The great thing about working in education is having holidays strewn throughout the year, giving lots of opportunities to get a change of scene. Sometimes I get the travel bug, which can’t be helped when friends post amazing photos all over the place.
Budapest was a city I had missed visiting due to a lack of planning; while I was in Vienna a couple of years ago and I could have gone to Budapest if I had made a thorough plan for the whole trip. The what-if stayed on my mind, which is why Budapest was among the top choices for this half-term.
Just as many others had described, Budapest was amazing; a beautiful city boasting gorgeous bridges, classy architecture and lush parks (the parks in autumn are a true gift). No matter which side of the Danube you’re on, there’s always a breathtaking view. Same goes for daylight vs nighttime. Budapest is just all-around beautiful; were she a person she’d be like Natalie Portman.
Food-wise, it was great; I just love trying new things. I got to try a kind of strudel different to what I’ve eaten before. Hungarian strudel (or rétes) uses pastry very similar to filo pastry (as opposed to puff pastry) and fillings of choice include sweet cottage cheese and sour cherry. There are also savory strudels, with fillings like cabbage. The bakery we went to was called Rétesvár and it was the tiniest place dedicated to strudel located within the walls of a medieval archway in the Castle district. I tried the classic sweet cheese strudel, while my boyfriend tried the sour cherry with poppy seeds. Both were served with powdered sugar on top. Humble-looking but great flavor.
Then, while on a walking tour of Pest, we stopped to get lángos (fried dough stretched like a pizza) from a Fritú stall in a market hall near the Soviet War Memorial. The great thing about traveling with someone is you can always eat more stuff simply by sharing everything. The lángos is definitely something you might want to share, unless you’re starving. The one I got was massive and loaded with cheese. It was listed under the more traditional ones which can have garlic, sour cream or a combination of these. There are lots of other choices when it comes to toppings, however, so there’s definitely room to experiment.
For something sweeter, we tried the funnel cake (kürtőskalács), which originated in the Hungarian-speaking regions in Romania as a festive treat. It was very cool to see the way they are baked wrapped around a spit over charcoal. The end result is a hollow cake, fluffy on the inside with a shiny, caramelized crust.It is further coated in sugar.
Not all food experiences were that great though. The one major let-down was dinner one day while we walked around the shopping street near Deák Ferenc metro station. There were lots of stalls selling food so we figured we’d just try them. My boyfriend chose first since he was hungrier. And good thing he did. We ended up sharing a monstrous plate consisting of overpriced fried potato pancake topped with a chicken sauce and bowl of goulash soup. It was gross on every level: oily, bland potato which was too hard around the edges, the soup was watered down and needed seasoning. The chicken saved it to some extent. All this blandness for the whopping price of HUF 8,800 (£25), which is outrageous for a meal in Budapest (even in London, £25 from one food stall alone is a bit much). We asked about the price and apparently they sell everything according to weight. But still, 8,800? I definitely feel like we were scammed, especially since none of the prices were listed anywhere. We didn’t take any photos of this dismal meal, it was just too depressing. The offending stall’s name was Fashion Street Food. Just stay away. Also, lesson learned: always ask for a price first if it’s not listed.
At least the trip ended on a positive note. We traveled to Szentendre, a small town north of Budapest where we found the National Wine Museum. There we were offered a wine tasting for HUF 3000 each (£8.70!). Our wine master, Peter, led us through the tasting of six wines from five of the 22 different wine regions in the country (grape varieties are listed first, then the region in Hungary):
- A dry white wine (Irsai Olivér, from Ászár-Neszmély)
- A mild red wine (Kékfrankos, from Sopron)
- A collector’s full-bodied red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, from Hajós-Baja)
- A fresh rosé (Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Kadarka blend, from Villány)
- An eiswein-type of Tokaji (Furmint, from Tokaj)
- A special selection Tokaji Aszu 3 puttonyos (Furmint, from Tokaj)
I definitely learned a lot from this wine-tasting, especially about Tokaji wine, which was my favorite one of the lot. The number of puttonyos simply refers to the degree of sweetness of the wine, so 6 puttonyos would be the sweetest you can go. I found out, however, that recent legislation has made 5 puttonyos the minimum for a Tokaji wine, so anything lower than that is hard to find (and may be very expensive if it was a good harvest year, like 1999…about 100 euros for one bottle!). What’s special about Tokaji wine is that no two wines taste exactly the same, given the varying weather conditions for a harvest year and the different technologies for making it. The one I tasted had very distinct honey tones, which I’ve never had in a wine. And to be honest, I usually can’t really tell when a wine has such and such undertones of fruit or florals or whatever. But this time, I actually could recognize the honey flavor (haha, I’m so proud of myself). Needless to say, I didn’t need any convincing at all to get a bottle (or two) from the airport.
All in all, it was a great trip. I wouldn’t hesitate going back for seconds (especially for more Tokaji). I’ll just stay away from the sketchy street food.