Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Eating and Drinking in Budapest.

If you love fresh vegetables and fruit on a daily basis, do not go to Hungary. However if you love all other types of food, book a flight right now. We found it so difficult to find restaurants in Budapest that had vegetables, most places serve carbs on carbs with meat alongside. We did however, find one place that served excellent fish and somewhat questionable veggies (but it was better than nothing), so I thought I'd put together a guide on the best places to eat and drink (and go out dancing!) in Budapest.

The great thing about Budapest is how cheap everything is. We ate out at two really nice restaurants for less than £20 each for three courses and wine with each course, and at a Ruin Bar we paid just £3 for huge cocktails, and around £1.50 for spirits.

There are of course the tourist traps to avoid, so keep on reading and note down the restaurants for your trip to this ancient and breathtakingly beautiful city!

Aszú Étterem

We stumbled upon Aszu quite by chance. In fact, we stumbled upon both of the wonderful restaurants we ate at by chance. We knew that we didn't want to eat at a restaurant advertising a 'tourist menu' - aka, a tourist trap, and we knew we wanted Hungarian food. After searching for quite a while, we ended up going back towards our hotel and found Aszú Étterem near St Stephen's Basilica. We looked at the menu, and as soon as I saw 'cold soup', I knew we'd hit the jackpot. 

No. I don't like cold soup, but it's quite a well known Hungarian dish, so I knew they served traditional food. The restaurant had outside seating which was perfect as it was a warm balmy evening, and it looked fresh, modern, and really quite classy. It was also busy, which is always a good sign.

Please excuse the photos, the lighting was so orange and no matter what I did to my camera the white balance just did not want to work properly! The photos came out quite orange so I've had to edit them quite a bit :/

Bella started with a salad, but I wasn't overly hungry so decided to save myself for dessert. Even the salads in Hungary are coated in salad dressing, but she said it was still lovely...

While deciding on our mains our waiter helped us choose a Hungarian wine to go with what we were having. It was the perfect choice, and we loved it so much we bought some at the airport to bring back to the UK with us! I had the Pork tenderloin with pickled cherries (another Hungarian favourite - cherries!), while Bella opted for the Neck beef. The wine was Oremus Mandolas, from the famous Tokaji wine region in Hungary.

Now, these photos do not do this food justice. It was really incredible, so delicious, the meat was so tender and flavorful! And at just 4900 Forint (about £12), it was more than half the price of what you'd pay for this standard of meal in London. 

For dessert Arabella had the Aszú Somlói, and I had the Plum Dumplings, which were potato dumplings with plum, cinnamon cream, and salted nut ice cream. To be honest mine would have been delicious without the dumplings - having potato for dessert was just plain weird, but the rest of it was lovely. Bella's dessert was much better, I can't for the life of me remember what it was now, but it was some sort of cheesecake in a glass tumbler. If you go to Aszu, get it!

The Bigfish Seafood Restaurant

The Bigfish seafood restaurant is where I finally got some healthy food inside me. The restaurant is light and airy and had a huge display counter full of fresh seafood. You choose your seafood, and can but it by the gram or kilo. After much deliberation, I settled on a Swordfish steak with vegetables and chips (I know I know, carbs right). I also got a homemade lemonade to drink, and ordered a Black Forest Gateaux for dessert. This whole meal cost me less than £15. 

The swordfish was really yummy and fresh. The veggies weren't the best, but were still surprisingly good - they weren't over-cooked or soggy which is the main thing. Bella had the mussels, and she loved them! For dessert my Black forest gateaux was sensational; the flavours and textures were wonderful, and Bella's lemon meringue tart was apparently really refreshing and zesty. Yumsk! 

Szimpla Kert Bar

Romkocsma's, also known as Ruin Bars, are super popular in Budapest. If you want a good night out with cheap drinks, ruin bars are the place to go. They're cool and funky and like no other bar you'll have ever been to before. Szimpla Kert is in the Jewish quarter of Pest, and is the oldest ruin bar in Budapest. Ruin Bars are bars in abandoned and dilapidated old buildings, and I certainly felt as though the walls would crumble around me when gingerly stepping up the stairs to the second floor! 

Szimpla Kert is huge, and made up of lots of different rooms with different themes. There's a wine bar, a cocktail bar, a spirits bar, as well as various other bars within the building. You can sit in an old soviet jeep in the outside courtyard sipping on a Mai Tai, or sit on some garden furniture in a room full of old computers on the walls while guzzling a Cuba Libre. We did a mixture - after all, we needed to test out every room and type of drink! 

There was also a DJ playing some good tunes, and after a few too many cocktails I had a great time singing and dancing along. Sadly we didn't try the Shisha, I was far too British and was worried about how clean the pipes would be :/ we also didn't try the carrots they were selling. Yes. You read that right. They were selling carrots....

Cafe Gerbeaud

Going from one extreme to another. Cafe Gerbaud is one of the most famous coffee houses in Budapest. It's glamorous, classy, and they do the best hot chocolate I've ever had after Angelina's in Paris

I had a cheesecake and hot chocolate, the cheesecake was the perfect size; not too big and not too small, and it was lovely and creamy and the perfect combination of fruit and dairy! It also had a really lovely thin base rather than a thick one that makes the entire mouthful taste of biscuit.

As it was such a lovely day we sat outside, however the inside is the draw for most people, it's so beautiful. Naturally Cafe Gerbeaud is a complete tourist trap, but it's one of those that I think is definitely worth visiting and getting a coffee (or hot chocolate!) and cake it. You can also buy boxes of perfect little macarons, which are so much cheaper than Laduree!

So there we have it, my top places to eat/drink/coffee at in Budapest! My next post is going to be non-travel related so I don't bore you all, and then I'll start my Vienna ones before one last Budapest one (and the most epic breakfast ever)! Hope you're enjoying all of these and finding them useful :)

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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Budapest, Hungary Day 2.

Our second day in Budapest started out very wet and cold, however it did brighten up thankfully. We had a lazy morning and then sauntered down to the square behind the hotel to meet up with the guide who would be taking us on our free walking tour. Despite seeing quite a bit of the city the day before on the Pest side of the river, we hadn't seen the Buda side yet. You see, Budapest used to be three cities (Buda, Pest, and Obuda), before they all joined together to form Budapest. 

So off we went with our umbrellas, and had a very interesting time on the walking tour. It was a great way to find out more about the city, ask a local questions about the city (did you know, the average wage of a Hungarian is just 600 Euros a month!), and generally just see the best bits of the city without getting lost! We found out some interesting facts about Hungary's history, which I loved. When choosing to visit countries, I usually do so because of the history of the country, and I love learning more about it's past, whether good or bad. 

After seeing a few statues and learning more about the history (the statue above was the very first statue to be created after the Iron Curtain fell and they gained independence from Soviet Russia) over on the Pest side of the river, we then finally crossed the river to Buda. After climbing up the hill the clouds cleared and the sun finally appeared just in time for photos at Fisherman's Bastion!

The story of the above two photographs is a funny one. That white building is where the President of Hungary works, apparently it has no security whatsoever as no one cares enough about Hungary to harm him. Also, the guard in the photo above is there purely for tourists, a few years ago the President decided they needed to create an 'identity', so they created a new 'tradition' of these guards standing outside the Hungarian 'white house' and performing a changing of the guard ceremony every hour. The guns are not loaded and do not work. If there's a security issue the guards have to phone the police for back-up!

Castle Hill is so pretty, the houses are like chocolate box houses! After getting to the top of Fisherman's Bastion we finished our walking tour and then went for lunch at a little canteen called Fortuna, with the guide and some of the other people from the tour. I'd read about Fortuna before going, so was rather excited when the guide led us there. All of the locals on the world wide web say this is the only local cafe in the Castle Hill area, as everything else is so geared up for tourists. The food looked stodgy and very 'school-canteen' style, but it was so good, and so cheap. I had chicken and pasta with traditional Hungarian Dumplings. Yep, carbs on carbs. This entire meal plus a coca-cola cost me just 1400 Forint, that's £3.50. 

We sat down at a table with the guide and an older American couple. We got chatting about life in general and what we all do, and we discovered that the husband was one of the guitarists from sixties rock band The Fifth Estate! Apparently he used to play concerts to 20,000 people. I immediately texted my Dad, knowing he would likely know about the band, and he did. He replied with some of The Fifth Estate's songs, and the man was very impressed that he knew songs that weren't their big famous ones. Sadly we didn't get his or his wife's names :( 

After lunch we parted ways with the rest of the group, and Bella and I decided to pay our 1000 Forint or whatever it was to visit Matthius Church. Inside was stunning, the walls were completely covered in art and paintings.

It was well worth the small cost to see this in person. These photos don't do it justice. We spent some time wandering around the church, and then went out to Fisherman's Bastion to see the view. It was a pretty good view! There was also a really good looking guy standing to the side of she managed to catch this on camera... smile, scout, rawr! 

Anyway, all jokes aside the view was pretty amazing...

Not to mention Fisherman's Bastion looks like a total Disney/Fairytale castle!

On our way back to the 'other side', we stopped off for some ice-cream. Budapest didn't do very good ice-cream, but this place was delish! I had strawberry and forest fruits, I needed something refreshing after our heavy and very stodgy lunch.

Over on the other side of the river we walked up towards the Parliament building to see the famous Jewish 'shoes' memorial. The commonly known story is that many of the Jews of Budapest were taken to the river's edge, told to take off their shoes and then were shot one by one into the river, so the water would carry the bodies away. Sadly the truth is even worse than this. The reality was that families were all tied together and just one of them was shot, which then dragged all of the others into the water alive. The other family members then drowned as the weight of the now deceased family member kept them under the water. It was apparently a way to save bullets.

The memorial is a large row of cast iron shoes, all different styles from the thirties and fourties. Men's, women's, and children's. It was harrowing, very moving, and strangely personal. The cast iron shoes look so real, as if their owners had just stepped out of them that very morning. A reminder that something horrible happened here, that should never happen again.

After spending some time at the memorial, we then walked back to the hotel to have a rest from our day of walking, and get changed for dinner. We lazed about in the jacuzzi for a while, having girlie chats and excitedly chatting about our impending trip to Vienna and the world-famous Hotel Imperial. We then found the most amazing fish restaurant for dinner, which was a welcome change from all of the carbs we'd been eating. I'll be posting all about this tomorrow in a post all about eating out in Budapest!