I must admit, when I think about delicious cuisine in Europe, Hungarian food doesn’t automatically spring to mind. However, there is some incredible food in Budapest to enjoy, and I loved trying out all the traditional Hungarian dishes I could find. If you are wondering what to eat in Budapest, get your taste buds going with this Budapest food guide!
Typical Ingredients in Hungarian Food
Traditional Hungarian food in Budapest is generally fairly simple, and often has some of the same ingredients. Paprika provides a lot of flavour and a little spice to soups, stews and sauces, and a dollop of sour cream tempers any heat.
You may also find a spicy paprika sauce made from blended paprika peppers which has a real kick to it, so use that with caution. Pork is the most common meat used for most dishes, with chicken, beef, duck and mushrooms also very popular.
Seafood isn’t common in this landlocked country, but freshwater fish like carp is often served in fish soup. Cabbage is a typical vegetable side dish, as are pickled vegetables and gherkins. Small noodles and dumplings usually provide the carbohydrate in most meals, although potatoes are often added to soups, which are always served with bread.
For dessert, fruits such as apples, plums and cherries when they are in season add sweetness to cakes, strudels and pancakes. Nuts and poppyseeds are also common.
What to Eat in Budapest
This meat stew flavoured with paprika is found all over Central Europe, but in Hungary, gulyas is served as a soup. Chunks of beef meat slow cook in broth, with a mixture of root vegetables like potatoes and carrots to make a wholesome and delicious soup generously seasoned with paprika. Goulash is probably the most famous Hungarian dish, and something you simply must eat in Budapest! It is still delicious and somehow refreshing in the heat; I had a bowl of goulash soup on a 30°C day, and it was still fabulous.
Pörkölt – Meat Stew
What you might expect to be goulash is actually called pörkölt. Pörkölt is any kind of boneless stewed meat, slow-cooked and in a rich thick sauce flavoured with paprika and onions. I tried a beef stew, which was served with knodel dumplings.
Lángos – The Best Street Food in Budapest
Lángos are a delicious deep-fried flatbread, made of dough similar to doughnuts. Traditionally topped with sour cream and cheese, these days you can find a wide variety of toppings and even lángos burgers. They are yummy and perfect drinking food as they will line your stomach but be warned – you can have too much of a good thing, and the heavy dough will fill you up quickly.
Töltött Káposzta – stuffed cabbage rolls
I didn’t think I liked cabbage. Childhood memories of cabbage boiled to within an inch of its life and practically force-fed to us as school dinners didn’t leave me feeling very enthusiastic about these traditional stuffed cabbage rolls. However, I am pleased to report that they’re delicious! The cabbage was well cooked but still flavourful, with a hint of pickle flavour. The cabbage leaf was filled with a minced pork mixture, served on a bed of cooked shredded cabbage with a sausage and a dollop of sour cream on top.
Hungarians certainly love their paprika! As you may have guessed by the name, this dish is stewed chicken coated in a thick creamy sauce flavoured with paprika. As well as Chicken Paprikash, you can also find fish and other types of Paprikash too.
Kolbász – Sausages
Hungarians love sausages, but not just the cooked sausages – they also make excellent salami-like cured sausages. On our food tour we tried a selection of salamis, not just made with pork but with a variety of meats including mangalica sheep pig, goose, horse and pork. Some sausages are very spicy, others are flavoured with the ubiquitous paprika and other spices but aren’t hot, just flavourful.
What to Eat in Budapest – Roast Duck
I adore duck, so was thrilled to find that duck was popping up on lots of restaurant menus. At Menza I had a duck breast which was a little overcooked unfortunately but still very tasty. The best duck I had in Budapest was at XX Market, from one of the small restaurants on the top floor.
Goose and Duck Paté
Keeping with the water bird theme, Hungarians also use the duck and goose liver to make pate and foie gras. I didn’t try any foie gras in Budapest, but if you can get past the questionable production methods, you can buy tins of foie gras at the Central Market. I did try some delicious duck pate though, served with onion marmalade. On my food tour, our guide suggested trying the pate with onion marmalade and sweet tokaj wine, so I was halfway there!
Hungarian Desserts to Eat in Budapest
Probably the most recognisable Hungarian food after goulash, these sweet treats are found all over Budapest. Are they touristy? Yes. Overpriced? Probably. But they are always delicious!! They originated in Transylvania, which used to be part of Hungary although it is now Romania, and the dough used to be wrapped around the chimney to cook.
These days, the long strip of dough is wrapped around a wooden pole and cooked over a fire or grill. They are usually rolled in sugar and/or cinnamon, and in tourist areas are often sold filled with ice-cream and Nutella for an extra calorific hit!
I loved this cake. Created by Mr Dobos, this cake is made up of layers of sponge cake and chocolate cream, topped with a crunchy caramel layer. The sponge is light yet dense, the chocolate perfectly smooth and the caramel a challenge to crack, all combining to make a delicious and irresistible cake.
Traditional Food in Budapest – Flódni
This traditional Hungarian cake isn’t as sweet as Dobos Torta, and consists of layers of stewed apple, poppyseed and nuts. It wasn’t my favourite food in Budapest but if you like fruit flavours in your cake you’ll love it!
These yummy Hungarian pancakes are similar to French crepes, thin, rolled pancakes usually filled with fruit marmalade or cottage cheese.
This chocolate bar is as much a part of Hungarian cuisine as gulyas or paprikash, it’s something that all Hungarians know since childhood. You can buy them in any supermarket and most snack stalls around the metro stations, and you should give it a try and see if you can work out what the white filling is made from. *spoiler* it’s cottage cheese!
I couldn’t find this on my last visit to Budapest but am told that this chilled fruit soup should be on my list of what to eat in Budapest. Cherries are commonly used for the soup which is then called meggyleves. The best time to try it is late spring and early summer when the fruit is in season so perhaps I was too late for this when I went in August.
Vegetarian Food in Budapest
You may have noticed that most of the main dishes here contain meat or fish. That is typical in Hungary, although in Budapest you usually find at least one vegetarian dish on the menu which tends to be mushroom-based. However, thanks to the Turkish and Jewish influences here, you can find plenty of falafel and middle eastern style food in Budapest too.
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Where to Eat Vegetarian Food in Budapest
Traditional Vegetarian Food
Some of the traditional Hungarian dishes are suitable for vegetarians, so you can eat mushroom stew and mushroom paprikash to your heart’s content. The calorie-laden lángos is also vegetarian, as is the Chimney Cake and most of the desserts, so you can get a taste of traditional food in Budapest in restaurants all over the city. However, if you are strict vegetarian or vegan you will find it more difficult to eat food without animal fats, cheese or butter.
This has lots of vegetarian dishes like shakshuka, spinach and feta fatoush and roast cauliflower and tahini salad, and a selection of smaller mezze dishes perfect for sharing.
The Hummus Bar
As you might expect, this place serves up delicious veggie-friendly dishes like hummus, falafels, soups and salads without breaking the bank. A must for vegetarians in Budapest!
This street food market is conveniently set up right next door to Szimpla, and is open from 11.30 am to 11pm during the week and till 1am Thursday – Saturday. There are stalls to satisfy every foodie desire here, including lots of veggie and vegan-friendly options too. Las Vegans do amazing vegan burgers and I think almost all of the stalls have something vegetarian.
Szimpla Kert Sunday Farmer’s Market Brunch
If you are spending the weekend in Budapest, you should definitely head to Szimpla on Sunday for their farmer’s market and brunch. Downstairs local farmers sell their produce including fresh veg and cheeses (as well as cured meats) and upstairs is a huge buffet with lots of vegetarian options to choose from. Make sure that you check what is labelled as vegetarian, I had a slice of vegetable quiche which turned out to have smoked salmon in it, which wasn’t a problem for me as a meat-eater, but it was a surprise!
What to Drink in Budapest
While you are eating all of this delicious Hungarian food in Budapest, you will need something to wash it down with! Hungarian drinks are almost as delicious as the food, and there is something to suit every taste.
Hungarian wine is delicious! There are 22 different wine regions in Hungary, and one is even UNESCO listed. Tokaj wine is unique as the grapes used to make it have been affected by a kind of noble rot which gives the fruit a very high sugar concentration. The grapes are picked by hand, and the labour-intensive process makes some bottles of Tokaj wine among the most expensive in the world!
To learn more about Hungarian wine, I took a Budapest wine tour with Urban Adventures, and our guide took us to various wine bars in Budapest to try some of the different varieties. You can read my full review of the tour on our sister site Tales of a Backpacker here or check out the options for other wine tours on GetYourGuide.
I’m not a beer drinker myself so I can’t advise you too much here, although beer is of course very popular here. As in other countries, the craft beer business is booming. Check out Hops Beer Bar, Beer Brothers, or Neked Csak Dezsö for some decent beers, or you could also take a beer tour.
Hungary’s fruit brandy, this stuff is strong! Palinka comes in many different flavours, but to my palate, it all just tastes like very strong booze. Usually coming in at 50% ABV, plum, cherry and apple palinka tend to be the most popular.
This herb liqueur has been made in Budapest since 1790 by the Zwack Family. It is quite a distinctive taste and one that to be honest I have no desire to taste again! The medicinal flavour is compounded with the first aid cross design on the label which gives a hint to its flavour. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you can sample unicum in most bars and restaurants, or head over to the Zwack Unicum museum to learn more about the spirit’s origins and recipe.
I hope this Budapest food guide has helped you to figure out what to eat in Budapest! Hungarian food is a rich and delicious cuisine to discover, so happy eating!
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