Eating out in Budapest is one of the pleasures of a visit to the Hungarian capital. Gone are the days when Eastern Europe conjured up an image of bland and tasteless food. Today you can eat very well in Hungary, and Budapest offers the best of national and international cuisine. But what should you eat, and where can you find it?
What to eat in Budapest
Hungarian food is characterised by paprika, yoghurt and dumplings. Main meals tend to be based around meat, in soups and stews, or grilled with potatoes and vegetables. Fish is plentiful, too: mostly freshwater varieties, as Hungary is landlocked. You will also see influences from neighbouring countries, such as the sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) that is common in Germany, and Russian blinis (small pancakes). Perhaps the best known Hungarian dish is goulash, a thick soup of meat and potatoes with vegetables and lashings of paprika.
Vegetarians are not particularly well catered for, though some restaurants do include vegetarian dishes (often mushroom based), but you can usually find a tempting plate of mixed local cheeses with fruit and preserves. Desserts are often substantial, and include pies, dumplings and pancakes, often with fruit or cottage cheese. Hungary has a number of local wines and beers that you can enjoy with your meal. The abundance of thermal springs also means that a wide variety of mineral waters is available.
If your preference is for international food, you will find many different cuisines, including Chinese and Indian. Surprisingly, there are several Belgian restaurants where you can find a range of continental beers and excellent food.
Where to Eat Out in Budapest
Eating out in Budapest is relatively inexpensive, although there is a growing number of top-end gourmet restaurants with prices to match. Most restaurants in Budapest include an English translation in their menus: however, these are not always foolproof and you may find it helpful to carry a phrase book to interpret certain words.
On the Buda side of the city, the Castle area has many restaurants aimed at tourists. These tend to be excellent, but pricey. If you want to mix with the locals, and to enjoy cheaper food, try the streets of the Vizivaros below the Castle, or the area around Lövöház utca (close to Széll Kálman tér), which is bustling with restaurants.
In Pest, on the other side of the Danube, there are restaurants everywhere. Two particularly busy and lively areas are Liszt Ferenc tér (off Andrássy utca, close to the Oktogon metro), and Ráday utca (near to Kálvin tér). Andrássy utca itself is lined with pavement cafés.
Coffee Houses in Budapest
Hungary is famous for its rich and delicious cakes, and the best place to eat them is in one of the numerous coffee houses. Traditionally, coffee houses were meeting places for writers and journalists, or revolutionary students, but today they are more likely to be full of shoppers and tourists, sipping coffee and eating cakes and pastries. If you feel like splashing out, try the opulent New York Café, on Dohány utca in the old Jewish quarter, which dates from the 19th century, when it was a favourite haunt of artists. Here you can enjoy beautifully presented cakes, while admiring the gilded interior and frescoed ceilings.
Food Markets in Budapest
Food lovers should not miss Budapest’s many fine market halls, where you can wander between stalls piled high with fresh produce or preserved meats. You will see strings of paprika chillis everywhere, as well as packages of sweet and hot paprika that you can buy to take home. You are likely also to find a corner of the market where people who have been picking mushrooms in the nearby hills can have their harvest checked for poisonous specimens.
The Great Market Hall, housed in a massive wrought iron building, is especially worth a visit. Upstairs are a number of stand-up stalls where you can enjoy a plate of goulash, sausages or cakes. There is also a surprisingly good and friendly self-service restaurant.
This post is now available as an app for mobile devices – click here to find out more.