europe - celebrate the feast day of Saint Martin who, the story goes, hid in a goose pen to avoid being ordained bishop but was betrayed by the honking of the geese.
The feast day is Nov. 11. and in the not so distant past, Budapest restaurants would mark the occasion for a few days by serving goose specialties in a country that is one of the major European producers of fattened goose liver and other goose products.
But tourism is big business in Hungary, and with an abundance of geese available at a time of the year when they are ready for slaughter, many restaurants now celebrate "Saint Martin's Day" for almost the entire month - and diners don't seem to get at all tired of it.
This month, for example, it was possible to sample fresh fried goose cracklings - made from the fatty skin of the goose - at Budapest's relatively new Noir et L'or restaurant (17 Kiraly Street), which despite its French name has a mostly Hungarian menu. Goose cracklings are standard fare in Hungary, but those at Noir et L'or are fresh cooked, which makes them particularly delectable.
Not far away, near the National Museum, the Museum Cafe and Restaurant (12 Muzeum korut), a longstanding temple of Hungarian gastronomy, was serving up its refined takes on some of the staples of the Hungarian goose menu.
These included fattened goose liver fried in breadcrumbs - which keeps the liver from drying out - and roast goose leg, perhaps the most common but also sometimes the least successful of Hungarian goose dishes. This one, served on a bed of prepared plums, had perfectly crisped skin and melt-in-your-mouth goose meat, the ideal combination. A Hilltop Vineyards sweet Harslevelu wine made the perfect mate.
Some prospective diners might, at this point, say, That's all very well but what about the poor goose? It was possible to attempt to get that answer at the hunter-themed restaurant Haxen Kiraly (100 Kiraly Street), which, for the edification of diners, had a live goose penned up in its lobby.
Honking from time to time to let everyone know it was still there and hadn't been spirited off to the kitchen, the goose served as a kind of avian major domo to the dining areas packed with happy people gorging on goose. The cuisine at Haxen falls between the swank of the Museum Cafe and the bistro style of Noir et L'or, but all its sampled goose dishes were top flight.
Here are some other things to do in Budapest, based on the inside knowledge of Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.
The Hungarian Museum of Fine Arts, located on Heroes Square at one end of spacious Andrassy Boulevard, is due to close next year for a multi-year refurbishing, but it is turning out the lights with a bang. The museum's swan-song "Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age" is a large-scale exhibition running until Feb. 15 that features more than 170 works by 100 painters, including some 20 by Rembrandt and three by Vermeer.
Franz Liszt was Hungarian, as were Bela Bartok, Zoltan Kodaly, Gyorgy Ligeti and, still with us, the octogenarian composer and performer Gyorgy Kurtag. So it should come as no surprise that Budapest has an incredibly varied musical culture.
At the Budapest Music Centre, recording studios and smaller-scale shows share space with top-notch jazz performers (www.bmc.hu). The Hungarian State Opera, in all its ornate, neo-Renaissance splendor, is a favorite with visitors (www.opera.hu) while the modern Palace of Arts (MUPA) has programs for every taste. At the end of this month British composer Michael Nyman, famed for film soundtracks including for Jane Campion's "The Piano", will present his "War Work," described as "a vast visual and musical fresco to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War" (Nov 28, www.mupa.hu).
Reporting by Michael Roddy; Editing by Leslie Adler