What is Hungarian Food?
Traditional Hungarian cuisine does not have the most exciting reputation. It relies heavily on meat, dairy, and bread and incorporates elements from both Central European and Eastern European food cultures. Well-known dishes included chicken paprikash and goulash The ubiquitous spice is paprika, a ground-spice made from the air-dried red bell pepper. Desserts, such as the Dobos torte (a layered sponge and chocolate ganache affair), are popular to eat at cafes.
Budapest is not just about traditional Hungarian cuisine. It's a city catering to thousands of international travelers each year, and the dining options reflect that. When looking for what to eat in Budapest, you'll find fine and low brow dining options, local and chain coffee shops, and international cuisines ranging from Japanese ramen to French bakeries. Food trucks are a hip new enterprise there and a number of restaurants cater to vegetarian and even vegan customers.
I spent four days in Budapest and one day in Eger, Hungary and here is what I ate and drank while I was there.
Breakfast in Budapest
A Table! Boulangerie-Patisserie
I always get excited when I see eggs benedict on a breakfast menu. However, they're a difficult dish to execute well. A benedict can be ruined by any number of things: a poorly executed hollandaise, an undercooked or overcooked poached egg, crappy bread or muffin, or poor quality meat, fish, etc.
The eggs benedict at A Table! was served on stale brioche. The hollandaise sauce was well executed but, as you can see from the photo, there needed to be more sauce to meet the size of the toast. The forgettable ham slice was topped with an undercooked poached egg. I suffered from terrible stomach cramps for the rest of the day.
You're thinking, another egg's benedict? This chick is so stereotypical millennial. Hey, at least I'm not ordering avocado toast. Stika opens early compared to most restaurants in Budapest and I'd read they have a pretty good benedict. I wanted to make up for my earlier lackluster benedict.
It was better than the benedict at A Table! on a number of levels. First of all, I didn't get food poisoning from it, which is something all restaurants should strive for. Another plus, Stika perfectly poached their eggs to order. The sauce was sufficient if lacking in flavor and the muffins were toasted but nothing special. The amount of smoked salmon was pitiful and looked like the end bits. If you're going to serve smoked salmon on top of an egg benedict, you should be using whole slices.
International Food in Budapest
Hachapuri (Georgian Food)
I first encountered Georgian food in Portland, Oregon at the now closed Kargi Gogo and fell in love with the decadent, cheesy Acharuli khachapuri, a bread boat filled with farmer's cheese and topped with an egg and a pat of butter. This is food that will fill and warm you up.
At Hachapuri on the posh, shopper's mecca of Andrassy Avenue, we ordered a late lunch of spinach and cheese acharuli and beef and pork khinkali. While it took forever to get our food, the service was friendly. The spinach and cheese acharuli was hand's down the best food I had in Budapest. They had the perfect balance of spinach, creamy cheese, and freshly-baked bread.
Khinkali is a type of thick-skinned soup dumpling served piping hot. To eat the dumpling, hold them by the knot at the top and flip them over. Bite them from the bottom, suck out of the soup, and eat the meat. Don't eat the knot of dough at the top. The khinkali at Hachapuri were tasty but a little too heavy on the black pepper and I say that as a black pepper junkie.
You're probably thinking this chick just makes bad decisions and that's why she didn't enjoy the food in Budapest. There's probably some truth to that but after nearly three weeks of no Asian food, I was absolutely craving something soupy and noodly. Right downstairs from my Budapest apartment was Ramenka.
I ordered the ramenka: a pork-based broth with chashu, egg, carrot, seasonal vegetables, naruto, wood ear mushroom, and bean sprouts. The broth was bland, the noodles overcooked, and the egg hardboiled and chalky instead of medium boiled and custardy. There was plenty of tasty chashu and tender, flavorful vegetables. It was a nice break from the bread heavy cuisine but it had nothing on the ramen available in California.
Cheap Eats in Budapest
Across the street from my apartment on Kazinczy Street, was Karavan, a group of street food kiosks ranging from fried cheese sandwiches to traditional chimney cakes. Following a rude interaction with the staff at The Street Buffet where they refused to serve me, I ordered what I thought was going to be a burger on a langos, a traditional fried dough. What I received was a fried dough disk with goat cheese on top. No burger. It was far too greasy and flavorless to be enjoyable, and Budapest hit me again with food poisoning.
Hot Dog Cold Beer
A late night hot dog is always a gamble. You can end up with delicious, greasy drunk food or the stale bun, a snapless dog, and sad toppings I found at Hot Dog Cold Beer. I ordered the Japanese dog, a hot dog served with pickled onion, cabbage, and wasabi mayo. As a side, I got the chips on a stick, an inconsistently fried and bland collection of potato slices. I think this also contributed to my stomach ache the next day.
Travelers praise the desserts and pastries of Budapest, particularly the .dobostorta, invented by the famous Hungarian confectioner Jozsef C. Dobos in 1884. The cake involves five to seven individually baked layers of cake alternated with chocolate buttercream and a layer of caramel-glazed cake on top.
On the suggestion of the Kevin and Amanda blog "Everything I Ate in Budapest", I went to Cafe Ruszwurm. Conveniently located near the Fisherman's Bastion and the Matthias Church, Cafe Ruszwurm is a classic Budapest cafe. When I went it was packed with tourists with a line out the door, but the counter service is quick and efficient.
My dobostorta was sooo dry! The caramel layer on top detached itself from the rest of the cake. The chocolate buttercream was smooth and full of chocolate flavor. I would skip it and just go for the gelato at Gelarto Rosa.
Could this ice cream be any more beautiful? This Instagram-worthy ice cream is not only beautiful but creamy and delicious! Gelarto Rosa serves gelato roses in a number of flavors. I ordered three flavors for my rose: black sesame, mango, and raspberry. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I ordered my flavors based on how the colors would contrast but each flavor was delightful. To my surprise, my favorite flavor was the black sesame: it had an earthy nuttiness similar to peanut butter without the heavy cloyingness that peanut butter can bring to the table at times. Hear that ice cream makers: black sesame is a dessert flavor.
Fine Dining in Eger, Hungary
You might be asking yourself at this point, did she eat anything good in Hungary? The answer is yes! I ate an incredible meal in Eger, Hungary. Eger is located in the heart of wine country, about two hours east of Budapest. While I would not recommend going to Eger unless you're a true wine lover, if you are out there I suggest eating at Macok Bistro.
Located in the shadow of Eger Castle, Macok Bistro serves traditional Hungarian flavors in contemporary dishes. My meal started with passion fruit lemonade (acid, finally!) and a seasonal soup. The vibrant green cream of asparagus soup was an absolute delight: balanced and velvety smooth. The tender braised beef cheeks at the bottom of the bowl provided a fatty meatiness that brought the dish to the next level.
Following up my soup, I had the toasted rabbit roast with liver crisp, vegetable sauce and potato donut. The rabbit was tender with crispy skin and served on top of a ridiculously flavor packed parsnip and carrot puree. Nestled next to the rabbit were the potato donuts and liver crisps. The liver crisps were intensely savory, creamy, and perfectly fried, though not something I would recommend for people who do not like liver. The potato donuts were light, airy, and slightly sweet, the perfect accompaniment for the liver. The dollops of sour cream provided a cool, acidic note that was needed to cut through the richness of the dish.
I ended my meal with an espresso, by far the best coffee in Hungary.
Hungary was not my favorite city for food, but there is good food to be had in Budapest, and my dining experience in Eger was top notch. The one thing you must eat in Budapest is a gelato rose from Gelarto Rosa.