I know absolutely nothing about the Hungarian language, and I’m too interested in getting by in Vienna and then getting oriented in Turkiye to spend much time on it. Still, I am a foodie, and an oenophile, so I do want to get menu-oriented at least, so that I’ll recognize favorite foods and avoid things I don’t like. And while I’ll do a lot of walking, I’m going to arrive and leave by train, and going to use the metro and buses or trams a bit, so I do need some transport vocabulary.
It was a pretty easy matter to choose concerts for my stay, because as soon as I looked up the Hungarian state opera site, which does have an English version, I saw how lucky I am to be going over Easter. A rich choice! I also learned that the opera house has been closed for refurbishing for five years, and has just reopened for a splendid season. What great and lucky timing for my trip! I just had to work out how to fit in the three programs I wanted – St Matthew Passion, Parsifal, and Cavalleria Rusticana – and then order tickets online. So far, so good.
With all the English-language hotel booking sites, there was no language challenge, just the question of finding availability since I’ll be in town for Good Friday and Easter weekend. I love stylish old hotels, but I’m in what looks to be a very banal business hotel, because I do want to have a view of the Danube and be right beside it for beautiful walks.
I don’t need an airport transfer, just some in-town sightseeing. I found advice from English-language bloggers about the various Budapest cards, 24, 48 and 72 hours and a Plus version. But then I found a very helpful site, budapestbylocals.com, showing how cheap a ten-pack of public transport tickets is. I concluded that the tourist cards are overpriced options for me, even though a Budapest card includes a free visit to the Lukács thermal spa/bath. It looks like a visit to the biggest, oldest spa would be about $20, but the Lukács bath would only be $10. It seems that visiting at least one thermal bath is a must, although if it turns out to be cold and windy I may hesitate. I checked out BKK, the official city transportation site and found it’s got an English version, so between that and Budapest by Locals, I’m ready to deal with ticket machines and skip the tourist passes.
Food and Wine
And next? Restaurants, of course! And wine bars. Hungary makes a lot of wine, and wine bars are a popular kind of establishment. I remember, back in college, one good cheap sturdy red that we used to buy was a Hungarian wine called Egri Bikavér. We understood the name to mean “bull’s blood,” but I see it’s really “the blood of Egri’s bull.” I think there used to be one producer, one quality, in Chicago in those days, but in Hungary there are a great many wines so called, and all levels of quality, so I hope to learn what’s good, and how to read something from the labels.
As to food, all I have known of Hungarian food is goulash – gulyás – as a thick stew, whereas it seems a soup version is more typical – and palacsintas (sweet crêpes). But I do know that I can expect to find good duck, and good duck and goose liver, probably more affordable than anywhere else. Oh, yum. So I’m scouting restaurant sites, mostly looking for places within walking distance of the opera, but open to detours. And this is where it gets fun. A lot of restaurant pages and menus are only in Hungarian. So, thank you, Google Translate, I am working my way through things.
- Google offers three possibilities for duck: kacsa / lemerül / elhajol – but so far, it looks like kacsa, in some form, is what menus will have
- I found “Libamáj szeletek aszalt szilvával, vin santo borral és vegyes salátával tálalva 4.490 Ft” which Google tells me is “Goose liver slices with prunes, vin santo, mixed salad” – oh, home run! And the price? About $13.50. But it looks like the menu is from a place that’s likely closed. So, so sad.
- levesek = Soups
- zöldségleves = vegetable soup
- húsleves = broth
- Bélszín carpaccio = sirloin carpaccio
- házi = homemade
- libamáj = foie gras
With an asterisk to indicate my strongest interests, here are the places I may get to. First, the restaurants on my visit list:
- *Százéves Étterem , V. ker Piarista u.2, Budapest 1052, 7 days 6-11 pm. Their website has an English version! Ah, “the oldest restaurant in Pest” is certainly ready for tourists. The menu link doesn’t work from the English-version homepage, but it does from the Hungarian version, and the menu itself is in 4 languages. Good one to learn from and perhaps a good spot for my first meal in town.
- *Kispiac Bisztro, Hold utca 13, Budapest 1054, seems on the route between my hotel and the opera. Need to translate the menu from photos in their FB gallery.
- Kisharang Étkezde, between the Danube and the Opera at Október 6 u.17, Budapest 1051. A small cafe very close to the opera, serving beer rather than wine, cash only, 11:30 am- 10 pm, on M3 blue metro line near Arany János utca station. I see a picture that seems to be duck leg with lentils, so I’m going to work on translating this menu next!
And three wine bars of interest:
- Eazy, Hold utca 23, Budapest 1054, closed Sundays, serves brunch, early bird prices 20% off (am I in Florida?) from 4-6 pm, so very good for before a concert, but also open till midnight. They have card-operated self-serve wine-by-the-glass dispensers.
- *L’Enoteca Borbár, Olasz Éterem, Tapas Bar, Belgrád rakpart 13, Budapest 1056, near the Danube, across the Erzsébet bridge, and from my hotel, turning right, and then it looks to be waterfront. Google maps is reporting it temporarily closed but I see no such mention on Hungarian pages – yet. On the other hand, a few pages give a url for the place that is a dead link. Still, I will likely ask my hotel reception to try calling. And should it be closed, the link for the Enoteca is on a restaurant guide site – as even I can now recognize from its name, Etterem.hu.
- Tokaji Borozó, Falk Mikas 32, Budapest 1055, just a couple of blocks from the Danube after crossing Margit bridge.
I am wondering what restaurant hours will be on Easter; will most places close, will they serve special (and expensive menus), …? Will ask my hotel reception when I arrive. If all else fails, I see there’s a Lidl in the inner city, so I could just buy a few grocery items on Saturday and have Sunday be a minimal-diet day indeed.
Wrapping up for now
You know I’ll report and post photos after my visits, so come back. But if you’ve been to Budapest and have recommendations, please comment asap!