Well, nothing could tear my eyes away from the beautiful view on the Danube…except for how hungry I was feeling.
I rubbed warmth back into my face and ears and simply started to wander in search of food. I roamed up the river, then turned in to the ultra-busy Vaci Utca, a pedestrianized street where locals and tourists wandered and women in traditional Hungarian costumes peddled seats in restaurants. I’m not much for the tourist eating experience, as I like my travel to be more about local foods and experiences. Even if I have to point to food on the tables, I want to eat locally.
I stumbled upon a square filled with little wooden pop-up “cabins” selling everything from souvenirs to handmade soaps and strings of dried fruits and spices. Absolutely perfect for my first dinner in Hungary. Near Deák Ferenc tér metro, the little wooden tables in the centre of the space were packed with people eating and drinking.
A woman walked by me with a massive plate of meat on a bun. I looked around and saw this bistro food hut where they were serving up goose, pork, and sausage who knows what else on a freshly baked pumpkin seed bun. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, and mushrooms were ladled on top of the shaved and sliced meat.
For about $6 USD, I got the plate below. I grabbed a small cup of mulled wine from a nearby hut and sat down on the wooden benches near a few locals.
Oh, my word. The meat was perfectly smoked, a delicious woodsy flavor meant to be chewed and savored slowly. The slightly spiced peppers and veg added a spark to the smoky meat. Each piece melted in my mouth, and I was not about to leave one piece left on my plate. I carved up the pumpkin seed bun and rolled meat into it. Between that and the wine, I could have rolled out of there.
I browsed shops for a bit, and since it was my first night there, I didn’t want to buy too much right away. I saw mounds of brightly-fondanted (my word for it) marzipan treats, glistening jewel-toned jars of locally sourced jam, and fresh-roasted nuts in sugary, salty, and spicy piles. A brightly-lit hut showed off mounds of crisp, thickly-filled strudels in layers of flaky pastry and fruit and seed centers. I can smell their sweetness on the night’s air, right alongside the heady smoke of pork and goose over grills.
Even though I was full, I felt like a strudel was necessary for takeaway. I chose a cherry one which had a hint of clove in the scent of the filling. A gypsy band started up on a nearby stage, so I took the strudel over there and listened, sitting on the edge of a statue to hear the guitar music and the lovely, lilting voice.
The night turned colder, so I took the strudel and started walking to my hotel, navigating in my own directionally-challenged manner. I passed a Starbucks, the first one I’d seen there, and stopped in to get a hot tea to keep me warm on the way back.
My icy fingers were supremely grateful when they wrapped around the white shell of the steamy tea.