Food and travel go hand in hand where I'm concerned. Experiencing the local culinary specialties gives me great insight into a region's culture and lifestyle. So to make the best use of my time when visiting a new destination, I often will schedule a culinary tour. To kick off my week-long stay in Budapest, I did that very thing.
The tour started in the Great Market Hall--an sensory overload for those of us who love to touch, smell and taste food! My guide began with a tasting of a local liqueur called Unicum. Now let me first say that it was 10 am. But let me say next that we were not the only ones imbibing on this thick dark liquid that Hungarian's swear aids in digestion. Needless to say, I was quick to form the opinion that Unicum would have a hard time making its way to my kitchen shelf!
Next we stopped to try another local favorite, langos. Langos is Hungary's most beloved street food. Basically, it is fried dough offered with various toppings (usually garlic butter, sour cream, and shredded cheese).
Another stop in the market took us to a sausage and salami booth. At first, I was excited about this stop. I love salami. Then...well, I learned that not all salamis are created equal. One of the salamis presented on the platter was horse salami. I had a horse as a pet once. How was I going to eat horse salami? Of course I didn't want to insult the guide, so I had to try it, right? After a deep breath and a lot of mental persuasion, I managed to get a small nibble down. Done. Phew! Moving on...
Photo is courtesy of Pi Istvan Toth
Before leaving the market, I was handed a pogácsa--a bite-sized biscuit--hot from the oven. It was heavenly! There are several varieties including potato (krumplis pogácsa), cheese (sajtos pogácsa), cottage cheese (túrós pogácsa) and pork cracklings (tepertős pogácsa) are the most common types. Pogácsa is sold at almost every pastry shop in Hungary and is often found served at wine bars and wineries.
Photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Leaving the market, we headed to the nearby chocolate shop, Rozsavolgyi Chocolate. These exotic little bonbons almost look too pretty to eat! But that didn't stop me! Here I tried some of the more traditional flavors like salted caramel and raspberry, but the real treat came from the unexpected flavors such as ancho chilli and lemon oil.
The next stop was a traditional Hungarian restaurant. The place was small and a line of locals poured outside the front door waiting to get in to place lunch orders. Our guide ordered up several dishes for us to try--most I can't remember--but I know we started with a pumpkin soup that was delish!! The meat and potatoes were very good as well. The item I was most interested in trying was the pickled watermelon...and now I know I can scratch that off my list! Not a fan!
The tour continued with a visit to a bakery shop where we enjoyed two Hungarian specialties: Dobos torta and Esterházy torta. The Dobos cake is a sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with crispy caramel; while the Esterhazy consists of several layers of vanilla spiced buttercream and topped with white fondant cream. One word describes this part of the tour: SWEET!
The tour concluded with a wine and cheese tasting. Again, I don't know that I could recite all the wines (or local cheeses) we tried, but I was pleasantly surprised by all of them. The wines were exceptional and I ended up purchasing several bottles to take home. Sadly, Hungarian wines are almost impossible to find in the U.S. because their production quantities are so small.
This food tour was one of the most fun (and sometimes daring in my mind--think unicum and horse salami) food tours I've been on! If ever in Budapest, I recommend taking one--it will be a filling and unforgettable experience.
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