Eating like a local:
- Food + Wine Tour of Hungary's Main Metropolis
Regional food specialties
The wife and I recently ended up having a week to do something fun and it
just so happened to be our first anniversary. Before getting married I
made a pact to my wife that we would travel on our 1st, 5th, 10th, and
20th anniversary's should we make it that far. Well we got to one! To
celebrate we decided to go to Europe on what was kind of a whim. After
plenty of research and then the crossing out of spots that cost too much
to get to we ended up doing Budapest paired with Amsterdam. Why Budapest? Why not! Aside from the fact the prices matched up I had heard from more than a few people it was a place worth checking out. After doing so you can add me to it's chorus of fans.
Sights from Budapest
Budapest is one of those cities that mixes old and new. It's a beautiful city to walk and it's a great city to see at night. There's all sorts of old buildings and some nice parks but also plenty of bars and restaurants and lots of shopping and all that other stuff. Of course the food is what drew me in. After plenty of research it seemed like late Fall and early Winter was the perfect time to go. The food after all is by no means light. I found myself unable to push fwd at times due to the hearty meals we ate. Because we only had three days I didn't get to do nearly as much as I wanted to do but still felt like I got to experience a good chunk of the culinary offerings that Budapest has to offer. But it was filling.
More Sights from Budapest
This gourmet sausage stand was right around the corner from our AirBNB so we headed over after checking in. It's a small space with just one large table and some counter space to stand and eat. So you can go so far as to say it's basically street food. Lots of good looking sausages on the menu here including a wild goose that we unfortunately never made it back for. Too bad bc the Wild Boar we had was wonderful. The sausage itself packed as much flavor as any tubed meat I can remember. The combo of toppings seemed interesting when reading them but they worked great. Must stop.
Wild Boar Sausage (black onion seed, wakame salad, chinkiang sauce, spirulina spong) at Töltő
It didn't take long to start loving the food scene in Budapest as our second stop also qualifies as "must stop". Bors was rec'd by my brother in-law as well as what seemed to be pretty much everyone that's eaten there. The online reviews are nothing but raves and rightfully so. These guys are making stuffed sandwiches that are then pressed until everything inside is hot and melted. They also make some really creative soups and would also qualify as street food as there's nowhere to eat inside. They make a handful of these torpedo like sandwiches and I fully endorse the option with mangalitsa bacon, red onions, and cheese. The soups weren't in English but the owner was super nice in explaining them. We tried a pumpkin with toasted seeds that was wonderful. So good we went twice.
Sandwich at Bors Gasztrobar
I found this tiny two floor eatery while browsing around endlessly. Both the reviews and the pics as well as the menu made me make a reservation. Seemed like the perfect little spot for our first night.
Trio of Appetizers at M. Restaurant
It might not have been perfect but it was still enjoyable. The feel of the place leans towards French bistro but there's plenty of Hungarian flavors on the menu. So basically it's a Hungarian bistro. For starters
we had a well seasoned pork curry soup that really hit the spot on what
was a cool fall night. It was my goal to get as much foie gras as I could since Hungary is said to have the worlds best while being the number two producer of it in the world. The waiter said their foie gras creme caramel was one of their most popular dishes so we got that as well. It was pretty damn good but it was a terrine and I was hoping for the good stuff grilled whole. Lastly was a Hungarian Charcuterie platter featuring different stuff from around the country. There was horse included but it tasted similar to pig.
Pork Belly with Grilled Quince and Pearl Barley
Our entrees were probably the weak link of this meal. I wanted to love them but they both had flaws. The pork belly more so than the beef cheek goulash. The pork was just too tough in some places and thus not really edible. The beef cheek itself in the stew was cooked until extra tender and it itself tasted great but the broth was just too weak. No explosions of flavor which was a letdown.
Beef Cheek Goulash Stew
Located in the middle of the Jewish Quarter (where most of the nighttime stuff is) is a permanent (food) trailer park. I'd say there were about 8-10 carts total with most of them being new school. I was very tempted by a burger place using the local food langos as buns but I passed on that for another iconic Budapest bite. The Chimney Cake is extra popular during Christmas time but this stand at the front entrance is popular all the time. Chimney cake is made wrapping sweet dough on a wooden stick and cooking it over embers. When cooked they're rolled in sugar and other stuff like cinnamon. This guy had a line and seemed to be the favorite of many Budapest residents. It was so good.
Chimney Cake Stand at Karavan
One of the main attractions for Budapest's younger crowds both tourists and locals are the ruin pubs. They sound older than they are as this spot called Szimpla Kert was the one to start the trend not so long ago. The ruin name comes from the fact that these bars take over spots that were previously empty for an extended period of time. Szimpla Kert is a huge space with multiple bars both inside and outside with all sorts of random things throughout the place. It's pretty awesome actually. We went to some other ruin bars but none were as vibrant as this place. Budapest has legit nightlife.
a peek inside Szimpla Kert
Budapest is actually two cities within one. Pest is where most of the action happens. Across the river in Buda it's a bit more quiet which is probably the result of it being a bit more green. Some of the city's main attractions are on the Buda side which overlooks all of Pest. After some sightseeing Zona down on the bottom along the river is a good place to unwind. It's a beautiful well designed space with lots of light which is what I like. They do a wonderful lunch special that can be 2 or 3 courses for the ridiculous price of like $12 usd. It includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert if you want it.
Smoked Fish Salad at Zona
I'm bad at remembering to take pics of the menu which in turn makes me bad at remembering exactly what the dishes were described as. Nonetheless I can always remember whether or not I enjoyed the food and I most certainly did so here. The salad was actually the highlight as it was balanced just right. The duck breast was no slouch either. I just dont find myself to be the biggest fan of duck.
Duck Breast at Zona
Buja Disznók aka Lush Pig(s)
Budapest is hip so of course they have a food hall and of course there's some popular stalls in it. The Modern Market Hall also has a farmers market and plenty of butcher shops so many of the stalls gather their ingredients from neighbors. This place which in English is called 'Lush Pigs' was high on my list. They basically do one thing and that's fried pork cutlet aka Wiener Schnitzel. They serve massive slices that are cooked in a fryer about the size of a city garbage can. They come served with creamy/chunky potato salad and also a fried bone to gnaw on. Rarely will you find the food at places that specialize in one thing to be lacking in flavor. This was no exception. I found myself saying I was done more than a few times but I just kept going back. This was simple but perfect. Highly rec'd.
Wiener Schnitzel at Buja Disznók aka Lush Pig(s)
The New York Cafe
The New York Cafe is one of Budapest's most popular sights. It's also a
restaurant though most people go there for drinks and most people have
coffee. At the turn of the 20th century the New
York Cafe was the most beautiful and the most beloved coffee house in
Budapest. It was a popular spot for the city's writers which were once
prevalent. After World War II it fell into disrepair and it served as a
sporting goods shop. It then reopened in 1954 but it wasn't until 2006
that the New York Café was restored to its original splendor. Folks like
Anthony Bourdain have made it a popular stop for tourists. It's a beautiful space but expect New York prices with lots of tourists by your side.
a peek inside
Kerkyra Gyros Greek Food Bar
Just like every other city in Europe you can find doner on pretty much every corner in Budapest. But unlike most other cities you'll also find lots of gyro spots in Budapest. I'm not talking about places using cones of meat made in a factory. I'm referring to Greek owned spots where they're stacking fresh meat on a spit each morning. I made sure to check one out. This spot called Kerkyra Gyros had near perfect reviews and was only a 10 minute walk from where we stayed. They use chicken meat (breast and thigh) and I have to say this was the best spit roasted chicken I've ever come across. I can say with certainty if I lived in Budapest I'd be here pretty often. Makes me want to go to Greece.
Gyros Dinner at Kerkyra Gyros Greek Food Bar
One of the main reasons we chose Budapest was due to the glowing rec it received from my sister and brother in-law. I must admit I had never really thought of it before and that was bc I was pretty unfamiliar with the food. But it's fantastic and that stretches from the street food to the Michelin starred dining. They had highly rec'd this one star spot which they said was so good they wanted to go back the following night. We made a reservation and arrived to some wonderful wines.
Crispy Duck Liver and Terrine with Poppy Seed and Basil Flavored Apple
We were more tempted by the ala carte items than the set menu so we decided to order a few of the things on it that looked good. For starters it was a no brainer. Foie Gras was worth a second plate. The grilled part was as smooth a piece as you'll ever eat. With big liver flavor. Hard to top that and while a well presented monkfish dish didn't do so it was still worth the stomach space.
Monkfish with Pinenut, Parsnip Ragout in Buttermilk Sauce
Our entrees were also wonderful but I couldn't convince her to skip the fish and go for the rabbit. She liked her plate of perch but I thought the rabbit sounded much better though I wanted the wild boar.
Fresh Fish with Lentil Salad and Tarragon Spiced Cabbage Sauce
My plate of wild boar was pretty much flawless. The meat was perfect. I wish we had regular access to that over here. It ate more like steak but had that flavor that only wild boar can give off. Service here came with a smile and plenty of knowledge but like most places in Europe you can expect to be there for a bit. One thing America has on all others when it come to the service industry is great service itself. Even at the Michelin Starred spots in Europe you tend to find yourself waiting.
Boar Tenderloin with Quince Cream and Mushroom
Stand 25 Bistro
This place is in the aforementioned Modern Market Hall. It was one of the must stop spots on my list. I made sure to make lunch reservations before our trip got started. The chef behind this place is one of Hungary's most well respected cooks. He's represented Hungary in the Bocuse d'Or competition on more than one occasion. Stand 25 features the flavors of Hungary using classic recipes with top notch ingredients obtained at the market the restaurant is in. You can get a two or three course meal.
Mangalica Liver Pate and Baked Pork Belly (Her)
Goulash Soup (Him)
For starters she went with a charcuterie plate made using the prized local Mangalica Pig for both pate and smoked pork belly. Hungary has some of the best butchers in the world and this plate was a great example of why. My goulash soup was everything I wanted in this dish which I was extra excited for upon our arrival. I'll be making goulash this winter and will try to replicate what I ate.
Layered Potatoes with Cheese and Sausages (Her)
For our main courses she had the signature layered potatoes with cheese and sausage and I had a classic Hungarian dish called Bereg Chicken Stew with Dumplings. Both were classic comfort food dishes. The type of food that's so much better when the weather is a bit nippy outside. Great place.
Bereg Chicken Stew with Dumplings (Him)
Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall is
Budapest's biggest and most well known market. You can find all sorts of
perishable goods on the first floor and lots of hand crafted clothes
etc on the second floor. We took a quick stroll through the place and
saw lots of paprika for sale. These places are always much cooler when
you live near one and have access to it for grocery shopping. Worth a
tour though. Hell if you have an AirBNB you can even put some of the
wonderful meats available to use in your kitchen.
a peek inside
On our final night I was letdown when a spot high on my hit list was closed for remodeling. Halkakas screamed my name with it's concept. Hungary is a land locked country but that doesn't mean there isn't any fresh fish. It just comes from the lakes and rivers. Halkakas specializes in those fish and I really wanted to try their catfish gyros but it wasn't meant to be. Hopefully there's a next time.
No Catfish Gyros :(
When we found out Halkakas was closed we rolled over to the spot we planned to visit afterwards. I read about Cafe Intenzo on TripAdvisor which made me weary of the place but it was rec'd by a local guide and we were near and hungry for foie gras so why not. This place is located in the heart of downtown so maybe it's for tourists, or locals who work in the area, I dont know. But when is grilled foie gras not good? The answer would be never. This was exactly what we wanted. They were generous with the meat and the creamy potatoes underneath were also enjoyed. I loved this dish
Grilled Goose Liver at Cafe Intenzo
On our final night I wanted to make sure I tried the famous street food called Langos. It's fried bread and the most popular way of eating it is with sour cream and cheese. I went to this place which is one of the city's most popular stalls for it. I dont know if it's the best as what I got was already made but I will say I liked it more then I thought I would. It was a grease bomb no doubt but it was great drinking food and reminded me alot of the Native American frybread tacos you see out West. Just You can get your langos with all sorts of toppings inlc. meat. It's worth trying one after a few brews.
Langos at Tomi Langos
Of course we did some good drinking as well. We went to quite a few
spots in fact. For cocktails we checked out Boutiq Bar which holds a
place on the World's 50 Cocktail Bars List. I liked it a bit more than her
and that's ok sometimes stuff like that happens. Service was fantastic
and the tiki like rum drink I got hit the spot. But truth be told it's hard to top our local cocktail bars in Chicago.
doblo Wine Bar
We went to quite a few wine bars on this trip as Hungary is known for
having some great wines. They didn't let us down. We are by no means
wine experts but after trips to France and South Africa we've developed a
real liking for it. So I heard the best Hungarian wines don't make it
out of Hungary and that's too bad bc some of the bottles we had during
our stay were fantastic. I need to do a better job of classifying them
so that I can know for future reference. Maybe I'll download that tasting app.
For a fantastic atmosphere check out the bar/restaurant at the Four Seasons called KOLLAZS. Drinks are closer to American prices but the hotel is in one of the city's most historic buildings and the bar at KOLLAZS Brasserie is beautiful. The wines were wonderful too. All in all Budapest was a great place to visit and I'm happy we took the opportunity to do so. I would rec it to anyone that likes beautiful cities with live atmospheres and of course good food and drink, for cheap! I hope to return.
See ya next time!
Notes: For the addresses
to all these spots plus many others we didn't make it to please see my
google maps guide by clicking HERE.