Best of Budapest

Two bloggers who love Budapest telling you why, with the support of Helpers, Hungary’s leading business and immigration services provider.

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From April 2015, English translations courtesy of:

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Anthony Bourdain came, he saw, and he ate in Hungary

2015.06.29. 09:23 | Gergő Helpers

CNN aired a Hungary-centric episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown a couple of weeks ago. You can watch the episode by clicking on the link below, at least until CNN’s lawyers have it taken down. 

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I think it turned out quite well. It serves good-sized portions of the arts, culture and culinary delights, and gives us a history lesson through personal stories. It touches on the how the city boomed during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as the effects of the two World Wars, all through the eyes of Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who shares several personal stories throughout.

Bourdain opens with an attempt to describe just how beautiful he finds Budapest. He has difficulty finding the right words, finally settling on “building porn” for lack of a better alternative. “You can feel a still-present empire through these buildings,” Bourdain claimed. Of course, this statement also harbors the observation that those days appear to be long gone. The host adds that many Hungarian artists – a significant proportion of its cultural base – emigrated in search of a new home, and one can almost sense the sorrow emanating from the screen.

Since Bourdain, despite becoming a globe-trotting television host, was first and foremost a trained chef, we are treated to several minutes’ worth of culinary delights every ten minutes or so. These are the locations he visited:

New York Café – Here he met the writer Péter Zilahy and discussed café culture, as well as the question of why writers used to frequent a glitzy place if they had no money. And why could they get coffee on credit? They try the restaurant, and this is the 30 seconds in the show dedicated to fine dining. That’s all that the gastro-revolution received, as this was followed by the parts your average tourist would be interested in.

Pléhcsárda ­- we’ve also been here, in the land of ginormous slices of meat, where no one is bothered if their meat hangs off the sides of their dish and touches the table. Before that, it was placed on a scale drenched in oil anyway. Bourdain samples the chicken liver and marrow stew crêpe, as well as the super-sized schnitzel.

Belvárosi Disznótoros – the host is taken here by Dániel Máté, who considers himself an economist. The journalist and former head of the Ministry of Finance’s press and communications office is a huge fan of butcher shops, and shows Bourdain where you can see blood sausage being prepared in Budapest.

Szeged, an indeterminate fisherman’s csárda - I couldn’t figure out which one it is (according to our reader Márta it’s the Öreg Kőrössy Halászcsárda), nonetheless they try some good fisherman’s soup here. Vilmos Zsigmond takes us into the past as he recounts the pre-war period, and then some moments from communism.

Margit Bangó’s home-cooked meals – Introduced as “The Aretha Franklin of Hungarian Gypsy music”, she also prepares a meal for the crew, with music played all the while.

The program was quite interesting, and the city appears quite exciting despite the crew visiting over the winter. I would have added more emphasis on discovering meals that exist between the two extremes showcased by the New York Café and the Pléhcsárda, and would have entered into a few restaurants that offer pleasant surprises, but the show seemed to want to find balance by showing extremes. A decaying courtyard and shining gold. Fine dining and a deep fryer.

Regardless, it turned out well, and we can look forward to more visitors coming to our city, one of the most exhilarating in Europe.

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu

You may find the original article here.


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Exploring Budapest’s most exciting square: Part II - Csiga

2015.06.26. 12:54 | Gergő Helpers

In Central Budapest, you’ll find a square that’s been revived from the dead, so to speak. In the past, it had one of the worst reputations in the city, but these days it’s being rediscovered as a place where new and old architecture stand side-by-side in harmony. Rákóczi Square contains everything that makes District VIII (Józsefváros or “Josephtown”) exciting: all sorts share the seats that surround the reflecting pool, but you can find similarities between the people gathered here. In addition to the elderly playing cards, the moms pushing strollers and the college student reading a book, you can also find faces twisted by their hard lives, not to mention the occasionally bizarre characters that still find their way here. All you need to do is find a seat, sit back, and watch.

In the first part of our series dedicated to Rákóczi Square, we focused on the Rákóczi Restaurant Taverna. It’s a place where you can find pizza, schnitzel, rabbit paprikash, tripe stew, all with the word “tavern” included in the name. It’s the kind of place that remains unchanged, showing what a kitchen in District VIII should be like. It preserves memories of what the square was formerly like, but it nonetheless still has as much to offer these days as it did in the past.

This time, we only have to walk a few meters across the street to Csiga (Snail).

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Csiga is at once a gastro pub and café. If anyone wonders what a place like this is doing on this corner, go inside one afternoon and check it out for yourself. You’ll soon realize just how much this place truly belongs here.

I don’t know where to start. The place has an eclectic interior, with wooden surfaces, wrought-iron snail shapes and many windows to let the sun shine through. And greenery too: the place is filled with potted flowers, cacti and other plants to make sure the incoming light is used to create more oxygen. The walls contain paintings, some of which are more exciting than others. Truth be told, a café in District VIII is one of the best locations to display contemporary art.

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“The chefs: Geri, Gyuri. Their assistants: Csabi, Sanya. We usually have Sanyi to thank for the desserts. Jani helps where he can. He’s always here at home.”

That’s what’s written at the bottom of the menu. And this is not some stilted attempt at being funny, for that’s really how they are. The service is efficient and friendly but not too-friendly, and if the afternoon is quite busy, they are just quick, but there’s no problem with that. A forced fake friendliness would just not work here.

Ten years ago, when the place was still known as Pillangó (Butterfly), the clientele was entirely different. Back then, figures from the underworld used to frequent the place and there was a tension in the atmosphere. These days, however, half the tables are occupied by local youths working on their laptops, while the other half consists of tourists, with the bar propped up by the regulars (or perhaps the other way around). Despite many tables being occupied by people actually working, the place is quite noisy. Even when no one is talking. Sound drifts in from the street and is in the air. If you were you to stand up and sing a peasant cantata, no one would bat an eyelid. It’s all good as long as you don’t knock a plate from the server’s hand.

For lunch, soups will run you 300-400 forints, while mains cost 600-700 forints. A glass of beer or a fröccs (wine spritzer) on the side will be 200 forints more. But what they are proudest of are their breakfasts, as one of their servers told me. They serve tapas, omelets and Spanish breakfasts (bacon, eggs, paprika, potatoes, onion and olives), but I was feeling in a French mood that day as everyone sitting near me was seemingly speaking the language (half a busload of French backpackers arrived to check out this cult location). So I asked for a Croque Madame.

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The French sandwich contains a Béchamel-type sauce, cheese and ham, with a fried egg on top. Beyond this, there are no requirements for how to prepare one – it can be prepared from thin or thick bread, and can contain one or several slices of ham. The bread was exceptionally thick for this one.

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But everything was just as it should be: the bread contained pieces of sundried tomatoes, in place of ham it had tarja (smoked or boiled chuck or upper neck of pork), which gave it a Hungarian twist. The layer of cheese had a slightly moldy flavor to it, while the egg was just plain good. This type of breakfast belongs here, and it was just fine. The Croque Madame from Josephtown in the picture came to 1450 forints, including coffee and orange juice.

What else makes this place unique? Their selection of rum. The shelves have an entire section dedicated to this spirit. I can’t say much about the bottles, but you might know more about them. Either way, it shows this place is also a good destination in the evenings.

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One of the most important measuring sticks regarding the changes underway in District VIII is the quality of the bars that open. That sets the tone for society: if there’s no good foundation for a healthy drinking culture with good meeting points where conflicting ideologies can encounter one another, then there’s no National Song (a famous Hungarian poem) and no Nyugat (an important early 20th century literary periodical), just wallowing about. And it seems like more and more good places are opening their doors, such as the Drunken Tailor with a unique interior that defies categorization, as well as Macska and Csiga. All of these are the types of places where the atmosphere is its defining characteristic. “Don’t be nervous. What difference does it make?” the public inside asks, to which you respond with a satisfied “Yes, and why not?”

Csiga
Address: 1084 Budapest, Vásár u. 2. (Rákóczi tér)
Opening Hours:

Mo-Sa 9am – midnight

Su 10am – midnight

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu

You may find the original article here.


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What are these strange cement blocks on the Danube embankment?

2015.06.23. 13:15 | Gergő Helpers

Near Gellért Square, on the side of the embankment, we noticed some peculiar cement blocks:

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Once we took a closer look, we realized what they are: seats. Made of cement. They are dreadfully simple and an even more dreadfully practical solution to facilitate our plopping down on the Danube’s banks. Since the current situation is that there are still unfortunately very few locations in Budapest where we can do this – only Margaret Island, Kopaszi Dam, the Chain Bridge’s Buda end or the Roman shore in District III. This didn’t cost money and they didn’t ceremoniously appear. One day, these blocks were just there.

The seats were placed as part of the 5th BETON (cement) course. In addition to such works as the Braille graffiti for the visually impaired or the reimagined car-blocking posts on the sidewalks, these cement stools allowed 60 students to discover the creative side of cement. Architects, engineers, industrial and furniture designers, as well as graphic artists, came together to see through the project with the aid of the designers at the S’39 Hibrid Design Manufaktúra, which will do some good for the city and give us some new perspectives on the areas we are accustomed to.

The seats you can see in the photos were prepared with professional mentoring by the architect Dávid Varga, who over the years has participated in the creation of several public spaces along the river as part of the VaLyo Group. This project’s name is “Ficcenés” and the location chosen for the project is not coincidental either: the spot next to the drainage pipe for the Gellért Bath’s waters that flow into the Danube is a good place to get some peace and quiet, but despite this, it is an unused location, and not particularly comfortable for meeting others. It’s somewhat better now as a result of this initiative.

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And where were these things prepared? I prepared a few photos last year as they took shape.

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I’m somewhat sad that the widely-supported development plans for the Budapest embankments were dropped and this is what we get instead, but at the same time, I’m happy that enthusiastic private individuals do things that get the rest of us to take notice of the river that flows through our city.

Read more about the project here.

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu

You may find the original article here.

 


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How to operate a bakery without a baker

2015.06.19. 10:47 | Gergő Helpers

A friend recently sent me a message about a good bakery, asking if I’d been there myself. It’s in Buda in Maros Street, where else, but near Széll Kálmán Square, the Mecca of Hungarian bakeries.

I hadn’t seen it yet, but I told him I would go check it out. When I found myself in the area, I popped inside.

It looks nice on the inside:


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And their wares are good. The display window contains a giant bowl of gorgeous kifli (a crescent-shaped bread), while behind the counter a bunch of sourdough breads are lined up. Additionally, all sorts of French baked treats are also available. I began to shop and inquire about what they were selling, thus I learned a few things:

  1. The breads are from the Marmorstein Bakery. There’s no reason to be ashamed about this, since they’re made by Misi (Mihály Miklós), one of the city’s best bakers, about whom I’ve previously written in the Hungarian blog. He doesn’t have his own store, so he sells his bread to shops. That’s how it works and there’s nothing surprising about it.
  2. The kifli are from the László Bakery. The one in District VI’s Rózsa Street is something of a local legend (1063 Budapest, Rózsa utca 103.), precisely for its kifli: the twisting technique is so refined that whether you want to or not, you’ll be unable to resist the visual appeal and scarf them down immediately. The bread itself, unfortunately, is not as impressive, and the taste doesn’t quite fulfill the visual promise. Nonetheless, it was a clever decision on the part of the Buda bakery to buy their window dressing from here.

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  1. The remaining items such as croissants, chocolate donuts and assorted sweet baked goods are bought from the Délifrance wholesaler. The items arrive frozen and are baked on site. In fact, the chocolate donuts only need to be thawed to be ready for munching.

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  1. What else could you possibly need? Refreshments, among them some bottles of trendy Vöslauer water, fruit juice, Cserpes yogurt, Cserpes cocoa, milk, sandwiches and coffee. For the last item, you’ll need a good, expensive machine, such as a Marzocco, if you’d like really good quality. And a person of course, who can operate it and teach the other employees.

That’s it. What I described is essentially everything they have on offer. And don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with the way they do things. The bread is good, the kifli better than average, and the pastries and coffees are all alright. The level of quality in Budapest’s bakeries has currently only reached the point where something like this very welcome, and I’d be happy if one opened on every corner.

But if the tempo for the spread of good bakeries continues at the speed that I expect it to, in a few years’ time this store will become average and not extraordinary. Let’s hope that’s the case.

Budai Pékség
Address: Budapest, Maros u. 25, 1122
Opening hours:
Mo – Fr: 7am – 7pm
Sa: 7am – 1pm

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu

You may find the original article here.


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Zoska: where the morning starts off better than it really should

2015.06.15. 12:39 | Gergő Helpers

We have to admit that articles dedicated to breakfast locations have become few and far between around these parts, even though a few really good locations have opened in the past year. So let’s set our sights on remedying the situation. We need to address this shortcoming since we’re planning a big surprise, which will require us to be twice as up-to-date as we’ve been. But we’ll save that for a later post.

So, let’s get started on Zoska. For months, I’ve “avoided” the place, but I finally checked it out two weeks ago to give their breakfast a try. Looking at the menu, it became abundantly clear that the restaurant’s main attraction is its atmosphere, since they don’t really have specialties among the breakfast selection that would make you come here from across the city. They’ve got fried eggs, sandwiches and crunchy wieners on the menu, but no sign of bat wing or marinated snail.

Not as if there’s a problem with that.

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The atmosphere truly is excellent, but a reliable source informed me that the only suitable area for longer stays is by the window as the other chairs become uncomfortable after a while. Sitting around inside, you’ll find that Zoska is a friendly and charming breakfast spot where you could easily stay into the evening. And if you should are hankering after something unique, they do have some Catalan bread with tomato, aka Pa amb tomàquet.

The meals do not take quality to extremes, but they are quite tasty. The French toast is not the life-affirming event it is at Café Panini in Újlipótváros, but looking at the table, the dishes and the delightfully presented cutlery, you’ll at once find yourself wanting a bite to eat. And once you get started, you won’t be disappointed.

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In the meantime, you’ll enjoy sitting idly near veteran Elektra coffee machines, jars of homemade jams and cuddly shark toys as you drink some of the better coffee in the city.

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Zoska is a really likable place, where the selection of wonderful dishes means that you will start your morning in a much better mood than can reasonably be expected.

Zoska
Address: Budapest, Ferenczy István utca 28
Telephone: +36-70-623-9999
Opening Hours:

Mo-Sa: 7am – 7pm

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu

You may find the original article here.

 


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