I could have entitled this post “Központi Vásárcsarnok,” but I was afraid that might have been a little off-putting. To quote from my phrasebook, “Hungarian, or Magyar, is distantly related to Finnish and Estonian, but is utterly unlike the languages of the other main linguistic groups of Europe.” No kidding. What that means in real life is that if your main language experiences have been with, say, Romance or Germanic languages, none of the words in Hungarian will look even remotely familiar. Which made the long weekend Nick and I recently spent in Budapest something of an adventure.
Budapest was once two towns, Buda on the hilly West bank of the Danube River, and Pest on the flat East side. We stayed in Pest, in the Józsefváros neighborhood, which seemed to have a pretty good dining scene as well as plenty of cool bars for later on. There was a bit of trouble with the hotel we had originally booked, but since it resulted in a free upgrade to the Hotel Palazzo Zichy, we weren’t complaining. The first night we dined in a nearby restaurant, Alföldi Kisvendéglö, which served inexpensive, old-school Hungarian classics like paprikás csirke (chicken paprikash – chicken braised in a paprika-laced gravy) and töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage). The food was hearty and flavorful, though less than photogenic. We washed it down with a bottle of Hungarian red wine, which was surprisingly good, especially considering the price – about $18 US.
The next morning, I was itching to check out the Central Market Hall, conveniently located only ten minutes’ walk from our hotel. (I swear I didn’t plan it that way, I just got lucky.) It’s an impressive building, with elaborate patterns in the bricks and a colorful tiled roof. Inside, the market spans three levels.
The ground floor consists mainly of touristy paprika stands and butchers. The butchers had rows and rows of sausages of various girths hanging on display, and piles of foies gras that made it seem as though it’s a regular, boring, everyday food. (Let it be noted that I did, in fact, eat foie gras every day I was in Budapest. So maybe that is the case.) A handful of dairy stands and bakeries broke up the monotony, and there was one row almost exclusively devoted to fresh vegetables. It was here that I bought two bags of paprika and a jar of paprika paste, after comparing prices around the market and finding them favorable.
The basement of the market used to be a series of canals where delivery boats could come in directly from the river, but now it houses a supermarket, some fish counters, and a lot of places selling pickled things. Pickled cabbage, cucumbers, peppers, onions, garlic, you name it, they pickle it. And then stuff it into another pickled item. I was particularly delighted by this display:
I mean, how can you not smile at a wall of happy cabbage-stuffed peppers?
Having worked up an appetite, Nick and I headed upstairs to check out the ready-to-eat food stands. The view over the market was pretty incredible.
After inspecting the wares, we decided on lángos, rounds of fried flatbread smeared with sour cream, cheese, and whatever else you want on top. Apparently I didn’t think that was quite enough dairy for one giant savory doughnut, and asked for a topping of feta cheese. Nick did the smart thing and got salami.
They were so greasy, and so incredibly good. And I didn’t even feel that guilty about eating it after stepping back out into the cold. Then we skipped the funicular and hiked up the Castle Hill on foot, which totally earned us a slice of dobostorta from Ruszwurm Cukrászda, which is supposed to be one of the best pastry shops in Budapest. Frankly, it was a little disappointing, but the three slabs of seared foie gras I had at dinner that night definitely made up for it.
On this day in 2010: Chez Virginie (one of the best cheese shops in Paris)
Originally published on Croque-Camille.