If you do not have an idea where you could have a nice lunch or dinner in Budapest, you may end up having bad food at bad price by picking a touristy restaurant.
How to Avoid Touristy Restaurants in Budapest?
Touristy places (e.g. Vaci utca shopping street or some streets up on the Castle Hill) may evoke touristy restaurants striving for profit, but not aiming at high quality. There are some notable exceptions of course, like Alabardos Restaurant on the Castle Hill, close to the Buda Castle, or Onyx Restaurant on Vorosmarty square close to Gresham Palace and the Chain Bridge.
In order to find decent foods at available prices in Budapest, ask some locals where they go (most of them no-where these days due to the economic situation). Alternatively, you can take a look at a list of the best Budapest restaurants we put together, which may not be the cheapest, but you will have a really great gastronomical experience: check out the Budapest restaurant guide featuring Hungarian, French, Italian, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, etc. restaurants all over Budapest (with maps, images and more!)
Another way to avoid tourist traps, is to take a look at the menu before entering the restaurant (check the prices before going in – if you do not see prices, just a list of exquisite dishes, forget that restaurant).
Last but not least, the best way to try something truly Hungarian is if you get an invitation for a family lunch or dinner (you stand a very good chance to get invited for a home-cooked meal, but expect some dishes of higher calories rather than light salads or fish – so better have lunch than dinner).
Good and fairly priced foods are usually available in less fancy streets, off the usual tourist routes. However, many of these places do not look fancy, they have a bit worn-down decoration and furniture.
As most of the traditional Hungarian dishes are made with meat and vegetables are cooked, we tend to have hearty, stodgy meals all year round. Recent gastronomical developments and health trends have shifted the old Hungarian paradigm towards more healthy, lighter foods, but the traditional meals are full of calories. We love them, but we would like to advise you to try the Hungarian dishes for lunch to have enough time to easily digest them.
Typically, what qualifies as a traditional Hungarian dish is as follows:
STUFFED CABBAGE: ground meat seasoned with pepper, salt, sweet or hot paprika, then rolled in cabbage leaves, placed in a big pot, surrounded by sauer kraut – sour cabbage – tomato, red and green pepper, bacon, etc., then cooked until tender. Delicious, hearty. Usually served with sour cream. Big favorite during winter time, and at Christmas time.
CHICKEN SOUP: all kinds of chicken parts (from head, neck, back, legs, etc.) cooked in water full of vegetables (onion, tomato, garlic, celery, carrot, parsley, turnip, potato, kohlrabi), seasoned with pepper, salt. Served with pasta resembling angel hair (but of even finer quality). Many people put hot paprika into their bowl – excellent when having influenza. Eaten all year round, especially as Sunday soup.
GOULASH SOUP: the original goulash comes from Hungary – and the original goulash is completely different from what you get as goulash in other countries. Honestly, it cannot be compared! :) The goulash we make and love is a rich thick soup full of vegetables and beef (sometimes made with pork, but the real goulash is usually made with special parts of the beef). We eat goulash soup mostly as a 2 in 1 dish, as it is so so rich and filling – in other words, goulash is not just an appetizer but a main course, followed by a dessert (typically pancakes, pies, strudels or maybe some sweet pasta with cottage cheese). What you eat if you get a real Hungarian goulash? There are variations, but basically you eat beef cubes stewed in oil and onion, salt, pepper, paprika, then lots of water and vegetables comes in the pot (celery, tomato, carrot, green pepper, potato, parsley – rarely mushroom too), and the seasoning (salt, pepper, caraway seeds or cumin). Served with tiny noodles, eaten with fresh white bread. A similar version is with beans – bean goulash soup – now, that’s really filling and lovely in winter time.
LANGOS: Snack made of sour dough (flour, salt, water fried in hot oil) – shaped like a pizza and topped like a pizza (in Hungary, most typically first touched with a bit of ground garlic, salted, sour cream, ground cheese, sometimes crispy bacon pieces too).
PANCAKE WITH MEAT (Hortobagy pancake): Stewed meat wrapped in pancake, topped with sour cream, usually served as an appetizer.
BEEF STEW WITH NOODLES: smallish beef cubes stewed in hot oil, salt, pepper, paprika, onion. Served with noodles, and with dill pickles (or kosher dill pickles, or cucumber salad with vinegar, or tomato salad with vinegar) .
KOCSONYA: Kocsonya (say coch-onia) is something like jelly – at least by the look of it, like yellowish jelly. There is usually pork meat in the jelly, and the jelly tastes like cold, thick meat soup. Eaten with vinegar or lemon juice. Seasoned with pepper, salt. Typical winter food as you need to freeze the thick meat soup liquid on the terrace or balcony.
FISH SOUP: lots of fishes (typically carp) and vegetables, cooked until very tender, seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika to make the soup look literally red colored. Especially popular in the countryside of Hungary along the river Danube and Tisza. Similarly to goulash soup or meat soup or chicken soup, it is filling, so usually the second course would be something really light, or the desserts.
We could go on and on – especially with desserts, which have not been enlisted here.
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