Having previously visited Budapest, I had already developed a taste for Hungarian cuisine and its liberal use of paprika. The distinctive spice is derived from capsicum peppers and can be mild and sweet or hot and zesty. Hungarian paprika is known for its rich red hue and robust flavor which can elevate any common stew to something extraordinary.
While nearly every dish we sampled in Budapest was a winner, here are the standouts:
For dinner on the final night of our week in Budapest, we tracked down a place called Fülemüle and soon found ourselves swooning over the greatest meal of the lot. Why is it that we always seem to find the best restaurants at the end of the trip?!
Fülemüle, which translates as nightingale, serves a delightful mix of Hungarian and Jewish specialties. We ordered from the pre-set menus, which each consisted of three courses, two glasses of wine and a shot of pálinka, the local fruit brandy. I chose the fantastic “Hungarian Touch” set which began with an appetizer of lecsó, a piquant pepper and tomato stew, with spicy sausages. This was my first experience with lecsó (a vibrant stew of peppers, tomatoes and onions) but it certainly won’t be my last! After a bowl of savory bean goulash came paprika chicken with gnocchi, unequivocally the best version of the entire trip.
The playfully-named “Wonder of Goose” set included succulent goose cracklings, a hearty goose and matzo ball soup, and a spectacular crispy goose leg with potato latkes covered in sour cream and cheese. The “wonder” was that anyone could walk after such an avian feast!
On second thought, it’s probably a good thing we didn’t discover this restaurant earlier because my pants might not have fit by the end of the week!
Should you find yourself in need of a good meal on Andrássy út, make a beeline for Menza restaurant. Located in one of Budapest’s most popular squares, Menza stands out for its classic fare and retro atmosphere. We started with the antipasti platter of grilled vegetables which came with a creamy cottage cheese dip that we enjoyed with a basket of rustic bread.
We ordered our entrees from the menu of weekly specials, though dishes this good ought to be on the regular menu! The Hungarian crepes were stuffed with chicken and smothered in paprika gravy and sour cream, while the chili-mustard pork medallions came with a side of cheesy noodles and roasted garlic. As if this wasn’t indulgent enough, we finished with sour cherry strudel and poppy seed ice cream. We needed a long walk after that incredible meal!
Our best meal on Castle Hill was at Rivalda Café, a high end restaurant housed in a former convent. We enjoyed a casual lunch in Rivalda’s charming courtyard, taking advantage of the reasonably priced set menu. We started with hearty bowls of soup – cream of mushroom and boar with gnocchi – paired nicely with glasses of Hungarian beer and wine.
For our main courses we opted for the bacon-wrapped chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and roasted peppers, swimming in a sea of basil cream sauce, and the paprika pork chop with homemade noodles and pickles. If you are in the castle district, definitely do not miss this place!
On our first night in town, the owner of our guesthouse directed us for dinner to Ráday utca, the street known by locals to be a culinary hotspot. (The cutlery on the street sign is also a good indication.) He specifically recommended we go to Paprika Jancsi restaurant for our first taste of Hungarian cuisine and we were not disappointed. In fact, we enjoyed the meal so much we came back later in the week! The veal stew with cottage cheese noodles was probably our favorite dish, but we might have to taste them all again to be sure.
I can’t write a post about all the fabulous things we ate in Budapest and not mention the pastries. We happened across this table set up in Deák tér and the locals were as excited by the homemade treats as I was. The sour cherry strudel was divine! The only disappointment was that we only saw this entrepreneur once. Luckily, the Princess bakery chain has an outlet in every train station so I could get my pastry fix whenever the urge struck.
We enjoyed Hungarian food so much, we came home with a cookbook and several bags of paprika! Which dish would you most like to try?