Home Uncategorized Where and What to Eat in Budapest-Hungarian Cuisine at its Best

Where and What to Eat in Budapest-Hungarian Cuisine at its Best

by Roberto
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If you are planning a trip to Budapest, then it’s highly likely you want to appreciate all aspects of the Hungarian capital. As well as the country’s extraordinary sights, there is the unique and excellent traditional Hungarian food. The following are my suggestions on what to eat in Budapest, and where, during your time in the country’s capital city.

Hungary shares many items from its cuisine with the surrounding countries. Borders have moved and been renegotiated but one thing moves even easier and that’s the people. With them they took their recipes and so if you land in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, or Germany you are very well likely to find similar items on menus. But there are some dishes that are native Hungarian and I’m going to introduce you to these as well as suggest where to find them in the country’s capital.

Traditional Hungarian food is traditionally heavy on meat, but there are more and more restaurants catering for allergies, vegetarians and vegans. I’m going to focus mostly on the traditional where pork and chicken would be the most common meats served.

What to Eat in Budapest and Hungary

Goulash/ Gulyas

It’s the first dish that everyone thinks of when Hungarian cuisine is mentioned. It is a broad term and can be eaten as a soup like starter or as a stew. When considering what to eat in Budapest, this is the essential dish.

Goulash Soup

Goulash soup is a broth of beef, potato, paprika and tomato. It’s perhaps best suited to the colder winter months, but it is undoubtedly delicious. This staple of traditional Hungarian food is usually served with a side of some bread. The soup has a strong deep red colour. It may also be known as Gulyasleves on menus.

When in Budapest I can strongly recommend Pest-Buda Bistro for Goulash. They serve an awesome soup and by all accounts a great stew as well. The restaurant is located in the castle district of Buda, a few minutes walk from the Fisherman’s Bastion on Fortuna Utca. It is one of Hungary’s oldest restaurants being in continuous operation since around 1800. A Goulash Soup costs 1960 HUF, and bear in mind that €1=320 HUF for the remainder of this blog.

Goulash soup

Gulyasporkolt

Goulash is a stew of meat (usually beef) and vegetables served with paprika, tomato, onion and other spices. It found its origin amongst cattle herdsmen in the ninth century, and now is popular worldwide. It also takes its name from this as a Gulyas is a cattle herdsman. I came across some of these on my 2018 trip to the wild west of Hungary, in the Hungarian Puszta.

It’s a dish you are going to have to try on your trip, as not to do so would be like leaving Italy without pasta passing your lips. It’s available in most restaurants serving traditional cuisine, so is widespread throughout Buda and Pest. If beef isn’t your thing try csirkeporkolt, which is commonly known as chicken paprikash. Porkolt is usually cooked in a large pot over an open flame, and if you get out of the city, or to a market, this process is a common sight. The dish usually comes with a side of nokedli which a type of Hungarian noodle. There are many modern restaurants serving variations on the dish, but you can’t go wrong with Pest-Buda Bistro.

Goulash- what to eat in Budapest
Goulash cooked in a traditional cauldron

If you are feeling super brave scroll down to the end for my suggestions on a porkolt for those who really would like to sample everything Hungary has to offer.

Sour cherry soup

Hideg Meggyleves is perhaps a better option for those sticky summer months in the city. Served cold this soup is a mix of sour cherries, spices, sugar, and a dollop of sour cream on top. I can attest to the quality of this soup, it’s absolutely delicious, and cherries wouldn’t really be my thing. It’s very much a seasonable product so will be found on menus during the summer months. I sampled this one in the town of Hortobagy on the Great Hungarian Plain. However if in Budapest, Kispiac Bisztro on Hold Street comes highly recommended. Cherries mature in June so the subsequent months will bring the best flavours.

Hungarian sour cherry soup- what to eat in Budapest
Sour Cherry Soup. like a starter and dessert at once

Lecso

Lecso is not something I’ve had a the pleasure of eating out when in Hungary, but I have eaten many times in my wife’s home. It’s one of those things I simply have to have when there. Basically it’s a thick vegetable ragout made with yellow pointed peppers, onions, tomatoes, paprika with sautéed bacon. It’s a treat for the taste buds.

Lesco- Traditional Hungarian food
Love Lecso- not the most photogenic but makes up in taste

Lecso can be found in Budapest at the imaginatively named Lecso restaurant on Szent Istvan Krt near Margarit Bridge. This cafe doubles as a restaurant for the evening and provides great value for money. It is also the perfect place to find stuffed cabbage.

Toltott Kaposzta

Toltott kaposzta (stuffed cabbage leaves) is a dish commonly found in Central Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It is a cabbage roll, where the ingredients of minced pork, rice, onion, paprika, and garlic are wrapped in cabbage. Hungarians generally use sour or sweet cabbage. It is served with sour cream, which plays a starring role in many Hungarian dishes.  It is said that the dish will bring you health and wealth two things I’m sure we are all looking for. Again cabbage wouldn’t be my bag in Ireland, but this is a dish I’ve enjoyed more than I thought I would.

What to eat in Budapest
What to eat in Budapest – Toltott Kaposzta. Source: Flickr

Rantott Hus

This is another dish that is synonymous with the surrounding area and most commonly known as Schnitzel worldwide. Schnitzel is usually pork or veal, which is beaten with a meat tenderising hammer, coated in flour, eggs and breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Rantott hus however is often served using chicken. As I’m sure you all know it’s delicious and one of my faves. There are variations available. Rantott Sajt is with cheese.

I was told I had to try Buja Diszno(k) in the Hold Street Market. For 2300huf you get an enormous Rantott Hus. It was twice the size of my hand and was a real man vs food situation. I’m happy to say I won, just don’t expect to eat dinner if this is your lunch. Perfect for those on a budget. Its served with creamy potato salad which is the ideal light accompaniment. If this is too big they do serve Rantott Ful, which is pig ear.

Rantott Hus at Buja Disznok
Yes that is actually my hand
Rantott Hus at Buja Disznok Budapest
Rantott Hus at the Hold Street Market

Many restaurants will serve stuffed Rantott Hus, usually with cheese. This is something worth trying should you find on a menu. I’ve only enjoyed this on my trips in Eastern Hungary but its widespread.

Stuffed Rantott Hus
Stuffed Schitzel

Ciganypecsenye

Gypsy Roast as this dish translates to is another heavy on the meat dish. Finding its origin in Hungary’s gypsy minority, this dish has now found popularity in homes and restaurants.

It is a blend of pork blade steaks and smoked bacon, roasted in a marinade of garlic, mustard, and paprika. The bacon comes out thick with grooves in it, and its very crunchy. Gypsy Roast is another large challenging dish. It is rare in Hungary that thought is given to saving space for dessert. Serving is usually with potatoes or wedges. As you may have guessed by now, I’m a big fan of how pork is served in Hungary, and this isn’t an exception. Delicious.

Paprika Restaurant in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter comes highly regarded for Gypsy Roast. I have had this dish several times across the country and it has always been spot on. Its an essential when considering what to eat in Budapest.

Gypsy Roast- essential eating in Budapest
Gypsy Roast- far more appetising than it looks

Eat Budapest Street Food

Hungary has a thriving street food scene that is well frequented by locals. Always a good sign. The offerings at these stalls varies and ranges from good gyros, to local sausages, to more indigenous fare. Naturally i will recommend the more local. Some of the aforementioned things are available also such as Rantott Hus.

Budapest street food
Sausages and fried potatoes- typical Budapest street food

Langos – The best Traditional Hungarian Food

Langos is one of my absolute favourites. It’s as street food as it gets, so don’t expect to find it in restaurants. Trust me I’ve tried. Langos is a deep fried dough which is then served with a choice of toppings. I find it best with sour cream (which you will find in many Hungarian recipes) and cheese. To help you out at the stall, it’s called Langos Saitos Tejfolos. Langos is a perfect blend of dough and crunch. It’s a little hard to even describe so it’s best tried. It certainly won’t break the bank and it’s more than enough to cover one of your daily meals. The only challenge is eating it, you can expect some loss of toppings. But that’s all part of the experience.

Being street food you could walk the streets looking for a market serving langos, or you could just take my advice. If you are in the region of St Stephens Basilica or the Parliament building in Pest, Arany Janos Ut is nearby. The metro station here (metro stations are always a good place to find street food in Budapest) houses Retro Langos Büfe. It may not look a million dollars from the outside, but they serve a mean langos, and you will feel it on the inside. Build up a good appetite with some local culture, and come here to make it history.

Langos in Budapest
Langos- a must when in Hungary

Hungarian desserts and where to find them

Chimney Cake

Chimney Cake is a sweet yeast dough that are baked and covered in cinammon sugar. The dough is hand rolled and then the cones are available with a variety of toppings. This one is traditional Hungarian. I have only tried it in the east again but it is available in a number of places throughout Budapest, notably Chimney Cone on Vigado Ut (see photo below) and Street Cakes on Andrassy Ut. The latter looks the better option with real variety in their offerings. I found them to be quite expensive costing around 2000huf in the city, but they are a cake worth trying.

Chimney cones Budapest
Chimney cones in Budapest at Chimney Cone Stall

Dobos Torta

Dobos Torte is a Hungarian layered sponge cake consisting of seven layers (yes seven), filled with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel. Sometimes it comes coated with nuts if that isn’t enough. Dobos torte is available around the city, but it can be enjoyed at the very opulent New York Palace Cafe. The perfect surroundings for a luxury cake.

Budapest’s finest cafe is also billed as the most beautiful in the world. Built for the upper classes by the New York Life Insurance Company in 1884, the New York Palace cafe’s interior by Koraly Senyei, Gusztav Mannheimer, and Ferenc Eisenhut features stuccoes, frescoed ceilings, chandeliers, sweeping balconies, marble columns and Venetian lamps. The decor wouldn’t look lost in the halls of Versailles. But this is no museum, its a cafe, and an experience that shouldn’t be missed when in Budapest. That’s not to say they don’t charge for the privilege (they really do), and its popularity means that there can be significant queues to get a table.

The New York Cafe menu (when you get to see one) is what one expects from a cafe. Brunch items feature extensively such as French Toast, pancakes, sausage or foie gras, and some Hungarian staples as goulash. However most come for a coffee and cake (including your writer). If you want to be really indulgent there’s the 24 kt gold cappuccino. We left €56 behind for two coffees, two cakes, a milkshake and a water, but there was no questions on the taste front. This huge chocolate cake fan left more than impressed. Look at that art!

Chocolate cake at New York Palace cafe

Gelato

Ok so Hungary didn’t invent gelato. Not am I even claiming they did. They are however doing their best to reinvent it. If you’ve been to Budapest in summer, you’ll know the Hungarian capital is sticky hot, and without a sea or ocean for parsecs, that ice cream is essential. There are some big players looking to bring a different slant to ice cream in Budapest. First there’s Levendula on Rakoczi ut, which, translating as lavender leaves you with no surprise as to what they do. Floral flavours are their speciality. Then there’s Gelarto Rosa, on Szent Istvan ter, who go one further and offer floral presentation. True to their name also, their artful gelato is served in the shape of a rose. The long lines attest to its popularity. Gelato reinvented for sure.

Levendula- where to eat in Budapest

Authentic Budapest Dining Experiences

Ruin Bars

Ruin bars are a unique Budapest phenomenon. They are exactly as advertised, bars opened inside the ruins of old buildings. Most of these are found in the Jewish Quarter on the city, and while they are better known for their late night partying, they do serve traditional food during the day. You can’t go to Budapest without experiencing ruin bars, and the original (and best) is Szimpla Kert. Do not expect fine dining though, these places are rough and ready, yet trendy.

Markets

Budapest isn’t big on breakfast, but if your accommodation doesn’t serve it, then there’s no better place to go than the Central Market Hall on Vamhaz krt. It’s the oldest, largest, and prettiest market in the city, though it’s worth noting the market is at its busiest with locals before 0 am. Hungarian breakfast usually consists of a sandwich with cold cuts and cheese, and you find all this on the lower floors where all the fresh produce is sold. You might think about picking up some retes, a version of strudel usually stuffed with jam or cottage cheese. Delicious. On the upper floors, there are eateries with more of the street food mentioned above, so the market is an option come lunchtime too.

Hungarian Cuisine
Retes

Now that we’ve dabbled in some of the aesthetic side of Budapest, it’s inevitable that’s where we must keep going. There’s nowhere more beautiful to sit and eat, or drink a cocktail, than Budapest’s rooftop bars. See my recommendations in the Best Views in Budapest.

Budapest Food Tours

There are a range of Budapest food tours run locally, that specalise in giving you a taste of the city. Get Your Guide provides a secure and reliable site to book these in advance.

What not to eat in Budapest

There are some unusual dishes in Hungary too, with pigs ear, tripe, gizzard stew and trotter stew being quite popular, but then there is those to really give a wide berth to.

Kakashere Pörkölt

I can’t vouch for this dish as I haven’t tried it but I have heard it’s good from the few people I know to have eaten it. I did order it once in Tokaj but the restaurant was out. Secretly I was quite relieved. This translates as rooster testicle stew. No that wasn’t a typo. Yes it doesn’t sound pretty grotesque. But I was willing to give it a go. If you are, Getto Gulyas in the Jewish quarter of Pest is known for not making a balls of the dish.

what not to eat in Budapest
Kakashereporkolt. Source: Taste Hungary.

I’m a regular traveler to Hungary when we can travel, and I’ll keep sampling its cuisine. Maybe one of these days I’ll try Kakashere Porkolt, and I’ll add my opinion to this blog.

Agyvelo

For non-Hungarian speakers this word means little. For those who do, it prompts a certain level of disgust. And with good reason. Agyvelo is pig brain. Traditionally spread on bread. Never mind how it looks, it in fact smells worse. But I’m of the opinion you don’t know till you have tried it. And now I have I can assure you it’s awful.

Pigs brain in Hungary

I hope this blog will help you on what to eat in Hungary, to enjoy the culinary as well as the architectural delights. If you need help with what to do in Budapest then look no further than my Ultimate Guide to Budapest.

Staying in Budapest

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Thank you for reading and hope you’ll enjoy the cuisine as much as I did.

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