Part 1: I arrived in Budapest hungry, literally! But, I was also hungry for the experience, the culture, the history, the atmosphere, and yes, I’m going to say it, the WINE. This hunger stayed with me and set the tone for the rest of my stay and it also set the tone for how I experienced Budapest; in how I savoured each bite, each sip, each sight, each soak, each drop (of rain), each word, each smell, each pulse, each voice, each step, each whisper, and each story and what a cultural goulash it made! From the airport I checked into ‘Friends Hostel’ which was to be home for the next six days. Then I attended to business…
Food and Drinks
First things first! Since I was hungry and in the land of Paprika and goulash it should not come as a surprise that my first meal was a Goulash soup at a restaurant called Paprika, Paprika Vendeglo. Paprika is a very cosy and rustic restaurant with friendly service. The food was enchanting, especially the hot paprika paste that I used as a spread on my bread whilst I waited for my meal to arrive (world class entrée if I may say so myself). I also tried the pickled paprika stuffed with cabbage, mmmmmh, such a tangy mouth-watering delight they were! It was also here that I sipped my first glass of ‘Bull’s blood’ wine and cherry flavoured Palinka, the local distillate. #monateootswangkaditsebe
I find Hungarian food homey, the comforting type of homey, also classed as comfort food or soul food, rich but not too heavy, spicy but not too hot, wholesome and packed with flavour (with a tint of red from the paprika) and meaty, just how I like it! It also has a Turkish and Balkan influence, which stems from Hungary’s diverse history. I personally came to love Hurka and must admit I went back to ‘Belvárosi Disznótoros’ many times for my rations. Hurka is a sausage that is made from organs such as pork liver, lungs and head meat which are mixed with spices, rice and onions (májas hurka). There is also an option of blood Hurka (véres hurka), which I did not try, but have no doubt that it’s just as tasty.
Belvárosi Disznótoros is a butchery type restaurant that serves ready to eat meals but also offers a wide selection of fresh marinated meats that are prepared on order for take away or eat in. I recommend it for your next visit; it’s really a one stop shop for local food at a reasonable price.
As I was constantly hungry, I tried many more dishes and recommend the following;
Lángos: this is deep fried flat bread the size of a plate and is traditionally topped with sour cream and cheese. But of course now there is a wide range of toppings to be selected from and I had mine topped with vegetables. This delicious fried bread reminded me of fat cakes/magwinya that we make back at home in Botswana.
Pogača: are tiny bite-size, throw in your mouth treats topped with cheese, and have their roots in the Balkans, Turkey and Hungary. They are a great snack and I enjoyed them during long sight-seeing walks and train rides. I also tried a Tepertős Pogača which is bigger in size and cooked with cracklings in it.
Dobostorta/Dobosh (Dobos Cake): named after its creator József C. Dobos, it is a five layered chocolate buttercream sponge cake topped with caramel and its edges crusted with ground almonds, hazel nuts, chest nuts and walnuts. Now you understand why I am totally nuts about this cake, right? It has everything that I adore; and wait until I get to the part about where I ate it.
Kürtőskalács (Chimney cake): is a get-it- and eat-it- while- it’s- hot spit/rotisserie style baked pull-a-part sweet bread that’s coated in a choice of sugar, nuts, cinnamon, cocoa or coconut flakes. I enjoyed warming my hands over the coals just as much as I did eating the cake. Yes! Coal, smoke and chimney cakes are a great match, especially on a cold autumn evening. This is how I kept my hands and belly warm.
Pickled melons: nothing goes to waste in Hungary, not even the small water-melons. They pickle them and eat them. It’s worth a try if you enjoy tangy pickled niceties.
Halászlé (Fishermen’s Soup): is as traditional as they come; a yummy hot, spicy paprika-based river fish soup.
Foie Gras by REX CIBORUM (Goose liver): is luxury in a tin, protected and treasured by the French and produced in Hungary (well, the brand that I ate is and it is the best. It tasted best to me even though I only tried the one brand *hides face* as this is my humble inexperienced taste buds speaking and me trusting in the brands trademark slogan“King of the Meals – Meal of the Kings”).
Töpörtyű (Cracklings): are fried pieces of lard. Now this is a delicacy, an acquired taste but a local favourite, I assume, for you find it as a table snack at bars instead of peanuts or mini pretzels.
Jókai Bableves (Bean Soup): I love beans and I love soups, so I just had to try this one and it did not disappoint. The only mistake I made is that I ordered it as a starter, and afterwards there was no space for the main course. Jókai soup is a cream based soup, and not a broth, with beans and dried sausage in it and hence rich and heavy. It really is a full meal on its own. So, if you want to try it and still have a main course, share it with a friend. But please do give it a swig. A short side note, the soup is named after Mór Jókaia Hungarian dramatist and novelist of note who is said to have dedicated a good portion of his works to ‘gastronomical historical writings’ and his appetite to bean soup.
Tokaji Aszú (wine): is a sweet dessert wine from the Tokaj wine region. Due to its exclusiveness it was a wine reserved for kings and hence it is also known as the wine of the kings. It has been recorded that Tsar Peter the Great after a meeting with Prince Rákoczi II declared “until now I haven´t been defeated by anyone or anything, but Tokaji wine defeated me last evening.” No wonder, cos it is sweetness in a bottle!
‘A belly full but them hungry’ is a line from a Bob Marley song and it was so fitting for me in this setting for I had a belly full of food but I was insatiable, hungry for more, though not for food but for a different kind of indulgence, an immersion deeper into the Hungarian culture if you will. BATHS in the ‘world’s spa capital’
To bath or to bath! There is no need to question, it’s simply a must and with a full belly pulling down on my eyelids and autumn weather raining down, it was only fitting to relax and indulge in the bathing culture of Hungary, a culture that was cultivated over 2000 years ago first by the ancient romans and then by the Turks.
In Botswana we have a saying, ‘ngwana oo sa utlweng molao wa batsadi o tla utlwa wa manong (listen to your parents or else …..)’ and my mom always told me “metsi ke molemo ngwanaka, thapa! (water is medicine my child, bath!)” I took heed cos I believed it then and more so now. So off to Széchenyi bath we go. See you later!
Of the 125 thermal baths in Budapest I visited three; Széchenyi which is on the Pest side and Gellért on the Buda side, plus one in the northeast of Hungary, Miskolctapolca, also known as The Cave Bath, in Miskolc.
Between the three baths, I loved the hot temperatures of the indoor thermal pools of Gillert and their art nouveau interior. The blue colour of the walls and the statues conjured an oriental church like feeling that soothed and had me sleep induced.
However, I preferred and loved the spacious grandeur of the outdoor pools of Széchenyi and her yellow neo-baroque palace façade which is home to eighteen (18) pools, ten (10) saunas, and many other spa treatments and therapies. It was really picture perfect, right down to the men playing chess at the edge of the pool.
But I must state that it was the uniqueness of The Cave Bath that won me over, along with the creativity that was incorporated to make the natural cave system playful and exciting. The star room with its playful colour lights and ‘glow in the dark’ stars on the ceiling pleased my inner child. During my gaze I spotted a moon which had me pointing and screaming to my friend in excitement, only to further discover the amazing acoustics of the room. Of course that had me making funny sounds in the dark and giggling with glee; pity I can’t hit a high note, I would have had that room reverberating. Fun was had, my inner child was beaming! Plunge in, relax until you prune, and let the water heal you; this is an experience I recommend in a heartbeat cos at a drop of a hat would take too long.
And with more than 1000 hot springs throughout the country; both medicinal and mineral with curative powers, I am certain, whatever your preference is, the ‘world’s spa capital’ has something to suit your taste. Go, and take a plunge.
Once rejuvenated there is only one thing to do and that is to dance, and dance we did…[to be continued]