7 Places to Eat in Budapest

In between trying out as many Easter markets as we could, we fit in a surprising number of restaurants on our recent trip to Budapest.  And I could have eaten at many more—at the time my great-grandfather was born in Slovakia, it was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so the food very closely mimics much of what I have been eating my entire life.  Especially the stuffed cabbage, which is a family favorite and something I tried at every opportunity in Budapest.  Among many, many other things.

1. Paprika Vendéglő

Being a short walk from Keleti, the main train station in Budapest, Paprika makes for a great first or last stop in the city. The corner restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside is fashioned to look like an old country home, with cozy traditional Hungarian food to match.  This was our final meal in Budapest, so I’d already tried most of the local food and, with a train ride to Bratislava on the horizon, didn’t want to overdo it, so I only tried to goulash over spaetzel, which was delicious.  The place was packed, so be prepared to either wait or go during off-hours.  Dozsa Gyoergy ut 72, Budapest 1071

vendeglo

2. Belvárosi Disznótoros

This one was care of Anthony Bourdain, and with a name that translates to “Downtown Pig Slaughter,” it’s not hard to see why.  One half of the counter is food that is ready to go and be plated up right away, the other half is a selection of marinated meats that they will cook to order—though you have to order from each counter separately, which can be confusing.  We stuck with the ready-to-go food and ate upstairs (where it was hard to find a seat), feasting on a pile of red cabbage, mashed potatoes, sausage, pickles, and a healthy schmear of mustard.  I opted for blood sausage, which was delicious, though like all Eastern European food, the meal was extremely heavy.  Be ready to nap afterwards. Király ut 1d, Budapest 1075

disznotoros

3. Szimpla Kert

Budapest is known for its “ruin bars”—cheap drink spots that pop up in old, rundown spaces—and Szimpla Kert is the original and most well-known of them.  Tucked into the Jewish Quarter, the spot offers plenty of options for cheap beer and a relaxed place to hang out for a night.  There are food options (as well as a weekly farmer’s market), but the real draw here is the drinking.  Swing by with some friends—or to make some friends—before or after your meal. Kazinczy ut 14, Budapest 1075

kert

4. Hungarikum Bisztró

Another restaurant offering traditional Hungarian food in a quaint checkered-tablecloth setting, Hungarikum Bisztró was still well worth stopping by.  It felt almost as if we were eating in someone’s home.  I, of course, had the stuffed cabbage (and immediately fell in love with the Hungarians’ propensity for topping everything with incredible amounts of fresh sour cream), which turned out to be the best stuffed cabbage I’ve ever had.  We also tried the Hungarian spaetzel and sausage, braided pork loin with spaetzel and paprika sauce, and our first sample of langós—fried bread with various toppings—that had me searching it out at every opportunity afterwards.  Whether it’s because we had just come from a long wine tasting or because it really was that good, this was one of the best meals we had our entire time in Budapest. Steindl Imre ut 13, Budapest 1051

hungarikum

5. Faust Wine Cellar

Located below the Hilton in the Buda Castle District, the stairs to this small wine cave lead through the remnants of a 13 century Dominican Cloister.  The atmosphere could not be better or more relaxed as one of the proprietors, Gabor, pours you Hungarian wine and explains the varietal and where you can find the region on a map.  I would strongly recommend going for the full tasting of 9 wines (which comes with water and small snacks), which also has the final option of a “call back” so you can re-taste your favorite.  Needless to say, these were all new wines to me and I learned quite a bit (and reinforced my love for the Hungarian sweet wine Tokaji). There are very few tables, so I would strongly recommend booking in advance, which you can do for 2pm or 5pm.  The 5pm booking is especially nice when you leave and walk out into the castle district at dusk, slightly buzzed, and take in the lighted beauty of the area. Hess András tér 1, Budapest 1014

faust

6. Café Ruszwurm

Also in the Buda Castle District, this small pastry shop seems to always be packed, so be ready to hang around and vulture a seat when someone gets up.  The wait is worth it, though, for some solid coffee and amazing pastry—especially Ruszwurm‘s cream cake.  The cream cake is a cooked egg cream mixed with vanilla and then cooled and mixed with whipped cream, making it one of the fluffiest, most delicious cakes I’ve ever had.  Cake isn’t even an apt description—more like “clouds between phyllo.” This is easily one of my fondest food memories from our trip, and should be considered a must-have.  We also tried the caramel cake, which was layers of caramel custard cream between layers of salty, chocolate sponge cake.  While fantastic, this was overshadowed by the cream cake. Szentháromság ut 7, Budapest 1014

ruszwurm

7. Great Market Hall

If you’re not quite sure what you want, swing by the Great Market Hall, where you’ll be able to get anything that catches your eye.  There are a bunch of touristy stands with knick-knacks and Budapest shirts, but there are also tons of food stalls, selling anything you would imagine a market would sell (and now may be a good time to pick up some paprika).  Upstairs there are some quality food stands, and a lot that feature langós with a variety of toppings to add on.  A great way to get a quick meal and also do some quality browsing and shopping. Vámház krt. 1-3, Budapest 1093

gmh

Decisions, decisions.

In The Valley of the Beautiful Woman

molnarWhile the name may sound like a corny 70s sexploitation movie, The Valley of the Beautiful Woman (Szépasszony Völgy) is one of the top sights in the small town of Eger.  The town itself is a two-hour bus ride from Budapest and offers a wonderfully quaint pedestrian road in the center of town, lined with shops and restaurants, and plenty of sights—there is a castle, a cathedral, a Beatles museum (for some reason), and, most importantly, plenty of wine.

A 20 or so minute walk from Eger lies The Valley of the Beautiful Woman, a small cul-de-sac lined with wine caves carved into the mountains.  If you’re not up to the walk, there are also street trains or taxis that can take you.  The walk isn’t incredibly scenic, but walking back can certainly help work off all the drinking you’re about to do.  There are more than 40 wineries represented here, with each offering their own wines for sample or sale.  There is a wide variety of wines, and many offer the local specialty, the dark red Egri Bikavér, or “Bull’s Blood.”

valley

We must have gone down on an off day, or at an off time.  There were very few others around, which gave the valley a quiet lull, and made the experience more quaint and personal.  On our walk down we stopped at Kulács Csarda for some quality Hungarian fare, making sure to get some food in our stomach before we started drinking.  Thank god we did.

bulls bloodMany of the caves are numbered, which is the easiest way to tell them apart, and we started at the beginning and moved around the loop.  We, of course, did not stop at all the wineries—to do so would have been a sure recipe for a lot of vomiting.  We had read about a few good ones and made sure to stop at those, as well as any that looked especially interesting.  The quaint cellars are all cut into the soft volcanic rock of the surrounding hillside.  Moss is allowed to grow, which keeps the cellars at a constant 10-15 C year round.

For the most part, we wandered in and out of the various cellars, trying a wine here and a wine there.  If one place had a wine we particularly enjoyed, we’d try another from them.  If not, we’d move on.  The only real downside to the valley is that there’s no way you can test all the wines—with over 40 cellars, and some having up to 30 varietals, you wouldn’t have a chance.  But to spend an afternoon wandering and tasting is a great time.

Especially at cave #2, tucked back into a corner right at the start.  You go down a set of stairs into a dark, musty cellar that is somewhat damp, where you are served by a wonderful older Hungarian woman.  She didn’t know much English, but we communicated with a series of charades, and she poured wine out of a long glass tube that she held about two feet away from the glass to aerate it.  We had such a good time hanging out with her, right at the end of our time in the valley, and we had some extra drinks we probably shouldn’t have had.  But we had a 25-minute uphill walk back to Eger to work off the extra alcohol (spoiler alert: it didn’t work).

The Valley, which has multiple explanations for its name (the easiest of which being there were sacrifices made to an ancient religion’s version of Aphrodite), is well worth the trip, regardless of how you decide to get there.  Be sure to stop to eat before you start drinking, though, and don’t be afraid to skip any wineries (you’ll have to in order to survive).  Hopefully, your visit will be as quaint and quiet as ours was.

Easter Markets in Budapest & Prague

buda-eggFor whatever reason, when we did our Hungary – Slovakia – Prague trip over the week of Easter, it never occurred to me to be excited for the Easter markets.  I had marked the main one in Prague on a map for things to do, and I had the vague notion that the Catholic holidays were a big deal, but I guess when I was looking for places to drink beer and eat great local food, it had totally gone over my head to pay attention to these markets.

So it was with great glee when we happened to walk into an Easter market on our first night in Budapest.  My eyes were immediately drawn to one of the food vendors, and I couldn’t have been more excited—Eastern Europe is well known for its meat-heavy and vegetable-light food, which has never been a problem for me.  Add to that fact that I immediately saw a tray of stuffed cabbage, a food my family makes often and that I had been looking forward to trying in its natural habitat.

buda-food3The markets were pretty evenly split between food vendors and those with trinkets and souvenirs.  I didn’t worry about the latter, because I was there for the former.  We found huge buffets of local food, including full meals, snacks, desserts, and even people who had made their own beer for the occasion.  At the first market, I sat down with a beer and a huge piece of stuffed cabbage atop a potato latke, appropriately slathered with sour cream (which, if you’ve been to Hungary, you’ll know is the only way to eat anything).

The markets also offered local delicacies like langos (fried dough usually topped with sour cream and cheese, but those toppings can expand to include just about anything) and trdelnik, also known as chimney cakes.  The trdelnik quickly became our favorite snack, and involved dough being wrapped around a roller and rolled over hot coals until it was cooked, and then dipped in sugar, with the option to add nuts or Nutella.

buda-langos

The markets were incredibly pleasant—none of them were packed, and between the cool spring weather and the people enjoying themselves, it was a great time to sit outside and enjoy some food or a drink.  Especially the one we got to in Prague’s old town—while it was a bit chilly, the sun was out and the sky was blue; it was an ideal day to hang out.

The food was a tad different at the markets we hit in Prague, with much more focus on what you would consider typical German food – sausages, potato salad, and huge hocks of ham.  The attractions and the market itself was pretty similar, though.  They even had their own trdelnik, though that may have been surpassed snackwise by a ring of potato put on a stick and fried.  It was like a long, homemade potato chip.

prague-ham

With the two things that I need to enjoy myself—beer and food—the markets delivered.  They made for quality people-watching, and even better eating.  And while both cities may have been a tad more packed with tourists than they normally would be due to the holiday (we were told thousands of people travel to Prague around Easter), I would highly recommend visiting during this time of year, if only for the food.