Saturday, May 17, 2014

Shawn's Scooop: Budapest Culinary Walk

It's a new day in Budapest. Having wrapped up the conference yesterday, I transferred from the posh Sofitel to a private room in a hostel apartment. That done, I walked back to the Danube on my way to to join in a food tour starting at the Central Market Hall. The clouds and rain from earlier in the week have blown away, so a glorious day seems to be in store.

I booked my place on the walk a couple weeks ago and have been looking forward to the local perspective on Hungarian foods since. The walk took us to several stands in the market hall before visiting a handful of shops in the surrounding neighborhood.

Bright and beautiful morning
The Little Princess of Budapest and her paper crown
Farther along the promenade, this carved cross monument caught my eye
The Erzsébet Híd (Elisabeth Bridge), named for the beloved Empress Elisabeth (Sisi)
At the foot of the bridge lies the Pest Parish church, oldest in the city, dating from at least 1046
The Market Hall sits by the next bridge
Just as busy as yesterday afternoon and getting busier
I met up with our tour group and guide who led us upstairs for our first stops
First on the list, a taste of the national drink, Unicum, a herbal liqueur. It is similar to Italian amaros but unique (thus the name). The Zwack family, which has produced the liqueur since 1790, left Hungary, with their secret recipe, during the communist years, producing it in Italy and the US while in exile. They returned at the end of the '80s to proudly reclaim their country. It still stands as the national drink, enhanced perhaps by its history as much as for its taste.
Hungarian staples line the upstairs stalls, full of hot, ready to eat. On the left in the case, stuffed cabbage.
Fried bread is truly found throughout the world and always delicious. The Hungarians call theirs Langos. We had ours with garlic and butter, the traditional way according to our guide. Hot, yeasty and finger licking good.
The sweet varieties on display are for tourists apparently
Back on the main level, we passed by several meat stands and stopped at one to taste several varieties of sausage.
Our guide explaining the samples she chose for us. If I remember correctly there was a horse sausage, a spicy Devil's sausage, beef tongue, the iconic winter salami from Pick (so called for the white bloom on its exterior), and Grey cattle sausage; not necessarily in that order on the plate.
It was cheese time next with some samples from the stand in the rear of the market. There was a constant line here for fresh milk from a huge container at the end of the counter as well as for their fresh cheeses. We enjoyed some goat, sheep and cow's milk cheeses with crackers. Like a lot of good fresh cheeses, they were very smooth, with a mix of tang and mild flavors. Our guide also gave us a taste of a local sweet treat that is like small roll of the fresh mild cheese dipped in chocolate; it is packaged and sold like a candy bar in the refrigerated sections of shops. (This article is for a different brand of the same product.)
To cleanse our palates, we went downstairs among the fishmongers to this pickle stand. We tried pickled cucumbers, peppers and baby watermelons (pictured on the left of the fourth photo below).
Happy pickles waiting to be taken home
The watermelons are on the left edge here
Venturing out of the market we walked to Belvárosi Disznótoros, a traditional butcher shop, for our main lunch tastes. Our guide ordered for us and we ate around the standing counters.
A meat lover's paradise
A tasty plate: Waldorf salad,  fried cheese, cabbage and duck, fried potatoes, pickles, sausages and bread (counter clockwise from the left).
Dessert time at Auguszt Cukrászda: Dobos torte, Esterházy torte, a chestnut cream cake, and an almond cake (I think).
In this lovely setting
Our last stop was at the wine focused Borbíróság, for tastes of several local varietals. The Tokaji wines are perhaps their best known, all sweet but not cloying. They have seven wine regions in total, virtually unknown to me at least. After these tastes, though, I can highly recommend them.
And so ended the tour, we parted ways sated and brimming with the feeling of having experienced some of the basics of Hungarian food culture.

I also realize now I missed taking pictures of another short stop we made at Rózsavölgyi, a chocolaterie, where we sampled some of their unique handcrafted chocolates. I purchased some vanilla hot chocolate to bring home.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Shawn's Scoop: Matthias Church and a Rainy Walk Back

Just past the Buda castle lies Matthias Church, which our group decided to tour. It dates from at least the mid-13th century, with possible links to St Istvan, Hungary's first king. Its recent renovations and consistent neo-Gothic (seemingly so) exterior made it seem much newer than that, so I was happily surprised to see much the interior reflect its antiquity.

Afterward an abbreviated tour, the rest of the group took a taxi back to Pest to go to synagogue. I walked back another way, just as it started to rain. Luckily, I had my umbrella and the rain didn't last too long.

Dinner was at the excellent Evidens Bistro with work colleagues. Huge portions of foie gras, paprikash, stuffed cabbage, goulash stew and other traditional foods were shared around the table. No pictures sadly. This marked the end of my work obligations though, so the rest of the weekend was my mine to direct.

The Holy Trinity column outside Matthias church
Matthias Church and its bell tower
King St Istvan
I appreciated the roof tiles quite a lot
Inside, the architecture reflected its longer history
The flags were brought from around Hungary for the last coronation here in 1916
The interior was packed with mosaics like these
Upstairs in the gallery
Looking out from above
The high altar, viewed from the Royal Oratory
Back down the nave
The group was ready to move on, so back outside we went
Behind the church, on the old city walls is the Fisherman's Bastion
They afford these picture perfect views across to Pest
After some fun dodging the rain, I made my way down the hill to the Danube,
directly across from the Parliament building
Count the DHL vans
Looking back up at Buda Castle
The funicular tracks are on the left of this tunnel, straight through the hill
Lions guard the Chain Bridge, the first permanent bridge across the river in Hungary
It opened at the late date of 1849
Now back in Pest, looking across to Matthias Church atop the hill
Trams and buildings on the Pest side of the bridge
Another look at Buda Castle, because reasons