published in tlf
Sunday, December 1, 2013
A few weeks ago I took a whirl wind tour of Budapest. It was my first trip to Hungary despite the fact that I have been to Frankfurt many a times and it’s just an hour’s flight away. Heading over for a few days, I wasn’t too sure of what to expect. My trip was a peek into Hungarian lifestyle and a chance to feel the pulse of Budapest. My first impression was that it is a city of contrasts with some stunning Buildings and the flush Danube with a gorgeous bridge, not to mention the market square that is found everywhere in Europe which is very much a large part of the regular Hungarian everyday life.
A TASTE OF HUNGARY
The best ways to explore the city is by foot and wander in wonder on its streets, admiring the architecture and discovering the tiny, quirky shops and cafés. And it gets better if you plan your walks around town with food and drink as your focus, and you’ll slowly discover why Budapest is right there on the culinary map. Traditional dishes are largely focused around meats, pork in particular, seasonal vegetables, fresh bread, cheese and honey. However, there’s one thing that most people associate with Hungarian cuisine is the heavy use of paprika. Interestingly the Ottoman Turks had a major impact on the gastronomy of the region, paprika being one of its symbols. The gastronomic influence of the Turks also spans to the introduction of rice pilaf, strudel, tobacco, tomatoes, corn and cherries and coffee of course! The goulash, a soup or stew of meat (can be of any kind), noodles and vegetables (mostly potatoes) seasoned with paprika as well as other spices is another dish Budapest is very famous for. Hungarians in general are fond of soups, desserts and pastries, as well as stuffed pancakes. The most iconic traditional main courses are chicken paprikás, stuffed cabbage and stuffed peppers, the stews, Foie Gras and pork dishes. Definitely save room for dessert. Visit a cukrászda (bakery) or a kávéház (café) and try the rétes (strudel), krémes, Eszterházy torta, or Dobos torta. For those who do not know Hungary has many local wines, so even if you are a connoisseur, you would discover new flavours here, such as the full-bodied reds from the southern regions (notably Szekszárd and Villány), the lovely rosés, the increasing number of traditionally produced sparkling wines, the fresh whites (like Irsai Olivér and Olaszrizling), and of course the wines from Tokaj (both dry and sweet). I would highly recommend furmint, a grape varietal grown mainly in Tokaj and Somló, which is made into both a dry wine and is used for the sweet Tokaji aszús.
A robust combination of sounds and colours lit up my morning at the Central Market Hall in true local Hungarian style as I discovered that Hungary is a foodie’s haven and Budapest is no exception. The market is expansive- two floors of celebrated Hungarian merchants, farmers, and local chefs. The first floor includes farmers galore that offer fresh produce to butcher’s hanging slabs of meat.
I could also see peppers in a wide range of colours, shapes and flavours running the gamut from the sweet tomato paprika, mild apple pepper to the lethal cherry chilli. I also enjoyed my stroll through the local artists’ handmade crafts and was amazed to note the detail on the porcelain! And of course there are plenty of souvenirs to buy as well. A good idea is to sit among the locals and enjoy the Hungarian fare and sip a beer, at any time of the day, mind you! Be sure to try the Mangalica pork if you come across it and you could also try the lángos, a big piece of fried dough topped with garlic, sour cream or cheese. This bustling hall will have you entertained for an hour or two, a must see while in the city!
THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS
Budapest doesn’t exactly seem to hide its charms, “If you’ve got it flaunt it” could well be the city’s motto. Even more famed for its vibrant nightlife, it is a popular vacation destination. As far as nightlife is concerned Budapest caters for all tastes and does not disappoint at all. If you really want to see the gorgeous city, you need to go out at night. Climbing up to Citadella on the Gellert Hill, taking a walk by the Danube, sitting in a limo riding around the City or going for a night ride in a boat on the Danube are all surely worth a try. ‘Ruin pubs’ aka meeting places of local people of all ages are the hottest in the city and the ambience includes worn-down pieces of furniture, psychedelic interiors, and tons of people and this essential charm changes from venue to venue, and guarantees an enviable assortment. Situated in Kazinczy utca, ‘Szimpla kert’ is one of the busiest party streets of downtown Budapest, is the ‘Baap’ of all ruin pubs. The interior, courtesy of contemporary artists, looks like as if it was put together from the selection of a second hand shop selling electronic devices, prehistoric toys, old bikes, and even vintage Russian cars. The crowd is mostly foreigners, although locals also frequent the place owing to the diverse selection of concerts. The booze assortment holds no surprises, while the menu consists of bar dishes. It’s just the place to get to know heaps of exciting people during an all-nighter. Interestingly the diverse, upscale crowd included something that most pubs aspire to – more girls than the boys!
published in tlf