Goulash and cabbage. That’s what my 1990’s geography education had instilled in my brain to expect as the highlight of Budapest.
Whatever cold war government propaganda had filled those classroom textbooks, even if there was some truth to it… It’s not true anymore and it massively misses the mark on what has now become my favourite city in Central Europe.
The stereotypical goulash and cabbage are there. And, in fact, delicious. But, the miserable eastern block demeanour, that the supposedly dour cuisine was supposed to represent… That’s ancient history.
Budapest is packed with history, lively people with a positive outlook on the future, and, of course, plenty of things to do that involve food fun & adventure!
Speaking of history, Budapest has a longstanding Jewish community, sadly tainted by the horrific events of world war 2. But those who returned to Budapest after the war, have kept traditions alive. Delicious traditions!
As we searched the streets of Budapest’s 7th district during a Jewish Food Tour, we learned how the area is one of the few parts of Budapest that survived mostly in tact from Allied bombing during the war.
Unlike some more famous historic monuments in the city, which have undergone reconstruction. The 7th district was a ghetto. Purely residential and not a bombing target. The beautiful architecture remains in a more original state. The worn down ruin bars of the area are a testament to just how little re-development has happened. But, this unique setting of dilapidated buildings, now buzzing with locals and tourists, sets a backdrop for both old, new, refurbished, upcycled and a flourishing street art scene.
Of course, it also serves as a foundation for the Jewish cuisine that was on today’s menu.
Our Pick of Traditional Jewish Food
If you’re looking for a serious protein fix, you need to try “Solet”. Although the poor man’s version of this is just a bean stew – a rich and tasty one though. The premium version is a meaty extravaganza.
This dish would traditionally be served on the sabbath. Being as cooking is forbidden during the sabbath, the meal would be started on a friday and left to cook overnight.
Talk about slow cooking! The premium dish includes a large helping of beef brisket, goose leg and stuffed goose neck, all slow cooked to perfection and served with the beans.
We tried Solet while on tour with Viator. If you come across Solet in a restaurant just be aware you may need to book this slow cooked dish in advance.
Modern Cuisine (non-Jewish)
Of course, the 7th district is a real fusion of old and new. There is a more modern tradition that has pretty much overrun Budapest. Western culture has taken partial grip on the city. And, it has done so in the form of the hamburger!
You can’t walk 100 meters through the rehabilitated streets of the 7th district without stumbling on a burger joint. When we asked a local what food we must try before we leave, he told us “burgers”.
It really is that big a deal. In fact, in retrospect, having more recently visited a Michelin star burger bar in Hong Kong, I can say with all honesty that I preferred my BBQ bacon cheese burger at W35 in Budapest. Only just, but yes, I rate it higher. I’d be interested to know how the boys at Michelin felt about it, if they ever get to go.
But the homemade BBQ sauce and cheese oozed over a perfect beef patty on freshly toasted home baked bread. For about $4USD, including duck fat fried potatoes, I salivate as I write this with the memory of burger perfection.
There are many reasons I would travel back to Budapest. But even if this burger was the only thing to go back for, I’d travel back just to eat it again.
Go eat the burgers at W35 – the Jalapeno poppers were pretty tasty too.
Food for your trip to Budapest on a serious budget!
Whoever said you had to pay for flavour? We’ve found the correlation between price and quality is often skewed.
That’s why we were happy to try out a 2 course meal, with full sit down comfort and table service, for just 3 Euros ($3.50USD). Set meal lunch deals are hugely popular in Budapest, especially on weekdays.
Although the names of the dishes escaped us in translation, between the two of us we had a Cheese soup (a bowl of cheesy, creamy yellow delight. Hello Cheese!). A goulash soup (The classic paprika based deep red soup – this one with a surprising amount of pork and veg, given the price.)
For mains we had a pork and mushroom stew served with spatzle (a short, dough noodle) and a chicken breast covered with ham and cheese (Hello again cheese!)
This was all very traditional food. It may not have exploded our mind tanks in the way the Solet or the W35 burger did, but it was well seasoned, filling and incredibly good value for money.
Get a 3 Euro Lunch Deal – http://www.regosvendeglo.hu/
Budapest Street Food
Aside from the regular kebabs and pizza slice budget food that is all over Budapest, letting broke backpackers feast for a dollar or two, we also tried a more local, filling street food option.
Langos. It’s a deep fried flatbread, traditionally smeared with sour cream and covered in a grated cheese. You can also now get a host of other toppings to your preference. It’s a classic unhealthy option, but dang! it tastes good.
We got our Langos from the food truck court 20 meters north of Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar.
When it comes to a fun day of relaxation, we find it hard to look beyond chilling out at the spa. Fortunately, for your trip to Budapest, there are a lot of options.
Budapest was actually awarded the title “Spa City” back in 1934, and many of the old bath houses still exist. They are supplied by the natural springs that were also used by the Knights of St. John back in the 12th century, and later by the Turks of the Ottoman empire during their occupation.
You’ll be hanging out in H2O with some serious pedigree. The city is full of bathhouses, some, like Kiraly Baths even date back to the 16th century.
We were only going to get to visit one bathhouse. We visited Gellert Baths, an art-nouveau bathhouse that was opened in 1918. Typically, we like to choose experiences that are a little less touristy. Although Gellert still has it’s fair share of internationals, there were a lot of locals enjoying a fun and relaxing day out too.
Submerge yourself in a thermal spa (36 to 38 celsius), decorated in exquisite blue tiles. Swim in the main pool, surrounded by giant columns (It is required to wear a shower cap in the main pool).
Visit the steam rooms, or even leap amongst the splashing artificial wave in the outside pool.
I punished myself with the sauna then freezing plunge pool combo. I’m clearly a masochist. But I made up for it by grabbing a rather affordable beer and sitting out to watch the late afternoon sun over the terrace.
Gellert Baths were quite a difference from the “sparty”, or Spa-party, options that are hosted at a couple of the other spas in Budapest.
Lets not beat around the bush… But, allegedly there is an ample amount of beating around the bush going on every sparty night… And when you are sharing bathwater with a large group of amorous persons, that is the wrong level of hygiene for me.
It actually looks like an epic party, I just don’t fancy sharing that much DNA with strangers. Still, one man’s STD is another man’s bragging rights. I’m not judging. But we were very happy with our less crowded and more peaceful relaxation day.
Take a leisure day at Gellert Baths during your trip to Budapest for 4900 Fnt ($17USD). It’s on the west side of the river, easily reachable by public transport.
1118 Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4.
Telephone: (36-1) 466-6166
The key kept dropping to the bottom of the box. No matter how I angled the magnet I just couldn’t collect the key. The key to freedom.
We’d missed one vital clue, and we didn’t have time to go back and find it. We had to get the key out somehow, but the game was almost over…
Claustrophillia was our first foray into the world of escape rooms. These games seem to have become an obsession for people all around the world, especially in Europe… Now I’m hooked too!
I grew up in England. There was a TV show called The Crystal Maze that always fascinated me as a child.
A group of contestants would take it in turns to enter a room. Each room presented a different series of challenges. From mystery games where you had to find clues and solve puzzles, to physical games where you had to move heavy objects into certain position to unlock the next stage of the game in order to win a crystal.
The catch? You were on the clock. If the time ran out before you had left the game, you were locked in.
I used to sit screaming at the TV, “look under that box”! Or, “no, turn the cog the other way!”
These games seem easy when you are sitting on your couch, observing. But when you are in the game, in the moment, with the seconds ticking away, the challenge is real. It suddenly doesn’t seem so easy. But it stimulated my brain and is hell fun.
We figured, as travellers, we’d opt for the “Wicklewood Heritage” game, which was based around the fictional Lord Wicklewood – a world adventurer and treasure hunter.
The escape room features a 60 minute time limit and can include 2 to 5 participants who have to work together to find escape from the room before the timer runs out.
Revealing the details of the Claustrophillia escape room would ruin the adventure. Suffice to say, having now experienced 4 different escape rooms, the standard has been really high at all of them and I can highly recommend taking on Claustrophillia during your trip to Budapest.
Only 30% of participants escape from the Wicklewood Heritage game at Claustrophillia, and with only a minute to spare, it was looking like we’d just be another sad statistic.
But then, the key popped out the shoot. We grabbed it, headed for the door and unlocked it just before the timer expired.
After an hour of full on, intense concentration, we’d done it!
Challenge yourself to escape from Claustrophillia during your trip to Budapest. A one hour game starts from 8,000 Fnt ($28USD).
1073 Budapest, Erzsébet krt. 8.
+36 30 724 2274
Check out all other games and info available by visiting the Claustrophillia website.
Accommodation – Places to stay in Budapest
We stayed at Wombats City Hostel Budapest. They have affordable private rooms as well as dorms in a clean (actually rated the cleanest hostel in Europe) and modern design environment. Plus, we love the all you can eat breakfast – as many cheese and salami toasties as our little faces could feast upon. You don’t need lunch after you’ve had the Wombats breakfast.
But the best thing about Wombats for a trip to Budapest? Location. Not only central in the vibrant 7th district, but just a few minutes walk from the more traditional historic centre where you’ll find the famous parliament building and other landmarks.
So central to the heart and soul of 7th district in fact, we did a little video of our walk to wombats. Check it out.
If you are looking for something other than a hostel, you can check the best rates on accommodation in Budapest by using our preferred booking comparison site – Hotels combined.
Transport – Getting in and out of Budapest
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