Budapest is one of those rare European cities where you can find Mexican street food, a Thai restaurant, a wok noodle bar and a steakhouse all within two blocks on the same street. While I enjoy Hungarian food, it is not a cuisine exactly known for its variety or its complexity. I certainly would not want to eat it for a week straight. But Budapest has found the solution to this dilemma. The city has become a centre for world cuisines. Now, this doesn’t mean that the Thai restaurant or the Mexican street food will taste good enough to remind you of your gap year in Thailand or that time you ate fish tacos on a beach in Mexico, but if you do your homework and find the best hidden spots the city has to offer, your taste buds will inevitably thank you. Here are my two favourite spots, no research required.
You should never leave a country without at least giving its traditional cuisine a chance. I live by this rule when I travel and I have only ever had regrets when I have failed to try something, with the exception of cockroaches and tarantula legs in Cambodia. I have to draw a line somewhere! But I can reassure you Hungary will make no such tests on your daring.
For my traditional Hungarian experience, I went to Spinoza. Located in Budapest’s Jewish quarter, Spinoza is a traditional Hungarian Jewish Restaurant. The interior is cosy with the restaurant stretching over two floors, the second floor a smaller balcony level with a view onto the ground floor. The restaurant is decorated traditionally with hardwood floors, wood panelling and vintage pictures and posters covering the walls. To add to its charm, there is frequently live music. There is a performance on Fridays but there is also a live pianist nightly. And the food … well, its delicious!
If you’re going for a traditional Hungarian dish, beef goulash is a Hungarian staple that you can pretty much find in almost any traditional restaurant. What’s more, it’s tasty – when done well of course. It’s heavy and warm so there is something comforting about eating goulash especially if it is cold outside. I also tried beef steak medallions which were excellent. To truly enjoy Hungarian food, you have to enjoy paprika. It is the staple spice in many Hungarian dishes. Finish off the meal with warm apple strudel and vanilla ice cream or whipped cream or both! Spinoza I have to say serves some particularly excellent apple strudel.
There is a plethora of restaurants and cuisines to choose from in Budapest. I went with a seafood restaurant, though in all honesty I am not sure why. Since Budapest is nowhere near an ocean, choosing seafood was a risky decision. It is common knowledge that seafood generally declines in quality the further away from the ocean that you get. But, I was lucky. The Bigfish Seafood Bistro is excellent. It is casual and modern, located right on Andrassy so the perfect end to a day of walking, shopping and sightseeing. You order from the cashier and then your food is brought out to the long, high tables, which if you’re a small party of two, you generally share with other couples. The restaurant draws quite a crowd, a testament to its quality, so go earlier in the night.
They serve everything from seafood paella, to salmon burgers, to fried fish and chips to fish cooked and served whole. I had the mussels in white wine sauce, a personal favourite, which were excellent, and the tuna fillet was also exceptionally good. Ironically my favourite part of the meal though was the dessert, probably because it was one of the most interesting and incredibly tasty desserts I have ever had. I am generally pretty simple when it comes to desserts. More often than not, I find the fanciest looking or most complex desserts are not always the best tasting. So, in complete opposition to my approach to other food, for dessert, I tend to not try anything too outlandish. Dessert is after all, the best part of the meal. You cannot risk it on something bizarre that may well taste awful! Shockingly, the dessert I chose was in no way traditional. It had a coconut cream exterior with a chocolate chilli interior filled with lime jelly at the centre. Sounds odd, but it was strangely the most flawlessly crafted dessert. It looked like a miniature snow-white igloo and it tasted unimaginably good … food perfection.
Top: Riverside Restaurant
Photography by Savannah Hayes