When you’re hungry in Hungary, it’s not such a bad place to be.
Classic Hungarian dishes are homestyle foods like hearty stews, meaty dishes usually with dumplings and lots of paprika, cakes and pies. And then there are Hungarian portions. Not exactly for people on a diet but comfort food is hard to pass up.
Even when something tells you to keep walking.
A thick hearty soup is a very traditional way to start lunch or dinner but also common to have it as your entire meal. It’s always loaded with healthy portions of vegetables, potato, meat or a mish mash of all three.
Where: Fozelekfalo cafeteria, Nagymező utca 18, next to our favourite café Mai Mano and the main shopping street Andrássy út. Order a soup or a creamy soup-like sauce to smother on your schnitzel. The menu changes daily.
Pork Stew & Nokedli
Just like in eating in Prague, I found a cafeteria reminiscent of the communist times where workers filed in to get their rationed meal for the day. Except this place is far from the days of food rations. Traditional Hungarian dishes in huge portions for about 6 bucks including hearty stews, beans, and nokedli dumplings. The menu changes daily.
Where: Lecsó, Szent István körút 10.
Pörkölt & Nokedli
One of our favourite places for traditional (and very cheap) Hungarian is Pozsonyi in the 13th district around the corner from Margit Bridge. We found this spot after a local recommended it to us – we’ve been back now 3 times! Like beef goulash, the pörkölt stew is also a national Hungarian dish and this restaurant serves up a hefty portion of it. It is beef, pork or lamb seasoned with paprika alongside, what else than traditional nokedli potato dumplings. About 1400 FT (or $5).
Where: Pozsonyi Kisvendeglo, on the corner of Pozsonyi and Radnóti Miklós utca. Their daily lunch menu is 950Ft.
No Hungarian kitchen is complete without paprika in their cupboards. The spice is used for different variations of recipes and creamy, rosy sauces over meat. Chicken paprika is a classic Hungarian dish.
Delicious chicken paprika from this guy at the market…
Where: Great Market Hall, Vámház krt
I’ll be honest, I’m a little disappointed in Hungarians. It’s damn hard to find a hundog around here. (I’m not sure anyone calls it a hundog but we do). In Prague, sausage vendors set up shop at every street corner and beer gardens. It’s not as easy to spot in Budapest but when you do Hungarian sausages are deliciously satiating, hot and spicy with the perfect amount of mustard. Even the mustard here is unique – less pungent and smoother than the French kind. The downside is you need to know where to go to find a good hundog.
Where: At the Hungarian Food Festival or the wooden food stalls on the pedestrian street, Vaci utca.
Lángos is the ultimate Hungarian street food locals seem to grab and eat on the go. It’s a deep fried flat dough traditionally topped with sour cream, garlic, and sheep’s cheese but these days they add toppings like ham, cabbage, and tomato sauce. I’ve even seen Nutella. For 480Ft (about $2) I don’t think there’s a better hangover cure after a ruin pub.
A good lángos should be crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and not soaked in too much oil.
Where: We had the best lángos in this little whole in the wall Retró Büfé (Arany János metro) near our apartment.
I love finding places to eat that are quirky, out of the box and with character. For Sale Pub was an exciting find and really fun to eat at. It serves up local dishes (especially stuffed cabbage rolls), big portions, cheap prices, in a completely unconventional way. It’s the kind of place where you leave love notes on the walls and throw your peanuts on the floor. And they take it seriously – I got in trouble by the waitress for leaving my shells neatly in a pile on the table instead of on the floor.
Hopefully not a winning ticket?
A little self-promotion 🙂
Where: Vámház krt, 2
Prosecco at Zeller
I was introduced to Zeller Bistro by my friend Hajnalka at Budapest Local on our last night in the city. Zeller is one of the newest and fastest growing restaurants in Budapest (it opened just two years ago and already it’s hard to get a seat unless you have a reso). The menu is locally inspired, taken from the owner’s family recipes passed down from his mom and grandmother. The wines are too. The family owns a vineyard just outside of the city so the wine menu is entirely their own homemade creations. If you look unsure which one to choose they don’t hesitate to bring you a free sampling. The atmosphere is a cross between someone’s home and an old wine cellar, and the best part of all – the staff makes an entrance for you with a welcome drink of sparkling wine the minute you arrive!
I secretly want my home to look like this.
Where: Izabella utca, 38. Call to reserve +36 30 651 0880
If you’re in Budapest you have to go to Bors.
This tiny take-out spot opened in 2012 by a couple of young Star Wars-obsessed guys who had a vision for awesome soups and sandwiches with Star Wars re-enactment videos in the background. I don’t think they realized how fast it would take off because it has taken over the street food scene in Budapest. We’ve eaten here (at least) once a day and each time there is a line up out the door. It’s gourmet (and still extremely cheap) street food baguettes – the most delicious baguettes we’ve ever tasted filled. They come with fun names like French Lady or Thai Massage, Ham Baguette (a twist on the hamburger), or the Bors Dog with sausage. We tried everything on their menu but we haven’t had the courage to try the Brain Dead baguette (pork brain).
The guys behind the counter are cute too.
Where: Kazinczy utca 10
Kürtőskalács means “chimney” cake and it’s a Hungarian tradition which some neighbouring countries like Romania and Czech Republic adopting too. It’s a twine of dough wrapped around a rotating spit, baked over charcoal, then sprinkled with toppings like sugar, cinnamon, or walnuts.
Where: Near the hundog food stalls on Vaci utca.
A Hungarian local once told me thin crêpe-like pancakes were a staple in his childhood. I’m not sure why they call them pancakes because they’re filled with fruit jam or chocolate and rolled up in little tubes. Pancake or crêpe, these are delicious. They look a lot like French crêpes but the difference is the French ones can be made and reserved for later. The Hungarian kind are meant to be eaten right away. Which is fine by me!
Where: You’d be hard-pressed not to find these on a menu. We loved the palacsinta from Pozsonyi Kisvendeglo which they drizzle in alcohol and light on fire.
I always seem to fall for strudel. Ruszwurm is a 200-year old family-run pastry shop (one of the oldest in Europe) complete with antiques on the walls and furniture from the 19th century. Being right on the grounds of Buda castle, this tiny shop survived military sieges, a revolution and World War II but still rolls out homemade Hungarian strudel shaped like a log and usually stuffed with fruit fillings like apple, cherry or even chocolate.
Where: Ruszwurm, Szentháromság utca 7.
Bor is Hungarian for wine. Most people don’t know this but Hungary actually has an emerging new wine country, particularly for quality whites like chardonnay. There are rustic vineyards just 30 minutes outside of Budapest in Etyek.
When temperatures drop it’s typical to have mulled wine or forralt bor. There are so many variations but all I know is that it’s red wine and served hot. Sometimes it’s made by adding spices, sugar, honey, fruits or fruit juices. Or make your own Hungarian wine spritzer! Fröccs are a very local drink in Hungary but it’s not just a spritzer. There are dozens of variations of fröccs each differing by their ratios of wine to soda.
Where: Everywhere during the winter months and always around the holidays.
Other things to try: Hungarian flodni cake and pálinka, a fruit brandy distilled into a very powerful spirit. Locals believe this drink is a cure for anything!