So what did we eat in Budapest? Many yummy things, I can tell you (and, more importantly, show you). My knowledge of Hungarian cuisine before going was limited to goulash and tokaj, so this was a voyage of discovery for me.
We tended to get up pretty late during this trip, to take full advantage of the fact that someone else was at home looking after the kids. The one time we had what could be considered a Hungarian breakfast was at the famous Gerbeaud café, just around the corner from our hotel. A selection of cheese, salami and bread, plus some surprisingly sweet bacon, a pleasantly peppery dish of scrambled eggs, and a glass of very sweet muesli-type stuff.
Street food and markets
Tecnhically the first thing we ate in Hungary was a Kürtőskalács, known in English as chimney or funnel cake. Baked on a cylindrical spit over an open fire and then dusted with chocolate, sugar, or some other flavoured sprinkling (see list on the left of the photo), then eaten while still hot and steaming.
We walked down to the Great Market Hall to browse and drool among the food stalls. Upstairs was a very busy selection of lunch and snack establishments. If we hadn’t already eaten I could happily have worked my way through them all.
The “spit meat” looks appetising. Presumably it’s a description, not an instruction.
Most of the sausages, and a lot of the other pork products you find in Hungary come from the Mangalica breed of pig. Certainly Mangalica makes for a nicer name than the alternative “curly-hair hog”.
For our first evening meal we’d planned to go to a local restaurant recommended by a colleague, but they were fully booked, so the hotel concierge pointed us just around the corner in the direction of a “modern Hungarian” called Dio. We started with a selection of “Cold goose liver in it’s [sic] own juice, Beef tartar, ’mangalica’ pork sausage, Crayfish tartar, smoked breast of goose, fresh vegetables”.
My main course was an amazingly succulent duck breast, drizzled with tokaj, on a date & barley risotto. Beautiful. And my wife’s Mangalica chop with sausage sauce and goat cheese polenta was just as good. By this stage it was becoming obvious that Hungarians like to add a lot of sweetness to their meat dishes, which is fine by me.
The friendly waiter warmly congratulated us on clearing our plates, and offered us a complimetary shot of pálinka (fruit brandy). During the meal we also had a few glasses of Bull’s blood wine. Check out that link: the story behind the name is interesting.
The following night we went (again, just around the corner. Our hotel was very conveniently located) to Onyx, one of Budapest’s two Michelin-starred restaurants. The other, Costes, looks great too, but it’s a little more international, whereas Onyx seems to offer more in the way of local produce and traditional recipes, albeit done all fancy and posh-like.
I mean, just look at the bread trolley.
We chose the Hungarian Evolution tasting menu, which came with a selection of wines, all of which were local with the exception of the first Riesling.
Amuse-bouche: marinated salmon, herb salad, fennel mousse.
First starter: Hungarian sturgeon caviar, vegetables, quail egg, and a “soil” made of burnt breadcrumbs, lentil, mushroom and cashew nuts.
Second starter: goose liver slice dusted with almond on a brioche, plum jam, goose liver torte with apricot jelly. Gorgeous. Also, we’d noticed a lot of goose and duck on various menus around town. No, I’m not going to make any jokes about Hungarian food being mostly “fowl”.
Fish course: Danube salmon topped with crispy veal, potato purée and a potato rosti soaked in pumpkin seed oil.
Meat course: Charbbroiled Mangalica loin on a lentil bed. Pork’s not the tastiest of meats, and I found this very slightly dry, but not so much that I didn’t enjoy it.
It also came with a side of goose liver mousse, which was more pleasant than it looks.
Pre-dessert: pineapple ice cream and granita, white chocolate. Perfect.
And the final dessert, a modern reinvention of the traditional chocolate and vanilla Somló cake. Beautiful, if quite rich and filling.
What I didn’t know was that there was another, special birthday chocolate cake on its way. This was lovely too, but by this stage I was too full to finish it.
All in all very impressive, and deserving of at least one more star than they currently have.
On our final night in Budapest we managed to get a table at Paprika, the place recommended by my Hungarian colleague. I plumped for the goulash, which was large and flavourful and satisfying.
Overall I really enjoyed what I saw of Hungarian cuisine, although I was glad I’m not a vegetarian or I may have gone hungry. But even I couldn’t bring myself to taste this particular local delicacy: