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At Retro Büfe kiosk, close to the Arany Janos Utca metro line, home ground of several clubs and bars, we stop for a langos – thick deep fried dough shaped like a pizza, smothered in garlic, sour cream and grated white cheese.
It’s not my first langos, but it certainly is memorable, standing in a growing queue of locals, patiently waiting for this famous Hungarian snack. We take large bites of the warm bread, while crossing the road. To my mind, it’s a meal for two, but here, it’s a snack for one. “You can imagine how amazing this tastes after a night out,” says Reka Cser-Palkovics of the Budapest Underguide. I certainly can.
A good orientation to the food scene in Budapest is to visit the grand covered Central Market, that’s been serving the city since 1879. Along with a visit to the thermal baths, Carolyn Bánfalvi, a Budapest-based food and wine writer tells me that a visit to the market, is top on her list.
“You know, at the height of summer, you’ll find Hungarians in bikinis at the beaches, standing in line for langos,” says Judit Szöllösi, a food guide with Taste of Hungary. On this particular morning, I start my day with a large market langos and a shot of Unicum, the herbal bitters produced with the addition of 40 herbs and spices. The bitters aids as a digestive, and is used as medication for a variety of ailments.
The market is a good place to try smoked cured meats, including horse, pork, beef and the famed wooly-haired Mangalitsa pig. In fact if you see Mangalitsa on a menu in a local bistro such as Klassz, do order it – it’s succulent and said to be very low in cholesterol.
41 Andrassy Ut, Budapest
The pickle section at the market runs in a virtually endless row, and tasters are available at some counters. I find the mushroom identification center on the lower level fascinating – foraging is a hugely popular pastime, and if you’re not sure if the fungi are deadly, they assist you with accurate identification here. At the small cheese section, try a natural or plain bar of Túró Rudi – lemon flavoured curd cheese covered in thin dark chocolate. It’s one of Hungary’s most adored sweets. Communism, Judit says, halted Hungary’s culinary development, but this is one of the snacks of the era worth holding on to.
FOIE GRAS AND TRUFFLES
Hungary is one of the world’s largest producers of foie gras, catering to the French demand and you’ll find plenty at the market. While a luxury, it’s not an inaccessible ingredient for locals. Of the shopping habits of the average person, Reka informs me, “We buy meat, vegetables, fruit and cheese at the market, we buy pasta, rice and sauces at the hypermarket and we buy bread and the milk at the small shops.”
Local neighbourhood markets, like the organic farmer’s market at quirky Szimpla Design Galleria, ordinarily a ruin bar in the 7th District, carry unique artisanal items like truffles and truffle salts, homemade syrups and readymade food. Speaking of ruin bars, these eclectic spaces pop up in derelict and abandoned buildings, and offer food, music and drinks, attracting a diverse crowd.
Soup is such a popular part of the food culture that a number of small take-away soup bars have popped up around the city, catering to the need. Try Leves Pont (V Veres Pálné u.31). Goulash, or gulyás, one of Hungary’s most well known dishes, is a beef and vegetable soup, and not a stew as many outsiders think. Most bistros serving local fare will have a gulyás on the menu – the paprika used is sweet and not hot. Even in summer, locals tuck into a lunch of warm soup.
V Veres Pálné u.31, Budapest
Stuffed crepes with a creamy paprika sauce and meat-stuffed sweet yellow paprika are also eaten in warm weather. Pair these dishes with fröccs – white wine spritzers. Reka tells me that the only water her granddad consumed, was that in wine spritzers. If you prefer your wine undiluted, that would be good too – Hungarian wine has grown steadily in popularity, and not just for the sweet wine from Tokaj.
POPPY SEEDS & WALNUTS
Both these ingredients feature heavily in Hungarian cakes and pies. Your trip to Budapest must include a few of the most famous ones such as Dobos torta, Esterhāzy, the poppy seed strudel and the multi-layered flodni. Raj Rachel of Noe Cukraszda (Café Noé) in the gentrifying Jewish District makes an excellent lighter version.
Wesselényi utca 13, Budapest
· A very special owner-run shop serving the best cured meats from around the country, isn’t in the market but at Szalami Bolt run by passionate Lukás Attila.
· For a variety of sausages including mildly spiced blood sausage, paprika and liver sausages, pickled cabbage, confit duck leg and simple home cooking, eat with the lunch-time crowd on standing-room tables at Belvarosi Disznotoros (Károlyi Mihály utca 17), a deli, butchery and fast-food restaurant.
· Central Market (Nagy Vasarcsarnok) Mon- Sat, Vamhaz korut 1-3
· For good bistro-style food with panache visit Klassz, Bors Gasztrobar (Kazinczy utca 10.) and Kispiac (13 Hold ut.)
· Szimpla Market and Ruin Bar, Szimpla Kert és Szimpla Vasárnapi Háztáji Piac, 7th District,
· For Hungarian Fine Dining:
- Borkonyha (Wine Kitchen), (Sas uta 3)
- Gresham Palace, (Széchenyi István tér 5-6) – Italian/Hungarian – the trio of local foie gras is sublime
- Onyx (Vörösmarty tér 7-8) has a Michelin star and a long-standing reputation for excellence.
· Best artisanal chocolate: Roózsavölgyi (Királyi Pál utca 6)