We were in the city for just four days, but that was long enough to pick up an obvious vibe: Budapest is happening. It is young. It is hip. It is, along with places such as Berlin and Barcelona, part of a new world order of cities worth traveling to; roll over New York, and tell Paris the news.
These cool, fresh canapes beckoned us each morning as we rode our bicycles past the shop window. We almost always stopped for a couple of quick breakfast bites, like the egg salad and feta canapes below. Incidentally, we were getting 159 forints per dollar, so these were about a buck apiece:
Pictured below is a very popular Buda cafe -- you’d think they’d be able to afford a paint job!
Gerbeaud Cafe, founded in 1858, was for most of its’ history a meeting place for Budapest’s elite. Now it mostly lures tourists.
The desserts look irresistible lined up in the cases.
Jeez, even the marzipan looked tempting.
Amazingly, though, the cakes we tried weren’t very good -- the one pictured below, for instance, being shockingly dry. “It’s supposed to be this way” claimed the waitress, and while it is true that the typical Hungarian cake is less moist than we’re accustomed to, this one was crusty-hard from being left out on display too long. That's what happens when places cater to tourists rather than residents.
Speaking of touristy crap, the Central Market in Pest specializes in such -- t-shirts, lots and lots of packaged paprika, etc. -- but the cafeterias in the food court didn’t look bad. Bet you won’t find stuffed cabbage this good in Aventura.
The only thing we tried at the Market were a couple of strudel, and they were the worst we had. By the way, if you ask for strudel at stores or bakeries, workers will have no idea what you’re talking about. The Hungarian term is rétes, and best we had were at Rétesvár (Balta köz 4), on Castle HIll in Buda.
The girl who served us was extremely sweet; the many people we encountered in Budapest were among the friendliest we’ve ever come across -- especially for a city (country folk are usually the nice ones). The rétes in front of her are poppy seed/plum, and cabbage. At the forefront is a square of savory, tomato-less pizza with smoky bacon and onions. Dee-lish.
One of Budapests’ most famous desserts is flódni, a pastry layered with walnuts, apples, and poppy seeds. Carmel Pince, a Jewish restaurant in Pest, made a great version.
Carmel also produced a helluva matzo ball soup and a workable stuffed cabbage. But the atmosphere was stuffy, the waiters stiff, the final tab stiffer. Plus, they were out of their famous fresh-made gefilte fish, which is why we went here to begin with.
Budapest is especially beautiful, and romantic, at night.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Monday: We complete the trip with our best Budapest meals and a couple of early morning croissants in sleepy Paris.
-- Lee Klein