The Budapest central market, a feast of the senses – World Meanderings (n°18)
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
There are many reasons why visiting the Hungarian capital city is an exciting experience, the Danube and its many bridges linking Buda and Pest, the hot springs and the elegant Art Nouveau spas, the Royal Palace and Buda Castle, the large avenues and pretty gardens… But going there without paying a visit to its beautiful market would be a pity.
Budapesti Kozponti Vasarcsarnok (sorry, the Hungarian language is like no other, with almost unpronounceable names and words and you will stumble over a few of them all through this article!) is a big covered market located in the heart of Pest. A short walk from Szabadsaghid or Liberty Bridge along Vaci Utca, a lively pedestrian street with a lot of touristic shops and restaurants, will take you to this beautiful building made of bricks and steel toped with an amazing coloured tiled roof. It was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel’s company at the end of the 19th century, using local materials and has made Budapest’s inhabitants pride ever since.
Although the market now is a touristic attraction, there are still many Hungarians who come here to do their daily shopping, attracted by the large variety of fresh and quality food. This market has kept all its authenticity. Once inside after passing through the big wrought iron entrance doors, you’ll get to this huge place, big enough for 300 stalls distributed on 3 levels. It’s all very clean and safe.
The first floor is dedicated to foods: heaps of fruits and vegetables neatly piled up, hundreds of salamis flavoured with or without paprika, cured or boiled hams, big smoked sausages, ducks and foie gras (Hungary is one of the main foie gras producing country in Europe), unheard of cheeses, renowned wines coming from all the different Hungarian vineyards, honeys, poppy seeds, walnuts, piles of marinated gherkins or cabbages jars, creamy cakes…
Paprika is the national spice and is widely used in the Hungarian cuisine. Made with red peppers grown in the country you can find 3 different kinds; Edesnemes is the mild one, Eledes Gulyas is a little stronger and Eros paprika made with the whole pepper fruit including the hot seeds is the strongest one. It’s the perfect small present to take back home and it won’t overload your suitcase.
You will also be able to buy one of the typical Hungarian liqueurs: the apricot liqueur is very popular but you will also find the Unicum made with 40 different aromatic plants renowned for its digestive qualities and its curative power for hangover!
There are several restaurants on the second floor and they are the Hungarian version of Slow Food. The perfect places to taste local recipes, freshly cooked, savoury and cheaper than in most touristic restaurants in town. Make your choice between several kinds of goulash made with meat, peppers, onions, potatoes… and of course paprika. Hungarians love soup and have it all year long. Why not try a bableves, a haricot beans soup or a magyaros gombaleves, a mushroom soup, or a holaszle a fish soup or the unusual cseresznyeleves a cold soup made with cherries and sour cream? Don’t ask for grilled meat you will only find stews called porkolt made with meat, lard, onions, paprika, sour cream and any secret ingredient that will make each porkolt different from one restaurant to the other. You can also have a hidegtal, a plate mixing several kinds of paprika salamis, hams and marinated vegetable served with a langos, a fried leavened dough roll drizzled with sour cream. Whatever your choice you will be more than full!
After ordering and getting your dish at one of the market stall you can take a sit at one of the tables lined on the opposite side of the aisle and share your meal with other tourists and with local people who still are the more numerous customers in these restaurants. Seize the opportunity to taste one of the delicious Hungarian wines such as the Tokaji or one of the local beers. If you have a beer, remember not to clink glasses with the Hungarians sitting next to you, they wouldn’t appreciate it at all. During the 19th century the Austrian armies defeated the Hungarian ones and celebrated their victory by clinking their glasses of beer. Bad memories die hard!
Before leaving the market for a long after-lunch stroll, go to the more touristic aisle of the market where craftsmen sell all kinds of souvenirs: folk dolls, chessboards, hats, jewels, plates or mugs… You can find these in many shops in Budapest but here you’ll pay a fair price for them.
The market is open every day from 6:am till 6:pm, except on Saturdays when it closes at 3:pm. It is closed on Sundays.
For more information go to www.gotohungary.com
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny