Packed to the brim with great food, you'll be hard pushed not to find amazing food in Hungary's capital, Budapest. Myles Traut shares what delectable treats he discovered on his recent visit.
As a South African travelling to Budapest for the first time, I knew that the architecture in the city would be magnificent. I knew Hungarian wine was some of the best in the world and that Palinka, (traditional fruit brandy) would put hair on your teeth. Food however, was something that had never crossed my mind. I’d never heard anyone describe Hungary as a gastronomical adventure. But, upon arrival I soon discovered that Budapest and food go hand in hand.
From exquisite ice cream to traditional cuisines, don't leave Budapest without sampling these four treats for yourself. Prepare to drool.
1. The Turkish Gyros Ettermek
Gyros was my first encounter. Although of Turkish origin, good Gyros ettermek (Gyros restaurants) can be found all over Budapest. Consisting of meat cooked on a rotisserie skewer, grilled with vegetables and spices, Gyros is the perfect street food to fill the gap after a drunken night at the pub. Most Gyros ettermek are open until the early hours of the morning and are always happy to serve hungry customers.
The tastiest Gyros were from the etterem located close to the Margiet hid (Margiet Bridge) tram stop on the number 4 tramline. It’s next to Bem Mozi, a bar that was once a cinema. It’s well worth a visit if you feel like getting away from all the tourists and spending some time with the locals. With a relaxed vibe, couches and reworked cinema seats are scattered around to keep you comfortable and the walls are plastered with classic movie posters and quotes. You can’t help but fall in love with its charm. They also still show classic movies on certain nights in the week.
2. The Artistic Ice Cream
If you are an ice-cream lover, Budapest is heaven. Fagyilalt (ice-cream) stalls and shops abound around each corner on the Buda side of town and around almost every other corner on the Pest. From lemon sorbet to basil and olive flavours there is something for every taste while the presentation is nothing short of art. At Gelarto Rosa Ice Cream Parlor in Szt. Istvan’s square you can feast your eyes and taste buds on ice creams sculpted into the shape of delicate roses. Three layers of petals, each a different flavour, and the cones… filled to the brim with Nutella (Imagine my delight at this discovery.)
On a warm summer’s day there is nothing better than sitting on one of the many benches in the square and watching the crowds drift by. Or you can marvel at Szt. Istvan’s Basilica, named in honour of Stephen, the first King of Hungary, whose mummified right hand is housed in the reliquary and is one of the country’s most revered religious artifacts. The Basilica is also the second oldest church in Hungary and if you are willing to climb the steps to the viewing point in the dome of the basilica the 360 degree panoramic view of Budapest will steal away what breath you have left.
3. The Doughy Bread
Lángos (pronounced Langosh) is a must try for anyone visiting Budapest. Traditionally, deep fried doughy bread made of water or milk, flour, yeast and sugar, lángos stalls can be found throughout the city. A number of toppings are available, but for me, the best was simply Tejföl (Hungarian sour cream), cheese and garlic. At first thought it seems rather underwhelming, but first bite is a whole other story. The warm crispiness of the bread combined with the rich creaminess of the toppings make for a truly satisfying experience. It’s like getting a big, warm hug.
The tastiest lángos I encountered was not in Budapest but at Lake Balaton, a two-hour drive to the Southwest. Bought from one of the multi-coloured, rustic stalls that run along the shores of the lake and served to me by an old lady who didn’t speak a word of English, the effort to cross the language divide was well worth it. Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe and its shore is dotted with villages and holiday communities. Aside from the grub, during peak season the weather is absolutely perfect and it can become extremely crowded so going during the week or just out of season is best. The lake is almost completely surrounded by separated bike lanes and a bicycle trip between the various towns is highly recommended for more opportunities to sample delicious offerings.
4. The Traditional Hungarian Cuisine
I was invited to spend the weekend with friends on the shores of Opera Sziget (Opera Island), a rural holiday Island on the Danube about two hours drive outside of Budapest. A great place to escape from civilization and get in touch with nature, the island offers many traditional and modern holiday houses for rent that are right on the waters edge. Fishermen lazing in their boats dot the river while swans idly glide by. A column of smoke wafts into the air from our open cooking fire. Paprikás Krumpli, a watery stew made with diced potato, kolbász (spicy Hungarian sausage) and paprika is being made in a Bogrács. (pronounced Borgrash, a traditional, wide bottomed cooking pot suspended from a tripod over an open fire) It doesn’t get more authentic than this. Eaten with Tejföl (heavy sour cream) the mix of flavours are truly magical. The richness of the sour cream compliments the spicy sausage perfectly while the potatoes serve to thicken the sauce and bind the flavours. Two words: taste sensation.
Goulash, Pörkölt, and Paprikás are traditional Hungarian stews that can be traced back as far the 9th century. Goulash is the national dish of Hungary and is a symbol of the country. Although there are many restaurants in and around Budapest that serve mouthwatering traditional cuisine, the best way to enjoy these dishes is to be invited into a Hungarian household. Hungarian hospitality is legendary and there is no better way to get an authentic dining experience than to share a table, a meal and a few shots of Palinka with a local family.