Tasting on Budapest
During the Soviet Era, Hungary’s traditional cuisine was neglected, including its ancient species of pigs and cows, and its wine. In more recent years, there’s been a revival, which is fortunate for locals and visitors alike.
The currency in Hungary is the forint (Ft), and at the time of writing, the exchange rate was about 275 Ft to US$1. All businesses are listed from most budget-friendly to least within each category.
- Coffee & drinks
- Desserts & ice cream
- Grocery stores & farmer’s markets
Coffee & drinks
I hadn’t heard of ruin bars when I first visited Budapest eight years ago. They’re basically bars that sprung up in abandoned buildings that were neglected in district 7 after World War II. Although Szimpla Kert is the original ruin bar, I had my first experience at Kuplung. I got a crisp glass of Nyakas Aligvárom (a white cuvée) for 390 Ft. The surrounding art was a great accompaniment to the wine in the middle of a sunny afternoon. The staff speak English pretty well, and the bar is cash only.
Desserts & ice cream
Erdős és Fiai Cukrászda
Erdős és Fiai Cukrászda is off the beaten path by the Kelenföld Train Station on the Buda side of town. They mix innovative flavors, including Irsai Olivér wine and an eponymous flavor (pistachio ice cream with pieces of chocolate, white chocolate, cream, pistachio almond sponge cake). I preferred the wine flavor since it wasn’t as sweet. Two scoops cost 560 Ft.
Kürtőskalács is a mouthful for chimney cake, which is a relative of the Lithuanian šakotis and German baumkuchen. According to the employee I talked to at Molnar’s, the more traditional flavors are vanilla and almond, and the most popular one they sell is cinnamon. I tried the chocolate one since I felt like a rebel. I realized that I should have gotten the cocoa powder one if I wanted a more consistent coating of chocolate flavor.
All cakes are 990 Ft, which is three times everywhere else. I’m not sure if it’s worth the tourist mark-up, but it was fun to eat and a bit of a mess. The staff speaks excellent English, and they accept credit cards at the counter opposite where the cakes are made.
Grocery stores & farmer’s markets
Tesco has its tendrils in Hungary and is a convenient place to get some basics if you only have a credit card. I got some paprika salami and smoked cheese to make sandwiches with on my first afternoon in Budapest because I was starving and couldn’t be bothered to find an ATM.
Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall is fun to wander around. The ground floor has lots of meat and produce. From one of the vendors, I bought a small box of blueberries for 680 Ft.
The basement has an Aldi, seafood, souvenirs, kitchenware, and pickles. I got a bottle of Tokaji wine for 799 Ft at Aldi. The upstairs floor is primarily handicraft souvenirs with a few food counters and a restaurant.
It’s traditionally served either without toppings or with sour cream and grated cheese. I didn’t know this when I went to the restaurant, so I selected the rustic topping combination (1,150 Ft). But then the staff asked if I wanted a bunch of other toppings and sauces. Initially, I agreed, but then I realized he was probably upselling me without me knowing it. So I attempted to clarify by saying that I just wanted whatever came with the rustic version. He assured me that it was okay but then tried to charge me 1,900 Ft. I argued that I just wanted what I ordered, not a bunch of extra stuff, so another staff member said he would just charge me 1,200 Ft. From this interaction, the staff doesn’t appear to be great at English, and they are not looking out for customers’ best interests. I wish I’d just ordered a plain one or one with sour cream and grated cheese instead. It was so much fried dough to be eating in one sitting that I didn’t even finish it.
Kadarka Wine Bar
This wine bar has taken the name of a Hungarian grape varietal, and it lives up to its name! It opens at 16:00 daily, just in time for happy hour o’clock. (I didn’t see any happy hour specials though.)
I tried a couple of different Kadarka wines (450 Ft for 0.07L), which were both spectacularly smooth.
The goulash (1,290 Ft) looked small but was filling, partially because it is served with grilled bread. I felt satisfied after I’d finished.
For dessert, I had the cheese dumpling with raspberry sauce (990 Ft). The cheese dumpling has no good translation into English because it doesn’t exist in English-speaking countries, but it was similar to the cheese dessert I had at Bilka in Lviv. Delicious!
An English translation of every item is printed in the menu, and the staff speaks great English. Credit cards accepted.
Ruben is located down a not-highly-trafficked alley in the center of Pest. It’s one of those secrets that I hope doesn’t get out; otherwise, it runs the risk of increasing its prices and decreasing its quality. It feels fancy but the prices are super reasonable. The service was friendly and attentive, and the staff spoke great English. The menu was multilingual, too.
When I was ordering, I appreciate that my waiter stopped me from ordering two mains. Having to choose was a challenge, but I went with the stuffed cabbage (1,650 Ft) and 200mL glass of Nyakas Don Olivér (1,080 Ft). It was so filling!
The wine lasted all the way past the end of dessert: Ruben molten chocolate cake (990 Ft). I thought about getting the traditional sponge cake, but I think I’m allowed to stray from authentic cuisine sometimes.
Although I searched Foursquare for a budget restaurant to accommodate Don, Mai, and Jonah (my hostel companions), Hungarikum Bisztró ended up being more of a mid-tier restaurant with fairly attentive service and a live cimbalom player. In addition to a paper English menu, it came on a tablet so that you could see pictures along with the names of each dish.
I started with a glass of house red wine (960 Ft), which was just okay. Our waitress brought out a complimentary plate of small pieces of lángos with sour cream. To top it off, she gave us a basket of bread and a plate of various spicy condiments while we waited.
I ordered the special (beef with letscho and fried potatoes) for 3,400 Ft, but the normal entrées were around 2,650-2,800 Ft. The beef could have been more tender, but not everyone can cook sous vide! The letscho is a vegetable ragout, which was onions, tomatoes, and sweet peppers cooked till very soft. It was yummy but could have been a larger portion. The fried potatoes were perfect.
The others enjoyed their beef stew and pork loin wrapped in bacon, both with what they called dumplings but looked exactly like spaetzle. The sponge cake was quite nice (980 Ft): there was a white cake in rum and a chocolate part.
The waitress only brought one check, but she allowed us to pay separately and with different credit cards.
Rosenstein is an upscale Jewish-Hungarian restaurant with a live keyboard player. (But Ruben is quite comparable in terms of the traditional Hungarian dish offerings while simultaneously being more affordable.)
I started with one glass of house red wine (700 Ft for 0.125L), which was delectable. Then I got a small portion of smooth Hungarian fish soup with carp fillet, milt, and roe (1,900 Ft), garlicky Mangalica pork roast with Hungarian potato pasta (3,800 Ft), mixed pickles from Vecses (650 Ft), and flodni (1,850 Ft), which came with a side of quince sorbet. Everything was amazingly well-prepared, including the housemade bread and habanero paprika that I carefully used only a tiny bit in the soup and on the bread.