Frugal feasting at Budapest’s Central Market
Budapest isn’t a backpackers’ paradise anymore. EU membership has its privileges—and its prices. Budget accommodations are scarce and restaurants can be pricey. Fortunately, there’s one place that a Real Housewife can find great deals and greater food: the Central Market.
I wrote about the Central Market last November, when I focused on souvenirs and smoked meats. There’s nothing wrong with making lunch of salami and a bottle of Tokaj, but the Central Market has more to offer. Upon entering the market, don’t be distracted by people carrying old-school wicker baskets, fruit vendors, and endless paprika stands. Don’t be tempted to buy a pre-made sandwich; STOP RIGHT THERE. That is for amateurs. Go to the second floor and make your way to the left side of the main entrance. You will see a long array of take-away hot food stands. This is where you want to be.
You’ll probably pass a long line of people waiting for langos, a Hungarian specialty of fried bread traditionally topped with cheese and sour cream.
Skip the langos line. Fried bread is okay, but there are far better ways to consume 1,500 calories. It’s not that great, not that cheap (even in the market) and the wait is way too long since every guidebook mentions this place. Pass the glazed eyes of Lonely Planet devotees, walk (or stop) by the wine and beer stand selling 20 ounce white wine spritzers, and end your journey at Fakanal Bistro.
It’s small, humble, and delicious. They’ve got stuffed cabbage, goose legs, fresh breads, goulash—you name it. The service is friendly, and the food is delicious. The location is peaceful but lively. And the prices are low for restaurant-quality food.
If you have room in your stomach after that, make your way downstairs to the bakeries dotting the first floor. There are several, so just choose a place that smells and looks promising. Some specialize in strudel; others have croissants and cookies. My favorite stand has dobos cake to die for.* Dobos cake is named after Hungarian baker József Dobos. It has five layers of cake between chocolate buttercream frosting and is topped with crunchy caramel. The caramel apparently keeps the cake from drying out. It also ensures that the cake will be eaten long before it becomes stale. YUM.
After cake, feel free to get a coffee upstairs or just pass out in the park across from the main entrance. Or better yet, walk off your meal by looking at some of the cheapest souvenir stands in town; they’re located on the other side of the second floor. Your wallet (and your stomach) will thank you. Your skinny jeans….not so much.
To go to the Dobos cake place I mentioned, walk in the main entrance and make your first left. At the end of that row, there will be a bakery on your right and a slightly tired-looking vegetable stand across the way. This is the bakery—apologies for not writing down its name! Get there before 11am for the best selection. The Central market is closed on Sundays.