5 MUST EATS IN BUDAPEST

Europe, Hungary, Travel

While it is true that seeing a wealth of delightful places strewn across this planet leaves me elated, years of travelling have taught me that the real MVP of travel is soaking in the local culture (a.k.a. food) of these places! Afterall, you wouldn’t want to go all the way to Naples and not have their signature thin crusted Margherita, right?

I know, I wouldn’t!

Food is an integral part of my life and like many foodies, eating delicious treats is the glue that holds my life together,

  • Sad? Drown sorrow with good food!
  • Happy? Celebrate with good food!
  • Confused? Decide with good food!

Um, you get the drift…

Therefore, I decided (with good food, of course) to put together a mini-series titled, ‘5 Must Eats’ which will focus on five dishes that I think you ‘must try’ in your travel stories!

5 MUST EATS IN BUDAPEST

The cuisine of Eastern Europe has always been one of my absolute favorites. However, Hungarian cuisine (or Magyar cuisine) is unique in its own way. Paprika is the apple of every Hungarian’s eye. The abundance of this spice in their kitchens makes the cuisine of Hungary daringly different from any other indigenous cuisine that I have gulped down in the whole of Europe,

In no specific order, these are my top five recommendations for foodie souls in Budapest,

  • Gulyás (Goulash Soup/ Goulash Stew)

Although this dish started its journey as a simple soup for the Hungarian common man, today it is one of the national dishes of Hungary! The traditional version consists of freshly cut beef or veal cooked in heaps of paprika, onions and garlic for an insane amount of time so that all the flavors get perfectly infused in the broth. Yummm!

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I had goulash at several places and they were all delicious. However, if you are looking for authentic goulash, go for those eateries with a Hungarian menu plastered on the wall and an old grandpa by the counter! Trust me, sign language works and you will lick every bit of sauce from your plate!

  • Lángos (Langosh)

Langos (or Hungarian Pizza) forms the core of Hungarian street food culture. It is a deep-fried flat bread that is generously smothered with sour cream and topped with everything your heart desires. The traditional version consists of just a garlic oil and cheese topping and it was one of the most delicious dishes that found its way to my tummy!

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I had mine here and I swear by this place! If you are planning on going here, do get there early as it can get quite crowded during mealtimes!

  • Töltött Káposzta (Stuffed Cabbage Leaves)

This has to be the ultimate Hungarian comfort food! I had one bite and I absolutely fell in love with it. As the name suggests, this dish is essentially just cooked cabbage leaves stuffed with meat and rice, served with a huge dollop of sour cream!

I had mine from the Central Market Square and cannot recommend this place enough if you are looking to hop from one stall to the other and try all things food!

  • Paprikás Csirke (Paprika Chicken)

This was another one of my favorites! The chicken was so tender and the sauce was perfect with undertones of both sour cream and paprika. It is usually served with egg noodle dumplings (i.e., nokedli in Hungarian) with a generous blob of sour cream. One word to describe this dish? Flavorful! Definitely a must try!

I tried this dish from a cozy Hungarian restaurant called, ‘Ildikó Konyhája’ based on a recommendation from my Airbnb Host! If you are planning on visiting, do get a reservation as it gets quite crowded!

  • Flódni Cake

This cake is a specialty of the Budapest Jewish community. It is semi sweet cake, with layers of poppy seeds, apple, walnuts and plum jam! It tasted very different from any cake that I have ever had before.  While I didn’t find it particularly delicious, it is definitely something you should try when you are in Budapest to pay homage to the Jewish traditions here.

You can find it in almost all cafés close to the Jewish quarter!    

While we are on the topic of food, the first thing I learnt when I went to a restaurant in Budapest was to say ‘Cheers’. If you ever intend to do that, let me stop you right away, because this word i.e., ‘Egészségére’ is the mother of all tongue twisters! If you still want to master it, a local who saw me struggle, told me to just say ‘I guess she can drive’ but in a very fast and slurred manner and this would be the closest English pronunciation of this Hungarian word.

To his credit, it did work (most times) ! Needless to say, I am not learning Hungarian.

If you want to read more about my Budapest experience, check out my blog post on Budapest!

Meanwhile, Bon Appetit!

A

Down the Hungarian Rabbit Hole

Europe, Hungary, Travel

A little over three years ago, I shifted bases to Germany. Two months in, I decided to learn German. Three months in, I realized how painstakingly hard it is to master this language.

You see in German, your hot 6’2” neighbor is not ‘tall’ but ‘big’ (Call her big in English, you have just unleashed a can of fat shaming worms). Similarly, Mount Everest is not the ‘tallest’ mountain but the ‘biggest’. A woman and a wife share the same word (die Frau); so, does a man and a husband (der Mann). Since I ain’t married, the innocent me thought I could easily just steer clear of this absurdity.

But alas!

A male friend and a boyfriend also share the same word. So, when I introduce ‘my friend Thomas Müller’, the German world hears it as ‘my boyfriend Thomas Müller’. The trick to avoid misinterpretation? Introduce your male friend as ‘a friend Thomas Müller’. Or even better? Don’t call him a friend. In Germany, you have no friends. You only have ‘colleagues’. On a hot summer day, if the said colleague asks you how the weather is, you reply, ‘Me is hot’ and not ‘I’m hot’ because in German the latter would mean, ‘I’m horny’. The cusp of all oddities? The word, ‘horny’ (German: geil). Apparently, if you want to say something is awesome or cool or funny, you say it is ‘horny’.

  • There is a party today evening! Geil!
  • Is that the new dress you are wearing to Stefan’s party? Looks so geil!
  • Did you have the Mojito at his party? Yes! It was so geil!

You get the drift…

Regardless, I fell in love with German.

Although the grammar is very much a thorny affair, I found this language to be linguistically delightful. Why? Because, German has a very elegant way of encapsulating nuanced but recognizable concepts into beautiful compound words,

  • That song stuck in your head since last night that you cannot get rid of? Well well well, in German, this is called an Ohrwurm i.e., Ear Worm (Ohr/Wurm). Accurate much?!
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  • Your friend just dropped boiling hot water on his pants, and you cannot help but laugh like there is no tomorrow? That is Schadenfreude i.e., Misfortune Joy (Schaden/Freude) or joy in the misfortune of others.
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  • Tried to cheer your depressed self by fetching ice cream from the freezer only to have it fall on the floor, soil the carpet and add to your misery? Congrats, you just experienced Verschlimmbesserung i.e., Worsen Improvement (Verschlimm/Besserung) or worsen a situation while genuinely attempting to better it.

I can add a gazillion more, but the takeaway from this experiment was a simple affirmation. Learning a new language is not just re-iterating some new words. It is a holistic process wherein you open your mind to a whole new way of thinking.

It is no secret that traveling is my passion. Add that to my newfound love for compound words and voilà, you have a unique combination. So, imagine my joy when I stumbled upon a city whose name was technically an amalgamation of its two constituent townships?

Kind of like a compound city?
A thing of dreams, indeed…

Located in the heart of Europe, this ‘compound city’ was a historic jigsaw puzzle. Romans, Mongols, Turks, everybody wanted a piece to themselves. With an incredible network of thermal wells lurking underground, I could see why. Afterall, every usurper needs a chill out spot. What better way to recharge than to jump butt naked into a pool of steamy water in a city that rightfully belongs to you!

…and that is my pathetic proposition as to how this spa paradise scaled in popularity!

All jokes aside, a dip in one of its many natural springs was definitely the first activity that I intended to do when I surrendered to my itchy feet yet again and escaped to the magic i.e.,

B.U.D.A.P.E.S.T

…or should I say Buda-Pest?

A little bird (Read: Google) tells me that when the founding stones of this town was laid, it was referred to as Pest-Buda. Pestbuda. Budapest. Irrespective of what you call it, the elephant in the room is that the Hungarian capital city suffers from twin personality disorder,

  • Buda
    i.e., the classier, calmer and quieter persona carpeted by hills and slopes, determined to give you an unsolicited leg work out…
  • Pest
    i.e., the cool and casual bro devoid of hills but crammed with cafes, bars and a resounding night life…

The flipping switch between the two? The mighty Danube that runs through the heart of the city…

Two centuries ago, crossing this beast of a river was largely at the mercy of currents and winds. This changed in the winter of 1820, when the greatest Hungarian believed to exist, ‘István Széchenyi’ was stuck on the wrong side of the city with no means to cross the Danube in order to attend his father’s funeral. Twenty years later (because, procrastination?), groundwork was laid for the link between Eastern and Western Europe. Ten more years later (because, politics?), Chain Bridge was born. Hundred years later (because, War?), Chain Bridge was bombed. Today however, having endured the vagaries of time and tide, it stands tall and strong as a fitting memento of this city’s hardships…

As I walked across the bridge from Pest, my gaze fell upon a tiny mansion in the far-right corner. My map called it ‘Fisherman’s Bastion’. However, it looked less like a fisherman’s hood and more like a Disney castle.

Legend says that an ancient tribe of fishermen lived on this side of the Danube. During warfare, they would play their part in defending their hometown by guarding this part of the city walls and in times of peace, they would fish and sell their produce in the castle fish market. Such perfect examples of patriotic civilians, don’t you think?

In the panoramic views of Pest from Buda, a particular rusty red domed building on the banks of Danube (Read: Hungary’s very own Parliament building) stands out remarkably,

In matters of red, the Central Market Square a.k.a., Foodie Paradise 101 doesn’t disappoint as well,

The abundance of paprika in Hungarian kitchens makes the cuisine of Hungary daringly different from any other indigenous cuisine that I have gulped down in the whole of Europe. While I cannot share the same enthusiasm for their language, I am grateful that unlike the Hungarian word for ‘Cheers’ i.e., ‘Egészségére’ (pronounced like ‘I guess she can drive’ but in a very fast and slurred manner), most of their culinary treats easily roll of my tongue,

From their renowned Goulash, cabbage rolls and blood sausages,

…to their hearty Langos and their delightful, layered Flodni cake,

Budapest is a foodie’s dream come true! Add a gazillion thermal spas, its rich cultural heritage and a very unique labyrinth of ruin bars.

…and there you have it! A perfectly polished package indeed!

As I navigated through its streets, tackling one café at a time, it dawned on me that irrespective of the differences, there was an odd connection that tied the two halves of this city together. Although the residents of Buda often joke that the best thing about Pest is the view of Buda, it is quite clear that one cannot exist without the other. Much like two of my favorite words,

Perspective and Perception.

Each of us have our own versions as to what these two words could mean. To me however, they are the only two ‘P’s in my life that are forever on a daunting, divine path albeit sticking together like two sides of the same coin. As they waltz through their spiritual saga, shedding intrepid impacts on other aspects of my life, I can’t help but realize that my tangible reality is a product of these two ‘P’s sewn together. Strangely similar to how an experience of Budapest depends on how you perceive the juxtaposition of Buda and Pest!

Every story. Every decision. Every battle is an outcome of perspectives.

So, while I pause, play and ponder, all I have to keep in mind is that it takes a small shift in perception for a world of opportunities to knock on the other side!

Perhaps, you should too 🙂

Until next time,

A