Budapest is often referred to as “the Paris of the East”. With colourful markets, internationally recognised restaurants, honest street food and lively cafés to base yourself from, its food scene is certainly up there with Paris.
Once you’ve suitably whetted your appetite with a dip in the city’s thermal baths, it’s time to find something to eat…
What to eat
Hungarian cuisine is famously colourful and full of exotic spices and herbs like paprika, saffron and chilli. Meat features heavily, so look out for an array of Kolbász (sausages) and some of the cheapest foie gras around, often served without ceremony at a market stall.
As you hop around Budapest’s cafes, markets and restaurants, keep an eye out for some of these traditional and much-loved dishes, mentally ticking them off your to-eat list:
Goulash – What else? Proper Hungarian goulash – as The Road Forks blog points out – involves slowly simmering meat in paprika and other spices in a pot until it’s meltingly soft. In the colder months, there’s no better way to de-thaw.
- Tökfőzelék – a summery vegetable dish (if you feel like a break from meat) seasoned with dill and served with lashings of sour cream.
- Crackling – deep fried pork or goose, usually slathered on crusty bread with some red onion pickle.
- Pogácsa – a savoury scone-like snack which acts as a tasty vehicle for fillings like cheese or pork crackling.
- Langos – a flatbread cooked over a flame with a naughty trio of cheese, garlic and sour cream. Budapest street food at its best.
- Krémes – a custard slice for the sweet-toothed. Traditional cake shop Auguszt Cukraszda’s krémes are hard to beat.
Whether you splash out at Onyx, Budapest’s Michelin star restaurant, or grab some street food, you’re bound to eat well.
Shhh…Budapest’s secret bar scene
Step way off the tourist trail and follow hip locals down secret passageways and side roads into hidden rooms and lit-up courtyards where you’ll find the city’s underground pop-up bar scene (known as ruin bars).
Once you’ve successfully tracked one down, see the evening in with glass of Fröccs (a wine spritzer made with wine and soda) or an obligatory shot of Unicum (a local herbal liqueur). And while you’re living like a local, why not give some of the local Hungarian wines like Sauska or a Tokaji dessert wine a try too?
Best for coffee
After a night out exploring Budapest’s ruin bars, a good cup of coffee is what’s called for. Luckily, coffee in Budapest comes both sweet and strong enough to give you a good jolt. As the Hungarian proverb goes: ‘good coffee should be black like the devil, hot like hell and sweet like a kiss’, so settle for nothing less.
If you’re staying with us at the Radisson Blu Béke Hotel, Budapest, you can be sipping strong Hungarian coffee and nibbling pastries at our Zsolnay Café within seconds of emerging from your room.
Make for the markets
To really get under the skin of Budapest and understand where the food comes from, how people eat and what they cook with, you need to experience market life. The best advice we can give you? Go with an empty stomach…
The Great Market Hall is Budapest’s largest indoor market. The first thing that will strike you is the colours: Budapest locals are spoiled when it comes to the huge variety of spices, fruits and vegetables available to them in a rainbow of colours. Walk past hanging bundles garlic of crimson-red chillies, nibbling on juicy berries and sweet white peppers as you make your way around the stalls.
If you’ve gone mushroom picking in the countryside, you can even bring them along to have experts safety-check them so you make sure you’re not going to eat anything poisonous.
Want to experience the market like a local, making a beeline for the best stalls? Why not book a market tour with Taste Hungary? Their gastronomic tour will take in salami stalls (tick), have you tasting street food favourite Langos (tick, tick) and fried pork fat, a local delicacy (tick, tick, tick). They’ll even get things off to a good start with a shot of Unicum at their favourite spot.
Budapest’s locals aren’t squeamish about their food and are fans of eating most parts of an animal. If you’re feeling daring, you can try treats like cow tongue or pig feet. And if you have room, the tours have been known to end in a butcher’s shop where you’ll sample the freshest meat in the city and dine of slabs of rich foie gras.
Have we missed anything out? What are you favourite foodie finds in Budapest?