Whatever your tastes, you won't go hungry in Hungary
In my last couple of posts we’ve talked about enjoying mulled wine, hearty sausages and goat’s cheese at Christmas markets across Central Europe. It occurred to me that some readers might think that’s all there is available to eat in Budapest, for example. Fat-suppurating, artery-hardening stodge, that is to say. While it’s true you’ll seldom have to walk far in this town to find a filling stew or dumplings, there’s a lot more to dining out in Budapest than goulash and balls of dough.
Of course there are plenty of good Hungarian restaurants, and even some that update or modify Hungarian dishes to create a kind of ‘Magyar fusion’. Naturally, there are also Italian and French restaurants, some very good ones as it happens. But the variety of restaurant continues to deepen and widen with every passing year.
You might be surprised for example to hear that perhaps the best Japanese restaurant in Budapest has been in business for around 20 years. If it’s difficult to imagine a cuisine further away in form and content from the Central European appetite than Japanese, it’s hard to imagine anything further away from the palate than Indian or Mexican cuisine. Too hot! Too spicy! Yet these days Budapest is well served with both. True, the first Indian restaurant only opened in Budapest a dozen years ago, but there are at least a handful of rather good places.
The influx of American expat professionals in the 90s meant that Mexican food would not be far behind. With Hungary opening up to the outside world, Budapest urbanites became decidedly more adventurous in their dining habits. These days there’s even a local TV station called Paprika TV, showing Hungarians how to spice up their diet with more interesting dishes.
Even when it comes to cafés, you are spoiled for choice. Yes, there are the grand old dames of Budapest café life, some of whom have been around 100 years or longer. But let’s face it. There are times when what you really want is a Mocca frappucino on-the-go. The city now has a goodly number of Starbucks and Costa Coffees about the place, if you crave the familiarity of a high street brand. The new chain places provide an alternative, but thankfully they don’t seem to have squeezed out the traditional, independent places.
For this reporter’s taste, just the right balance seems to have been struck. So, as they say in Hungarian, Jó étvágyat! (Bon appetit!)
Scott Alexander Young is a Writer and Character Actor living in Budapest. His children's book The Wild Cats of Piran (Chronicle One) is available on Amazon.