A Food Tour of Budapest: Taste Hungary market culinary walk & local wine tastings. Peanut allergy poster!
Quick, tell me - what is Hungarian food like? Are Unicum, Túró Rudi, langos and Dobos cake delicious or disastrous? By the end of this post, you’ll have all the answers! (And if you have a peanut allergy, the last photo could save your life…)
The day after Sziget Music Festival, my film team and I joined Taste Hungary for a Budapest food tour. They’ve consulted for Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) and have rave reviews from foodies, so I knew I was in good hands.
This indie company offers food experiences in Budapest and nearby areas, with themes such as literary coffeehouse, Danube wine, and craft beer. We did the Culinary Walk, a four hour taste-fest led by an English-fluent expert.
We met our guide Gabor at Central Market Hall, one of Europe’s biggest and grandest indoor markets. (Address: Nagy Vasarcsarnok, Vamhaz korut 1-3.) He co-owns Taste Hungary with his wife Carolyn, author of several books about Hungarian cuisine.
It was the hottest day of the year, so I dressed appropriately. These cat eye sunglasses are from Moat House Eyewear — yes, they’re made of wood! This UK indie brand sent me the hand-crafted frames (which are so unique and comfortable) after befriending me on Instagram.
My ghoulish skull top is similar to this one.
Gabor started the tour with a bang, or rather, a very potent drink. Unicum is a bitter Hungarian liqueur, reminiscent of Jägermeister. The secret formula contains more than 40 herbs, and was closely guarded by the family distillery (they even left the country during the Communist era to protect it!).
Our guide took us to the best market stalls, and gave us the run-down on Hungarian cuisine while we sampled, sampled, sampled. One of my favorite booths was run by a little old lady who makes her own sheep cheese. Gabor set up a little picnic and we tried different types of insanely fresh cheeses, including one with a squeaky texture.
Above is Túró Rudi, a chilled chocolate bar with a filling of quark, also known as cheese curd. Believe me, it’s scrumptious. (All photography by Melissa Rundle.)
Budapest locals come to Great Market Hall to buy fresh fruits, langos (fried flatbread), sausages (flavored with paprika), and other Eastern European staples.
Did you think cute food was found only in Asia? This basement pickle parlor proves otherwise. After we tried a few — the hot pepper one woke me up — the vendor gave us a free paper cone filled with sauerkraut.
While it’s not ok to touch the fruit, we did have permission to film. Can’t wait to show you our upcoming travel video, hosted by yours truly. (The Dubai and Abu Dhabi episode is next.)
Tip: do a Taste Hungary tour on an empty stomach, as you’ll be snacking non-stop for several hours. Having seen each floor of the market, Gabor took us for a stroll through the surrounding Pest neighborhood. Can’t get enough of the classical architecture.
We sat down (or rather, stood at the high tables) for a meal at Belvárosi Disznótoros or “Downtown Pig Feast”. (Address: Károlyi Mihály u. 17) I was grateful to have a local guide, since we would have never found this gem on our own. The traditional Hungarian dishes were flavorful but not overly heavy, and included duck leg, blood sausage, pan-fried potato slices, purple cabbage, cucumber salad, and chicken with pasta.
Now, for dessert. We walked to Budapest’s oldest family-run bakery, Auguszt Cukrászda. (Fény St 8.) The entrance had a Wonderland-like mural and rows of marzipan animals.
Re-charged with espresso drinks, we dove into the cakes: raspberry, walnut, and the famous Dobos — a seven-layer chocolate-filled and caramel-topped sensation. Like today’s cronut, the Dobos torte caused a frenzy when it was introduced in 1884; Franz Joseph I was among its fans.
We ended up in the park, sipping Hungarian wines (rose and white varietals you’ll never find in USA) with our new friend.
Looking back upon the day, I can’t believe how much I learned. A Taste Hungary journey is well worth joining, especially since the tours can be customized for no extra cost. I hope you’ll try one and say hi to Gabor for us!
It’s no exaggeration that food is amazing in Europe. I always eat my fill of the dark grain breads, sheep or goat cheeses, and cappuccinos.
To my surprise, even the European trains had good eats. As first-class passengers, we had access to Eurail lounges stocked with snacks.
Eurail.com lets you choose from a variety of rail passes and make seat reservations for a bit extra (worth it, to avoid standing the entire trip). All these confirmations are promptly mailed to you.
The comfort of this train, which we took from Vienna to Budapest, could rival Japan’s shinkansen.
Another perk of 1st class: in some trains, a staff member serves you free snacks! I also could order a meal or drink, and have it delivered to my seat.
A Eurail pass applies to railways all over Europe, and I think it’s the most convenient way to see the continent. Our journey was comfortable and the staff was attentive.
Unlike in airplanes, you can stretch your legs, enjoy the scenery, and order a proper meal in the dining cart. The trains leave on schedule and stations tend to be centrally located, which cuts down on travel time.
Tip: it’s worth splurging on first class tickets, especially in the summer (not all the cars have air conditioning). However, there are many options for different budgets, including student passes.
Have you ever tried traveling by train? Köszi (thank you in Hungarian) to Eurail.com for sending my filmmakers and me on this grand adventure.
PS: Are any of you allergic to peanuts and other nuts? In places like Eastern Europe and Asia, it can be difficult to communicate this to servers; some don’t even understand the concept of food allergies. Big problem. If you’re severely allergic to peanuts and accidentally ingest one, you can wind up with a puffy face like my cat’s… or much, much worse.
First Mate Naomiyaki came to the rescue! She created this astonishing illustration that clearly communicates: eating a nut = hives and swelling = death. It was a huge help on our trip, as I’m moderately allergic and one of my filmmakers has a foot in the coffin when it comes to most nuts.
We hope you might find this helpful for your future travels. Click for a large version of the peanut allergy sign; print it out or save it to your smartphone, and show it the next time you’re ordering food in a foreign country. Please leave a comment and let us know if it did the trick!
PS: thanks to Posse for publishing my Hong Kong Insider Guide, which includes pizza, pandas and pop culture clothing.