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Posts from the ‘Budapest’ Category


On vacation, if there's a Michelin star in town I'll
try it. It's certain to beat the Nobu or Buddha Bar that every international
capital now advertises. In Budapest it's an easy decision because there are
only two choices, one star apiece. My inclination was to go with the restaurant
serving lentil foam, though both Onyx and Costes, the other option, do two
tasting menus, one using more traditional ingredients and one more
international. I'd have to be on a second visit before branching out into
pineapple and avocado.

Onyx is plush and glossy, that mix of tufted
banquettes, chandeliers, oversized chairs, damask wallpaper that's Vegas
Versailles, but with unexpected glowing surfaces and space age metal wall
installations that are more of a cold climate Miami. Somehow it wasn't too
much. The diners were almost exclusively young couples from countries with even
more favorable exchange rates (the menu is priced in Euros, not Forints) with a
business dinner where the local underlings slowly nursed glasses of wine and
laughed more than they had to at American khaki bosses' stories.

Onyx bread & spreads

They do
not skimp on the bread. The basket comes with butter, pork rillettes and fresh
cheese. The wedge right in the center was mauve from red cabbage like a piece
of Hungarian ube pan de sal.

Onyx amuse

A puzzle
piece of squid is accented by dots of paprika sauce and a foamy milkshake, also
red pepper.

Onyx danube salmon, luke warm potato salad, crispy veal

salmon, luke warm potato salad, crispy veal.
That fried veal nugget showed up
again. When I first encountered it at Csalogány 26, I assumed it was a creative touch, but maybe it has Hungarian roots, after all.

Onyx marinated goose liver with plum textures

goose liver with plum textures.
The puck of lacquered foie gras (you knew there
was going to be goose liver–even pubs and mom and pops in Budapest serve it) was
a lot of richness early on.  If I could
only eat one dish again, it would be this one, plus the bread basket. I basically want to eat nothing except fat and carbs for every meal.

Onyx hungarian sturgeon caviar with cauliflower puree, vegetables, “black soil”

sturgeon caviar with cauliflower puree, vegetables, “black soil.”
the vegetable patch came next. I don't actually know what the dirt was crafted
from; I was more preoccupied with the world's tiniest melon hiding out near the

Onyx mangalitza marmalade with lentil foam, and charbroiled mangalitza loin with lentil

marmalade with lentil foam, and charbroiled mangalitza loin with lentil.
wouldn't be a survey of Hungarian cuisine without the beloved mangalitza. As often happens, the meatiest course shows up when you're fuller and less appreciative.

Onyx lentil foam

The foam,
with more of a pea soup body, got its own plate–and dark breadcrumbs.

Onyx intermediate dessert

dessert of forgotten ingredients.

Onyx 21st century somlói sponge cake

21st century
somlói sponge cake.
On the final night of my week in Budapest, I was now on my
third version of somlói. With a thick layer of real, dense chocolate, not syrup,
this non-traditional style was my favorite.

Onyx bar cart

Now here
is where it gets weird. The staff was mildly obsessed with getting people to
try the tableside Chemex coffee service. No one was biting. I kind of wanted to
peek at what was on the bar cart I'd seen making the rounds earlier, so I had
sour cherry palinka first. Maybe this upset the balance and order?

What I
really wanted was the petit four cart. Throughout the evening it has been
wheeled up to everyone's tables and I'd stealthily looked to see how many
treats they'd take (diners get shy when given no limits) and make a mental note
of which I wanted. The lavender marshmallows, for sure. Also, the mini canelés.

Onyx chemex presentation

coffee is done with flourish on a portable induction burner. I'm truly not a
coffee aficionado, no Portland roasting obsession ever rubbed off on me. Do you
know what would've went well with the coffee? A lavender marshmallow.

And that
was it. No treats (minus the box of two you're sent home with). Did they run
out? Were they trying to close?  At this
point, not yet 11pm, there was only one other couple in the dining room,
another anomaly since I didn't consider 8pm an unusually late hour to begin an
evening meal.  They were not brought the
sweets cart either, but a plate with a small selection on it. In hindsight, I
should've just said something. If you're paying hundreds of dollars (this was
very much NYC-priced) you don't need to be a mignardises martyr. This exact
situation played out during an Eleven Madison Park lunch back before they went
four star, and it soured me on them; I've never wanted to go back. It's not the
note to end on.

On the
way out the door we passed by the candy cart, well-stocked and taunting.  

Onyx *
Vörösmarty tér 7-8, Budapest, Hungary

Csalogány 26

Though the wines are all regional at Csalogány
26–it's your chance to sample from
Slovenia and Moldova–the food isn't overtly Hungarian.
It's a solid in-between restaurant, not too formal or casual with a menu that
changes regularly. And while you can dine a la carte, the prixe fixes, four or
eight courses, with wine pairings, is the way to go. The shorter option worked
out to being just $49.

I didn't take real photos because I was trying to be in
relaxed enjoy-your-meal mode instead of obnoxious tourist mode. And then it
happened that we were seated next to the other Americans (isn't it the worst
how Americans never want to be anywhere near another American abroad?)
walk-ins, a young woman in yoga pants, Toms and a $260 sweater (she said so)
with her bro friend and an SLR.

Csalogany 26 trio 1

The amuse and my first course were both pressed meat. In
fact, the chosen dish was called presskopf, which turned out to be a
fat-encased slices of pig's head terrine accompanied by chopped pickles and
sliced radishes. The crisp-skinned sea bass was in a completely different vein,
but also had a tart and briny flavor from capers tossed into the risotto.

Csalogany 26 trio 2

The third dish bridged the Eastern European and
Mediterranean with polenta and more composed meat. A veal tenderloin comes with
more veal, cheeks, cubed, panko-crusted and fried, reminiscent of the pork nuggets
at totally American Char no. 4.
For dessert I chose the cheese plate with a
puree of walnut, the chestnut paste of Hungary. An extra sweet appeared. Despite
the presence of cookies, it was more of a breakfast–unless you consider Farina-like
porridge with dried fruit a traditional dessert.

Budapest parliament

On the walk back to the subway–cheap, super efficient and
old-school Soviet with doors that slam shut so violently they'd easily chop off
a limb–you probably won't miss the glowing parliament building, which I
assumed was yet another castle. It's impressive at night, and probably more so
when captured by camera that's not an iPhone.

Csalogány 26 *
Csalogány utca 26, Budapest, Hungary

Bock Bisztró

My knowledge of wine is intermediate at best, and my
Hungarian wine knowledge  didn't extend beyond Tokaji. But
without even trying, I got a quick mini education in Budapest because regional
wines are prominent, if not exclusive, at a number of restaurants.

Bock Bisztró with locations on the Buda and Pest
sides, as well as in Copenhagen, takes its name from winemaker József Bock.
Consequently, the list is 100% Hungarian and includes the winery's full range. It
doesn't take oenophilic expertise to sort through the K's, Z's and accent marks to
spot Chardonnay or Syrah, but the number of local varietals–Furmint, Kadarka
and Irsai Olivér, for instance–was
surprising (and a little overwhelming). I got into the Kékfrankos, a.k.a.
Blaufränkisch, while there. Simple, fruity and a little spicy, the red managed to be pretty all-purpose.

Bock bistro mangalitsa pork fat

The Mangalitsa fat was something I definitely wanted
to order from the aperitif section, and then it magically appeared on the table
with a basket of bread (no charge, I'm fairly certain). Everyone had the butter
substitute on their tables, so either it's extremely popular or a courtesy. The
pork fat is smoky with bits of crisp skin and chopped chives mixed in, and
even better with a touch of sea salt sprinkled on top.

Bock bistro ham & salami

More Mangalitsa pork came in salami form, spiced
with paprika. The prosciutto was good too, but the crumbly sausage was more
distinct. Rich meats are often served with Hungarian peppers, which aren't wildly
spicy, though if you say they aren't, you'll get looked at like you're crazy,
and raw red onion, which to me is far more difficult to down in such quantities
than the chiles.

All the pork will make you full, but persevere.
While the printed menu comes in Hungarian, English and German, the most common trio, the daily specials on a chalkboard above the bar, are only in Hungarian. Some lean traditional; others are more invented. I was able to
make out one featuring goose and soft-shell crab, which seemed so oddball that
I had to order it.

Bock bistro soft shell crab & goose

The goose was tender and falling apart, more like roast
beef than poultry. Looking at the plate now, I want to say that soy sauce and star anise were
involved, but that's probably because it's how I would cook the goose in this
situation. The swipe of curry powdered sauce and side of fat rolled rice noodles
greased with sesame oil is making me think Asian when really the goose component was
traditional. Frankly, I don't know that this hybrid dish would stand up out of
context. It's not something I would ever order in NYC, but I liked it in

Bock bistro pastry with poppy seed cream

Dessert was a poppy seed cream served with a flaky
pastry and raspberry sauce. I've said that walnuts are big in Budapest, but so are poppy seeds.

Bock bistro bizarre ice cream selection

I'm still wondering what the "bizarre ice cream
selection" entailed.

Bock Bisztró * Erzsébet Körút 43-49, Budapest, Hungary


Though a little hyperbolic, there are cities where
it's tough to get a bad meal (San Sebastian comes to mind). Budapest is not one
of them. I didn't have to try hard at all to get a raw-in-the middle sausage
and be served microwaved food guilelessly–no efforts were even made to
re-plate the meatballs from their original plastic tray.


Kehli interior

So, heeding local advice was more important than
ever. Kéhli came recommended, and indeed, it was exactly the type of restaurant
a resident might suggest to a visiting colleague. There were mixed groups,
clearly business associates, speaking the alternating English, German and
Hungarian common in Budapest. The food and decor is traditional and  homey, a live "gipsy" band plays nightly
(when you reserve you are asked if you want to be seated near or far, which is
highly practical. Far, thanks) and yet it's not cheesy.

Kehli hot pot

They are known for something called hot pot, which I
would've ordered even if I hadn't been told about it ahead of time, simply
because it shares its name with the communal Chinese preparation. At Kéhli,
it's a deceptively rich soup, appearing as a vegetable broth at first glance
into the red enamel crock that's de riguer in Budapest, yet upon first scoop
light meatballs and cubes of tender beef appear.

Kehli duo

What's unique are the
accompaniments: a big marrow bone with a metal spear for scraping, and a basket
of garlic bread, meaning thick slices with whole cloves sticking out on

Kehli goose liver

 Being in the appetizers section and well priced
(like $10) we assumed this would be for one when really all of the portions are
more than enough for two. Same with the goose liver, which was less like pate,
and more like, well, cold, fatty liver–nice with sweet onion jam and raw
peppers for the first few slices, but a little relentless thereafter.

Kehli stuffed cabbage

I thought that I didn't like stuffed cabbage because
I hate rice cooked into things and tomatoey sauces with ground beef. Ok, no one
has served that mix of things to me ever, but it's how I imagine stuffed
cabbage to be, conflated, perhaps with horrible '70s weeknight stuffed bell
peppers. No, this cabbage was a vehicle for pork, gooey knuckles and other odd
bits, reddened only with lightly hot paprika and brightened with cream. And it
was awesome. I need to track down a similar style in NYC–all the versions I
see are Polish or Russian, which are exactly my nightmare cabbage rolls, though I do wonder if this version is just an anomaly and not representative of a Hungarian standard at all. (This afternoon I got excited, stumbling upon a Slovakian recipe…and yes, more ground meat, rice and tomato sauce.)

This was only half of the serving, by the way. I'd
originally ordered it for myself, not realizing how big it might be until we
were asked if we wanted two plates. The anecdote on the menu, detailing how the
restaurant's owner was born big and is still formidable in size, thanks to
stuffed cabbage, should've been a tip off:  "The feast was so good for the mother’s
stomach that Mr. Cecei was born a whopping 5 kgs, and he has continued to grow
to this day, until he now has expanded to weigh over 100 kilograms." And
yet I was still not put off despite not lacking a dinner goal of getting to 220

Kehli somloi

Somlói galuska is everywhere Hungary, and you'll
encounter it in fast food as well as high end versions. Though all slightly
different, the basic premise appears to be different sponge cakes topped with
custard, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Walnut is also a prominent flavor in
this and in many desserts, because really, walnuts are the peanuts of Hungary.

Kehli vendeglo

Kéhli * 1036 Mókus u. 22,
Budapest, Hungary


Snapshots, Hungary Pun-Free

Even though I spent a good part of Black Friday
pondering new cameras (and ankle boots, area rugs and cat sweaters) and –what do you think of mirrorless?–I've begun to rely on
my camera phone way more than I'd like to admit. Accordingly, here are some
not-all-beautifully-shot photos from my week in Budapest with a jaunt to

Budapest Marketing

Even as taking photos of one's food has become an
easy target for mockery, there seems to be an exception among "real"
photographers and travel writers–I'm not calling anyone out specifically,
though it's commonplace on travel blogs and pops up on Twitter–for food
markets in foreign locales. Huh? Isn't "food markets are the soul of a
city" nearly as much of a trope as "____ is a city of contrasts?"

Great market hall facade

But I wasn't seeking to make art or looking for a
window into the hearts and minds of Hungarians. I only wanted to see what might
be good to eat at Budapest's Great Market Hall, just me and my iPhone camera. Note the Mexican flag on the sign hanging from the entrance–chiles en nogada with their red, white, green, isn't so different than stuffed cabbage highlighted with sour cream, tomato and greenish Hungarian wax peppers, also a nod to a flag with shared colors.

Great market hall doll

Goose cracklings. Goose is big in Hungary; the big
bird's liver is featured in restaurants both high and low, and canned foie gras
was commonplace at market stalls and even at duty free. (November also happens to contain St. Martin's Day, a new-to-me holiday that entails eating goose in multiple courses.) Liba, a.k.a. goose, is one of the only Hungarian words I learned to read.

Great market hall butcher

Even this beefy stall, has cracklings in the lower left and cans of goose liver in the case on the upper right.

Hungarian cracklings

I would've assumed that the piles of fried skin in
plastic tubs in butchers cases were all pork rinds if I hadn't chanced upon this
entry mentioning libatepertő
aren't a lot, or any Hungarian food blogs written in English. looked
promising, but hadn't been updated since last December).

Too many goose cracklings

As has happened more times than I'd like to admit, I
always mix up grams to ounces, and the extra math of converting a foreign
currency, in this case forint, furthers the confusion. I ended up with a pound
of goose cracklings, enough to fill a small pillow–could you imagine
cracklings instead of feathers and down?–when I only wanted a handful to
sample. Yeah, the young man working the counter did give me a funny look when
I asked for half a kilo, but everyone in Budapest shoots nervous-making looks.
Service with a smile is not a thing (not that anyone is particularly unfriendly either).

Thanksgiving snacks

The crackling miracle was that the nubs of
goose-bumped skin and fat, some with bits of dark meat attached, not only
stayed crunchy, but lasted a week at room temperature, stuffed in a plastic shopping bag in the
hotel closet (nowhere near the biggest food crime of frozen horse meat unthawing and bleeding all over the contents of a
minibar fridge in Montreal) and an additional week in a Brooklyn fridge, to be
served at Thanksgiving traditionally with a generous amount of salt, sliced red onion, the
other Hungarian fave (one can only stomach so much raw onion), and
untraditional jalapeños in lieu of the milder yellow-green peppers they
consider spicy and sometimes are. Ignore the pickles on the left, but do take a closer look at the onion plate–it has a face.

Mangalitsa pork, the extra rich and fatty meat from
curly haired pigs, is premium both here and in Hungary, the difference is that
being a native breed there, it's everywhere you look.

Spicy mangalitsa sausage

It's in spicy, super oily sausages, served with no more
than a dollop of sweetish mustard, that can make a normally self-conscious solo diner more self-conscious while chomping at a bench next to the garbage cans where the cleaning women smoke. With paprika as the dominant spice, the pork
sausages bear more than a passing resemblance to chorizo, except that I've
never encountered such large portions for one in Spain.


Lángos is essentially fried pizza (Neapolitan
montanara doesn't own the style) and at its most basic is topped with sour
cream and mild shredded white cheese. There is a menu that none of the staff
appears to adhere to, combo-wise or price-wise; instead, they ask what
ingredients you'd like piled on top from a series of metal containers separated by
glass, Subway-style. That's how I ended up with sausage and more red onions
than I'd bargained for. Even if the price balloons beyond the listed 700
forint, it's inconsequential–that's only $3.20. (If you want to get drunk and
eat cheesy fried dough in NYC you are in luck–there's lángos at Korzo f.k.a. Eurotrip in South Slope.)

Langos with mexican sauce

No one orders the #7.

Great market hall mexican stage

However, there was a Mexico tourism promotion
occurring on my first visit. The performers weren't at their post.

Great market hall mexican food

There were Coronas and tequila, as well as tacos,
sopes and quesadillas being prepared for sale. Only 400 forint a taco.

Sadly, it was a week too early for the big
Christmas market that was setting up what is called Fashion Street, an open-air
mall. Touristy as they may be, they're fun, at least the ones were that I encountered in
Berlin last year, though it may be the glühwein talking. (The Germans are more
hardcore, adding shots of rum or brandy to their mulled wine, as well as still
smoking everywhere indoors and having no rules against drinking in public or on
public transportation.)

Luckily, a smaller collection of stands were open
along the pedestrian arcade behind the city's two major hotels, across from the
Tommy Hilfiger shop. From the fifth floor of the Le Meridien, in a room
overlooking the row, I could hear the muffled voices on the ground each morning.

Kolbasz haz

Of course there was Mangalitsa pork.

Christmas market sausage

And just regular sausages with potatoes. We
accidentally ended up with two massive links (one not fully cooked) when we
only asked for one. I don't expect the world to speak English, so these things
happen (well, not uncooked food).

Szittya buci stove

Szittya buci (translated as Scythian bun) is a sandwich cooked in old-timey wood-fired
stoves. I don't imagine the average Hungarian still uses these. These
anachronisms are all in the fun of the Christmas market. Give them time, and
their youth will rediscover old methods, cooly repackage the experience and
charge double.

Szittya buci duo

Bacon, with lots of sour cream and red onions, of
course. Tomatoes cost extra (hot peppers and cracklings were also available add-ons).

Vitez kurtos cakes

I regret not getting to try the kurtos before this stand
closed (businesses shut down early, at least in the tourist zone–we were
snapped at for trying to walk into a closing bar at 11:40pm) which I initially
mistook for rotisserie pork. It's a hollow cake that gets burnished by fire and
rolled in cinnamon and sugar.

As Political as it Gets Around Here

Barack palinka

Barack=apricot in Hungarian, a fact I quickly
learned through the ingestion of pálinka, a popular fruit brandy. (It took me
longer to figure out that when someone with shaky English tries to describe a
fruit as "like apple but bigger" they mean quince, a.k.a birs.)