Budapest Part Three: Blending in with the locals
That first visit to the markets really did set the precedent for things to come, however Budapest is not all about street eats; the city thrives on fantastic restaurants and cafés – well over a thousand in total – in no doubt such prevalence owes to a thriving tourist trade (Budapest is regarded as the central economic and leisure hub for Central and Eastern Europe, serving as a cultural crossroads of sorts) – but after three days in the city it is clear that Hungarians like to get out and enjoy their food – and with a city as striking as Budapest, who can blame them?
Whilst lunch was generally an alfresco, on-the-fly affair, being wrapped up in coats, scarves and hats, diligently protecting a glass of glühwein from rushing hordes of Christmas shoppers, dinner is often taken at a more leisurely pace. ARAZ, a modern swankfest at the Continental Hotel on Dohány utca is built on the site of the historic Hungaria Spa, and offers two menus – French and Hungarian – that go into more detail than Tolstoy’s War and Peace. That said, once everything had been navigated, the food was superb; the Hungarian menu touring all the influences that make their national cuisine one of the most disparate, rich and flavourful I have experienced. At ARAZ, I seized the opportunity to try schnitzel for the first time (can you believe it?). It was accompanied by blackcurrant jelly and boiled potatoes. Freakin’ massive and freakin’ tasty. The Anglo-German inspired Tamarillo Tart was bitter, but balanced with rose ice cream and dark chocolate.
Night two was spent at a buzzing little Italian down the road from ARAZ called Il Terzo Cerchio. The phrase is Italian for ‘the Third Circle’, referencing Dante’s Inferno. In keeping with this theme, the eatery has the somewhat dodgy tagline ‘heavenly food in hell’. Il Terzo is seemingly the place to be and offers decent Italian grub (we all opted for brick-fired pizzas) served well by attentive and patient staff. All our evening meals were washed down with way too much red wine – and sometimes grappa, sometimes cocktails – making the three days more than a little boozy (maybe we have therefore subjugated ourselves to the ‘hell’ Il Terzo refers to), but there is no denying the locals like a drink. A cheap drink at that.
My personal methodology when it came to self-refreshment in Budapest was as follows:
- Coffee, followed by:
- Mulled Wine, followed by:
- Hungarian Merlot, followed by:
- See 1.
As good as the wine is, coffee is really the star of the show. There are cheap and classy cafés everywhere in Budapest, including a charming little coffee house atop Fisherman’s Bastion which comes with one of the best tables – and views – in the city. There are a multitude of Starbucks as well (obviously), however these were simply not needed, what with the excellent quality of coffee literally everywhere we went.
Turkish traders introduced coffee to Hungary as early as the Sixteenth Century. As such, the Hungarian interpretation is similar to Turkish coffee; creamy, rich, dark and ruddy strong. Very often – and this was the way the hotel made it – coffee is brewed in bulk, salted and homogenised with egg to somehow draw out even greater richness and create a frothy and strong blend that simply goes beyond anything I‘ve tried before – even Monmouth Coffee at London Bridge. Now ain’t that saying something?!
The final hours in Pest brought everything together; a few glasses of red, a decent coffee or three, and a warming mug of mulled wine as – for the first time all weekend – the snow started to fall. I picked up a Kürtőskalács – a cylinder of sweet pastry – and picked at it all day, thus finishing a beautiful, tasty and unhealthy holiday on a beautiful tasty and unhealthy note. But hey.
It got worse. We soon found ourselves for the first time at Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport. I was hungry, yet the food offering – as is the case in any airport – was a little bit shit. So I sought terrible familiarity, in essence the same place where I began the holiday – at Burger King. Large Whopper meal, with onion rings. Washed down with a glass of red. We were still in wonderful Hungary, after all.