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Local Bites

I have a week left in Budapest. A week! So everything that I’ve wanted to post and show and babble about will follow in a hurried avalanche of scribbles and photos over the next few days.

First, the Great Market Hall. Located on the 47 and 49 tram stops, just east of Szabadság Bridge. My favorite source of vegetables, paprika,  and kitschy souvenirs to take home.

The Market Hall in the February cold.

Also home to this giant jar of Nutella:

Heart attack.

With the weather warming up and fruit other than apples and oranges (which I never want to see again) popping up at all of the veders’ stalls, the Market is the best place to haul a week’s worth of groceries. Just as I’m about to leave, sadly.

With a history reflecting the evolution of the city itself, the physical building is pretty interesting. Like most of modern Budapest, it was built in the last chunk of the 19th century. Neo-Gothic facades, rounded windows, tilework on the roof, a ceiling with metal scaffolding — reminiscent of Nyugati Station in brighter colors. The lanes and entrances are notably wide — an oddly wasteful (though very comfortable) feature now that was designed to accommodate horses and cargo wagons back in the day. The building as we see it now is actually a restoration. Following heavy damage in World War II, a messy reconstruction, and neglect during the communist years, the hall was deemed a hazard and closed in the early 90s. Unlike the former Exchange Palace and the Institute of Ballet, which remain eerily abandoned today, the Great Market Hall was renovated and restored to its pink-and-yellow splendor. A structure both beautiful and harmonious, as allegedly wished by architect Samu Pecz.

If you’re on a shopping trip there, cross Pipa Utca to the left of the market to check out the Azsia Bt. Not only did we find the princess pasta there last month, but they also stock the rarity of all rarities in Hungary — Skippy peanut butter. There is also an impressive variety of gourmet foods from all over the world, including a shelf of tiny panettone loaves and a whole aisle of spices that knocks you down into an aromatic coma.

Spent the Saturday before last in beautiful, sunny, and cheerful Vienna, whose sidewalks are immaculate and statues aplenty. Very easy to see the high quality of living the city boasts across the news. Also convenient to reach from Budapest — just a 3-hour train ride from Keleti Station past fields, more fields, and some wind farms. Felix, Jaclyn, and I took an early train and snored the time away.

Travel buddies.

I’d already been through the major museums and sights with our study abroad group, so this day was for strolling, shopping, sipping Almdudler, and eating twice our weight in chocolate. There are two fantastic Konditorei in Stephansplatz, just east of St. Peter’s Church (which looks like three churches in one from the outside — have any of you seen all the nutty façades?) on the main shopping street. The first is L. Heiner Hofzuckerbäcker with amazing pastries, cakes, and marzipan. The second, whose name I’m trying to track down, has the best handmade chocolates and nougats that I have ever tasted. Their offerings were our dinner on the evening train, along with a loot of lokum and barazek cookies from the Naschmarkt. (Still working my way through those.)

Going from Budapest to Vienna is a bit of a strange experience — things get neater, brighter, cheerier, and grander too. A leap from the post-communist to the post-Habsburg. And with better beer.

After my first bites of authentic Hungarian food, I mentioned wanting to make Hungarian friends and plead for some homemade cooking. This mission is pretty outdone because of my friends Gréti and Kata, who are not just lovely people but also nutrition majors. Divine cooks, in other words.

They came over last weekend to cook dinner for what grew from a party of three to a daunting fifteen people. This translated to three kilos of chicken, five bags of turo,and lots and lots of paprika–all minced and mixed and mashed together into a delicious meal that fed not only our whole group but a few of my neighbors, too. And I still have leftovers somewhere in my fridge.

The classic paprika chicken–served in a sour cream sauce with Disney princess pasta from the Azsia store –was Gréti’s masterpiece. She somehow finds time between school and work and commuting from Pomaz to regularly make this for her family, and the practice has definitely paid off. I barely had time to sneak some for next day’s dinner before we scooped up every last delicious spoonful.

The most memorable part of the meal was definitely the túrógombóc, a cheesy-sweet dessert of cottage cheese rolled into balls, boiled, and covered in toasted breadcrumbs with sugar. Eaten–wait for it–with sour cream. I thought they would taste pretty good with honey or jam, but the looks on Kata’s and Gréti’s faces suggested that this was probably against a national law or two.

I left the cooking to the experts, but it actually looks like an uncomplicated dessert to make. Just lots of gooey mashing and rolling involved.

Gréti and the neverending cottage cheese.

We’d actually grossly overestimated the collective appetite of fifteen people, so the túrógombóc was neverending. After giving them away to all those willing and taking a bowlful to my neighbors, there are still about 30 waiting in my freezer. Default dinner for lazy nights.

Café Eklektika
Nagymező utca 30
1065 Budapest

Remember this place? I had my first sips of goulash here on my first Sunday in Budapest. Back then, more than an unbelievably fantastic month ago, I was too disoriented to realize that this café is half a block from my apartment. Maybe I love it for that reason, or maybe because the soup made me so happy after a cold day of sightseeing. In any case, Eklektika is on my good side. My flatmate and I took the less-than-a-minute walk there tonight out of laziness for food that needed more work than pointing a finger on a menu. My happily growing food baby approves of the choice.

With inexpensive, everyday food of many persuasions (pizza, pasta, salads, soups, meat pies, various pork concoctions, dishes with lots of paprika, and desserts with claims to Brazil and Belgium), Eklektika is pretty pleasing. Nothing spectacular, nothing bad. Yaniv put it best: “For a café across the street, it’s pretty good.”

He likes to be deep, this one.

We were too hungry to bother with pictures of food. I inhaled a mozzarella and prosciutto salad (pretty okay), and Yaniv gulped down goulash (good), spaghetti (rich), and grillázstorta (also good). I’ll forgive my waiter for enjoying my struggle to spell the WiFi password—mestergerenda, meshtegrejgrgrwkrgwejkgra, or something like that—and give him top marks for speedy service and attention. Both somewhat rare in Budapest. He only disappointed when he couldn’t recommend a dessert. Didn’t like sweet foods, he said. (We tried not to stare.)

 The décor is also memorable. Nice, warm, and odd, with lots of posters of fat fish in suits.

If you’re ever in the corner between Bajcsy and Andrássy and need a quick bite, I really do recommend this place. It’s many a step up from the dry sandwiches and microwaved “Mediterranean” dishes that dominate the eateries in the area (and, well, the rest of the city too). And if you do this before April, either walk around the corner to my place or just across the street to Mozsár Kávézó, where I’ll probably be sitting with a cup of coffee and my Hungarian homework. (Details on that find coming soon!)

Jégbüfé
Ferenciek Tere 10
1053 Budapest

This trip was technically in pursuit of learning, not my newfound gluttony for all things baked and delicious. Maria, the Hungarian teacher of “nyugi nyugi” renown, charged our class with the tastiest assignment to date: walking to her favorite bakery, Jégbüfé, and trying her favorite dessert, Pozsonyi kifli. All so we can remember the proper Hungarian name for Bratislava. For the sake of correct geopolitical onomastics, my friend Mili and I wasted no time in starting our hunt for Slovakian baked goodness.

Lesson 1: Don’t judge a pastry by its shape.

This little crescent pastry usually has two variants: Pozsonyi diós (with crushed walnut) and Pozsonyi mákos (with poppy seed). I opted for the walnut, and, well, YUM. Warm, soft, filling, savory, not too sweet, and a little reminiscent of my favorite nazooks.

Oh, the sacrifices I make for knowledge.

After inhaling the kifli in an impressive few seconds, we looked around for a list of future targets.

Spotted: dobos torte.

Targets acquired: one of everything in the display cases on the left, please.

Offerings at Jégbüfé include cakes, pies, tarts, buns, cookies, sweet pastries, meat pastries, coffee, hot chocolate, tea, ice cream, and even fresh waffles available through a window outside.

Gofri on the go.

A few more wonderful things about this place. First, it’s very inexpensive. Second, the workers are very friendly. But better yet, it’s open until 9:30 during the week and on Sundays. 9:30. On SUNDAYS. In BUDAPEST.