eating in

 
 
 

A Jug of Egri Bikaver, A Hunk of Salami...


...and Thou.  Easier said than done, but worth the effort.  Finding good wine is relatively simple; avoiding bad wine may be harder to do.    Finding good bread in Budapest could be a life’s work, but it’s becoming a possibility.  The Gerloczy cheese shop owned by Tamas Nagy bakes and sells quite good bread.  Some of the stalls towards the front of the Central Market aren’t bad.  As you enter, the one to the left has a range of breads, some of which are better than OK.  Don’t look for a Jewish rye or anything remotely like it though, anywhere in Budapest.


For wine, a trip to Bortarsasag (http://bortarsasag.hu/en/bortarsasag/wine_shops/budapesten ) is well worth it, and following the advice of the guy who runs the one on Raday utca (Tibor) has never yielded a bad glass.


Ham is hard to come by, but salami fairly obviously is plentiful.  Pick and Herz are the two major brands.  I favor Herz, but cannot justify it.  Teli (winter) salami is what people generally think of as Hungarian salami, but Csipos with paprika is sharp and spicy and worth a try.  Wurst and headcheese and various forms of bacon are ubiquitous: point, buy, try.  The Hungarian name for kielbasa is Kolbasz and is uniformly good; in the Central Market you can get kolbasz made from turkey (pullyka, mild and excellent) and from mangalica a mystical Hungarian breed of pig that people swear either has no fat whatsoever (unlikely, since there are shops selling mangalica lard) or cholesterol-free fat (the cholesterol just melts away while the pigs are flying...).


The core problem in Hungarian food these days is the ingredients.  They’re not bad, but they should be exquisite.  Hungary is and always has been a breadbasket; fertile, the farmland at the geographic center of Europe; but decades of deferred attention to the land and the technology make for quaint photos of ox-drawn carts, but far too little range in type or quality of local ingredients available.  There’s little market, at least little market that I’ve found, for high end meat and produce; almost all shops are more or less the same, though one will be better one day, another the next.  Because so much farming remains hand-done with traditional tools, there’s a great opportunity for artisanal farming and the cultivation of very high end produce.  But it’s not there yet, not anywhere.


Still, fruit and vegetables when in season and local are really wonderful, a solid B+ on an absolute scale, an A compared to even the high end of American supermarket produce.  The tomatoes, corn, cauliflower, asparagus, apricots, berries, melons, peaches, pears...all can be meals by themselves.


Fish is hard to come by -- Hungary is, after all, landlocked -- but the basement of the Central Market has numerous very fishy-smelling vendors, eacfh of whom has a large tank of mostly living fish.  And the restaurant Ócéan by the Elizabeth Bridge. has an adjacent fish market where they say they fly everything in daily.  Still, I’m dubious...I suspect the fish fly with the mangalica.


As in most of Europe, but more so, beef is lean and tough, and not especially wonderful.  Veal is not much better.  Pork is likely the best of the three, but all are fine for stews and braises.  I once found veal tail being sold and it made a wonderful, enlightening soup. 


Where the game (you'll pardon the expression) gets interesting is poultry...duck and goose in particular (though there’s a vast amount of indeterminate turkey available).  Goose and duck by the piece or the bird is likely far better than you’ll ever get it at home.  And when you buy a whole goose they throw in the liver, which lies somewhere between a softball and a cantaloupe in size, shy of a foie gras but bigger than any you’re likely to have seen.


And a review of the page on the Central Markethall is likely in order before heading out to shop.



 

If you are in the city for more than a couple of days, you may well find that (like Paris) your most satisfying meals are be the ones you shop for and prepare yourself.  Finding the ingredients, ferreting out the prepared dishes, savoring the fruits and vegetables in season, haggling with the wild mushroom sellers in the Central Market. going mano á mano with a whole foie gras (cheap enough that you don't weep if your first experiments fail)..these are the most savory of starters.