Budapest, Hungary: a City Tasting Tour
Budapest is wasting no time establishing itself as one of Europe’s major food cities. The place is booming with eclectic markets, vibrant street food, ruin pubs, craft beer bars and a healthy independent restaurant scene offering everything from Michelin star fare to traditional Hungarian comfort food. It all goes to show, when it comes to food in Budapest, anything is possible.
Here are some recommendations to enjoy the best places to eat in Budapest, with some experiences you can enjoy to discover the local gastronomy.
Central Market Hall Budapest
Budapest’s markets are its cathedrals to gastronomy, and few are more awe-inspiring than the Great Central Market Hall. Hordes of tourists gather under its impressive vaulted roof to buy everything from Hungarian kolbasz sausages to packets of paprika and tins of foie gras.
Downtown Market at Hold Utca
But there are other fascinating markets to trawl through, such as the Downtown Market at Hold Utca, whose stalls offer a mix of fresh, locally farmed produce and delicious bistro food. This is where Bocuse d’Or Europe gold medal winner Tamás Széll set up on his own earlier this year after quitting Michelin-starred Onyx. Stand 25 serves fixed menus of Hungarian classics with an air of confident sophistication. Elsewhere there are bistros offering everything from Russian stuffed cabbage to Vietnamese Pho. On the upper gallery, Buja Disznó(k) – which translates as ‘Lewd Pig(s)’ – are nose-to-tail pork specialists that make a wiener schnitzel (bécsi szelet) fit for a Magyar monarch.
It could be said Lehel Market is a no-frills experience, but that would downplay the colourful array of fine produce available in this bustling locals’ market right outside the Lehel tér Metro station on Line 3. Among the fruit & veg and butcher’s shops, honey sellers and pickle stalls, you’ll find tiny bars serving Hungarian beer shots of pálinka fruit brandy. Grab a lángos doused in jam to soak up the spirits.
Did we mention lángos? If a naan bread and a doughnut had a baby, they’d call it lángos - a disk of deep-fried dough that’s either sweet or savoury, and makes for the perfect Hungarian street food. At Karavan, a super-cool street food enclave and beer garden in the Jewish Quarter, something of a sensation has been created by the lángos burger at Lángos Mashogy. It might not be healthy, but the succulent beef patty smothered in melted cheese, resting between two crispy warm pillows of lángos bread, is comfort food worth standing up in a crowded courtyard for. Also look out for Rocket Ice nitrogen ice cream by Zing, soup in a bread bowl at Nyakleves, pizza and pasta at Vespa, and a strange cornucopia of sausages in a bread cone at Kobe.
Frölich Pastry Shop
Turn left out of Karavan to explore District VII, and Budapest’s historic Jewish Quarter. Jews have been in Hungary since the 13th century, and their culinary traditions are still strongly represented in Budapest today. Frölich Pastry Shop offers challah bread and superb flodni or apple walnut and poppy seed pastries.
For something a little more modern, Mazel Tov is a ruin-pub-cum-restaurant specialising in Israeli-style food, so expect plenty of shawarma, shakshuka and lashings of creamy hummus.
The corrugated steel walls of Gettó Gulyás are made all the more welcoming by a slew of Hungarian comfort food classics, from goulash to traditional porkolt stew with nokedli pasta. Combine your craving for traditional Ashkenazi cuisine and street food with a visit to Ricsi’s World where you can nibble on a knish or sweet barátfüle (friend’s ear).
The best way to end a day’s eating in Budapest is in a bar. Ruin pubs are reclaimed industrial or residential buildings that have been saved from the wrecking ball and transformed into edgy and idiosyncratic drinking and eating dens. Szimpla Kert may resemble a junk shop, but it’s Budapest’s most famous ruin bar, offering local beer and wine as well as a handy range of snacks and sandwiches. Look out for the farmer’s market here on Sundays.
Krimo has a basement brewery and a fine range of craft brews, while Jonas Craft Beer House on the banks of the Danube is a stark glass and steel construction whose eight draft beers and huge range of bottles will hit the required spot.
But if a quiet glass of wine is more your thing, you can taste some excellent volcanic wines at Bortarsasag, owned by Hungarian wine pioneer Attila Talos, or at Drop Shop for some Hungarian Furmint from Tokaj, or an Egri Bikaver (a kekfrankos dry red wine blend, also known as Bull’s Blood) from the Eger region.