Friday, 13 September 2013

Eating out in Budapest

As I write this, I'm sitting in a square at a nice Hungarian cafe. Except that the cafe doesn't serve Hungarian food. I'm not being antisocial, the Explorer cheekily forgot his wallet and has had to rush back to the hostel to get it. We could just pay by card but it looks like we'll have money left over anyway and so that seems really silly. Let's pretend you're doing a verbal reasoning test for some job. What have you learnt from that paragraph? Budapest is cheap and was warm when we visited, the hostel was located near a nice square with cute cafes and the Explorer continues to be a forgetful little soul who often inconveniences us but in a way that we can't hate him for. Although sometimes it's really hard not to (like on the train to Stansted when he insisted I have a bite of his steaming hot wasabi only to burn my tongue so brutally that it hurt to eat schnitzel for days). The other main theme running through the holiday was that at times, it didn't feel like a holiday. This had nothing to do with the city or the company or money, it was to do with my complete inability to compartmentalise or relax when anything is going on. And boy, was stuff going on. I will pepper the food descriptions of this entry with hints and clues rather than spelling it out all at once as that's more fun for everyone.
So, we got to the city late on Monday evening. Then (BIG NEWS) we skipped dinner. It wasn't intentional but we were wandering and thinking 'hmm my tongue's all burnt and also I'm full from lunch'. We had a snack from a bakery, a peculiar 'potato' pastry which in no way shape or form tasted like potato. We then failed even to find a bar to have a drink in (all closing, big Monday night) and so ended up asleep at a very reasonable hour ready for a day of touristing on Tuesday.
We began Tuesday in more of a holiday spirit, breakfasting at a bakery serving fresh ham filled croissants (it was just a chain) before going to Central for breakfast mark 2: coffee and pastry. Coffee comes with a macaroon; a crisp, sugary thing. The fruit tart had spectacularly crumbly pastry and a rich yet light filling. I would've preferred for the 'seasonal fruits' to include something other than grape but that's a very small gripe indeed. Oh, and Central is a lovely place to sit for an hour or two, very fancy. We had planned to walk around the castle district before lunch but then Central carried us away with its solemn waiting staff. We decided to lunch before sightseeing at Central Market Hall. I was flummoxed by all the choice and insisted we walk around every single stall before deciding. But there were so many options that I forgot everything that was on offer and what looked good. There were also so many tourists there that it became challenging to walk back so we ended up getting morbidly unhealthy snacks: a sausage wrapped in bacon and grilled cheese. We got some salad (coleslaw included of course) for good measure too. It wasn't special or interesting but it was enjoyable. And it was definitely filling enough to leave us energised for the museum walk. Thoroughly exhausted by the inclines of Buda, we headed back for a nap. And by nap, I mean frantic phone calls and stresses and email checking which was ultimately futile since what can you do to get money back from a fraudulent estate agent from a time zone away? After which it was dinner time! We headed to Castro Bistro as that's where the hostel staff recommended. We ordered rabbit goulash and some chicken beetroot dish. All of a similar heaviness to lunch but rather saltier. Maybe I'd have enjoyed it more if I felt like eating with the stress of 'oh god I've lost us £4000'. This meant that afterwards, I wasn't much in ruin bar flow so we headed back for some red wine and quiet time with the intention of relaxing.
It didn't really work and I slept poorly. I wasn't much in the mood for Hungary or its food but I had to persist for the Explorer's sake. We headed to Frici Papa where we were once more served meaty delights. A meat and potato soup which warned the cockles of my little heart. I was so disappointed which I realised I'd totally missed a big basket of bouncy bread which would have been so good for mopping up that soup. The 'green bean' side dish we ordered appeared not to have much bean going on - a cheesy, curdy plate lay in front of us. Tangy and rich but only good in small doses. The chicken with mash provided a buttery, bland landscape to counteract the curd sourness. This was by far the most enjoyable traditional meal of the trip but still left us craving something a little fresher. Then off we wandered to the tree island in order to try relaxing tack number two: maintain a healthy level of drunk all day. I think it worked better: we dined on fast food pizza slices and then went bar hopping before realising that bar hopping can be futile as a couple with no interest in making friends. They were all so beautifully decorated though. I feel like a bit of an idiot for not having realised earlier that ruin bars are so named because they're built in ruins. (Hashtag Oxford educated.) 
The next day was devoted to the children's railway and our over indulgence from the night before led to a calm lunch at Cafe Alibi. After so much meat and cheese, I was glad for the respite to be found in the fresh salad alongside a chicken club and a croque Madame. Well crafted sandwiches so often go under appreciated. The bread was almost nutty. The sauce sharp yet creamy. The salad, which I have to mention again, wonderfully put together. This meal put me in a really bright mood so I was on better form for the (hilarious) children's railway. Convinced that the lack of meat and cheese was key, we headed to Due Spaghi for dinner.
One of the 'due' explained to us what the various luscious ravioli were filled with. I wanted it all. But then they told me that the only ones ready to eat and take away were the least appetising looking. And then of those two, we picked the worse-looking one. It's as if we didn't want to enjoy it. Still, the pomodoro was tangy and vibrant and the pasta was just the right al dente even after the microwave trip it enjoyed. We had intended to get some of the tuna pasta they had on offer but the first dish didn't leave me that enthused. But I was still hungry so we plumped for the 'tapas' place around the corner. Tapas and Mexican. I often judge places for diversifying too much: do little but do it well. We ordered steak quesadillas and two tapas dishes: potatoes with bacon and roasted garlic mushrooms. The mushrooms never came. We weren't too disappointed though as the other two portions were huge. Unfortunately, it was still decidedly average. The potatoes were crispy and had clearly had a long soak in olive oil which had seeped through to flavour it all. Unfortunately, no salt had done the same. The saltiness of the bacon didn't counteract it. The cheesy, salad topped quesadillas I can't even remember which isn't exactly high praise.
Our last meal of the week was taken in a rush, again at the Central Market Hall. Like we'd decided to bookend the trip. I enjoyed this meal most of all which leads me to think maybe my palate was coloured by the prospect of losing money. This lunch was eaten after having discovered that the house was all sorted and we'd been refunded our money. Crispy goose leg with vinegary cabbage and creamy, mustardy mash. Mmm. And LANGOS! Langos is my favourite and I went mad with the toppings: cheese, sour cream, dill sauce, salad, sausage, mushrooms. Every single topping was necessary even though the langos became impossible to eat. If I could go back and have my time again (I hope I return at a time when I'm better placed to enjoy the experience), I would go to town on langos every lunch.

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