Budapest Dining

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Budapest Dining
From its traditional specialties and historic coffeehouses to its colorful food markets and creative contemporary restaurants, Budapest’s vibrant food and wine scene makes the city a worthy destination for drinking and dining.
Photo by Carolyn Banfalvi
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    Traditional Hungarian Fare
    Hungarian cuisine has been shaped over the centuries by its neighbors and invaders, and is known for ingredients like paprika, sour cream, and smoked bacon. Hungarian paprika shines in dishes like gulyás (a soup made with beef, potatoes, and carrots), halászlé (fisherman’s soup), paprikás (chicken, veal, fish, or mushrooms in paprika sauce), and pörkölt (stew). But for a true taste of Hungary beyond paprika, try an elegantly prepared foie gras dish, luscious pork from Mangalica (a Hungarian heritage breed of pig), or stuffed peppers in tomato sauce.
    Photo by Carolyn Banfalvi
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    Neighborhood Food Markets
    Food lovers should allot plenty of time to explore Budapest’s colorful food markets. The Central Market Hall, near Liberty Bridge, is the largest and oldest. Dating to 1897, the vast market covers three levels. Butchers on the main level offer an array of paprika-flavored sausages, smoked slabs of bacon, and thick slices of foie gras. Go downstairs to see vats of pickled vegetables of all types. The city holds many other markets worth visiting, such as the Hunyádi tér Market Hall in the 6th District, the Sunday farmers' market at Szimpla, and the Fény utca Market in Buda. For a real local adventure, head out to the Bosnyák tér Market in the 14th District, which is half open-air and feels more like an old-fashioned village marketplace.
    Photo by Carolyn Banfalvi
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    Historic Coffeehouses
    At the beginning of the 20th century, Budapest had more than 600 opulent coffeehouses. They were hubs of literary and artistic life, and are deeply intertwined with Hungary’s history. Artists, writers, journalists, and revolutionaries wrote, edited, and planned insurrection from their marble tables. Though most cafés were shut down during Communism, a few remain. The opulent New York Cafe has been meticulously restored and is now part of a luxury hotel. The Centrál Kávéház was largely destroyed during Communism, but has been rebuilt to perfectly reflect its past. Its atmosphere, as well as its full menu, invites lingering. On Andrássy út, the Művész and the Book Café are others worth visiting.
    Photo courtesy of the New York Cafe
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    Indulge In Hungarian Sweets
    Hungary is famous for its decadent desserts that make heavy use of Ingredients like marzipan and poppy seeds, and which include elegant layer cakes, strudels with paper-thin layers of dough, and home-style delights such as palacsinta (crepes) filled with jam. Gerbeaud is the city’s most historic café, and plays a prime role in the country’s cake culture. Nearby, the flagship café of the Szamos Marcipan chain offers marzipan specialties and more. Auguszt Cukrászda is a family-run operation with three locations and fantastic Dobos torta. Sugar is an energetic sweet shop with contemporary style, which changes the theme of its collection annually. Kürtőskalács (chimney cake) is also sold around town.
    Photo by Carolyn Banfalvi
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    Hungarian Cuisine Reinvented
    Hungarian cuisine may be the ultimate comfort food, but its recipes aren't stuck in the past. A movement toward modern interpretations of dishes and ingredients has been in the works for a few years. Updated classics may shock a few grandmothers, but ambitious chefs behind these changes have transformed Budapest’s restaurant scene. The menu at Bock Bisztró, one of the trailblazers, always holds surprising flavors and combinations. Other restaurants in Pest to seek out are Mak Bistro, Borkonyha, Laci!Konyha, and Olimpia Étterem. And it's worth crossing the river to Buda Zona for a meal at Onyx, one of Budapest’s two Michelin-starred restaurants. Its Hungarian Evolution Menu features dishes like venison with black pudding toast.
    Photo courtesy of Borkonyha
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    Unique Local Wine Varietals
    Wine is made in most parts of Hungary, and Hungarian winemakers make it all: red, white, rosé, and sparkling. Hungary’s most famous wine is the sweet aszú from the Tokaj region, which not only produces a range of exquisite sweet wines, but a lovely dry furmint as well. Other unique wines to look out for are the distinctive whites from the Somló region, and the reds from the southern Szekszárd and Villány regions. Many Budapest restaurants, such as Borkonyha and Bock Bisztró, have extensive wine lists. Or visit one of Budapest’s wine bars such as Innio or Drop Shop for an even bigger selection. Another spot to try is DiVino, which has several locations and is focused on the wines of young Hungarian winemakers.
    Photo by Carolyn Banfalvi
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    Budapest’s Jewish Culinary Heritage
    Budapest’s Jewish community is Eastern Europe’s largest, and a walk in the 7th District reveals that its cuisine is undergoing a revival. Hungarian cuisine has incorporated many Jewish influences, including a love for roasted goose and for foie gras. The district holds a few kosher eateries, including Hanna (attached to the Orthodox Synagogue), but most other Jewish-style restaurants serve pork. Sólet, a slow-cooked bean and meat dish, is a specialty not to be missed. Try it on Saturdays at Kádar Étkezde or at Fülemüle Étterem. Modern restaurants, such as Macesz Huszár, are ensuring that Jewish recipes don’t stay stuck in the past. For dessert have flodni—a poppyseed, walnut, and apple pastry—at Café Noé or Fröhlich.
    Photo courtesy of Macesz Huszár
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    Cocktails Worth Lingering Over
    Beer, wine, and pálinka (fruit brandy) are the drinks of choice. But dig a bit deeper and you will find that locals are developing a taste for cocktails. Sophisticated drinks are being shaken behind a number of Budapest’s bars. The highly experienced bartenders at Boutiq’Bar are considered the best in town. Brody Studios, a members' club, offers cocktails paired with music and art events. Trafiq and Farm are well-regarded for their cocktails, and hotel bars like the Four Seasons and Blue Fox Bar at the Kempinski serve tasty drinks. While Budapest doesn’t have a signature cocktail, opt for one made with pálinka or Unicum (a liqueur made with more than 40 types of herbs) to try something with a local flavor.
    Photo courtesy of Boutiq' Bar
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    Budapest's Quirky Ruin Pubs
    Ruin pubs have been Budapest institutions since 2001, when they began opening in the 7th District. Entrepreneurs began taking advantage of the many inexpensive buildings standing empty in this neighborhood by creating funky bars full of second-hand eclectic furnishings and décor. The first to open was Szimpla, which is now a neighborhood fixture. It even hosts a Sunday farmers' market and a number of other events. Another ruin bar to seek out is Fogas Ház, located in a former dental office (look for the giant set of red lips on the roof of the building). Nearby, Ellátó Kert is also a popular place for a beer, fröccs (wine spritzer), or some tacos from the taco stand.
    Photo courtesy of Szimpla