When it comes to food also Budapest falls victim of a tendency that is pretty recurrent in the main cities in Europe: each restaurant seems to a tourist trap, with their waiters in white shirt whizzing between the tables carrying overpriced anodyne food.
Now, I appreciate the offer of international food for the more shy guests, but not when this means removing every typical local dish from the menu.
Asking the locals is always a good way to find a small unpretentious restaurant serving traditional food, but it’s not always reliable. We asked the receptionist at the hostel where we were staying and, despite our precise request, she lazily pointed out towards tourist wonderland (between Oktagon and Opera) where, weakened by hunger pangs, we gave up to a restaurant that extorted us 12 euros each for a tepid soup and a schnitzel.
After this first unsatisfying experience we opted for the DIY sandwich: shops and markets are everywhere, a lovely covered market (the Great Market Hall, or Nagycsarnok) is located near the Liberty Bridge, and many corner shops are open 24 hours. If I can’t get the local cuisine I rather save money on food.
Otherwise you can take your chances with one of the many pubs, in Pest there’s almost one at each street. You can easily spot them by the sign advertising beer outside and they vary from very dodgy looking to self-promoted overpriced wanna-be restaurants. Look at the menu – if it’s only written in hungarian is usually a good thing – and follow your instinct. This is usually a lunch option as they close quite early in the evening.
We stopped at this lovely café before taking the funicular to Buda, and regrettably we didn’t eat here. The food on the list was really tempting and the few dishes we’ve seen leaving the kitchen looked good. The atmosphere is a great plus: red and white checked tablecloths, music memorabilia scattered all over and a relaxed vibe.
I would definitely go back here with no hesitation, and if you end up having some food there let us know if you liked it!
Szimpla Ruin Pub
If tasting the typical cuisine and products is not enough, because you also want them to be organic and locally produced (oh my, you’re difficult!), then the Sunday market at the Szimpla is the place to go. From cheese to honey, from cured sausages to bread loaves, from fresh juices to homemade liquors, this could be your one-stop place for a meal accompanied by fresh beer and live music. You’ll surely help the local business.
Self Service Canteen in Buda
This place has actually a name which, translated, would be “Fortuna Self Service Canteen”. Instead you’ll find it as “Fortuna Önkiszolgáló Étterem” and I challenge you to say that name, asking for direction. This is a great place to eat, so far my favourite in Budapest, and it’s in the most unlikely location: right in the middle of Buda: in Fortuna Utca 4. It is quite hidden and took me a while to find it the first time: pass through the entrance leading to the inner yard, take the staircase to the left and go to the first floor where you’ll find the big canteen with the self service counter. I hope they haven’t changed it since my last visit, and that they never will: every list and sign was written in Hungarian, so I approached the huge man serving food for assistance. “Do you speak Engl..” “Nem” he dryly replied, without moving a muscle around his black mustachio.
“Ok, so can I have..” “Nem“. At this point I understood that I only had to point at the sausages and vegetables I wanted, specifying the quantity with the other hand. A hearty meal, maybe not great for a hot summer day, but great value for money!
Warning: being a canteen it’s only open between 11.30 and 14.30, from Monday to Friday.