Fresh from India, it was divine to land back in Europe during the spring when the weather is perfect and everyone is coming out of hibernation ready to LIVE again. I timed it perfectly, having a few days of blistering sunshine and only one day of rain. After spending my first day hunting down someone who had lost their Samsung phone, handing it to them, drinking a cider with him in the park and then parting ways, I was hell bent on spending the next few days eating to my hearts content, avoiding trouble, and seeing if a good bowl of ramen existed in the city.
This was my second visit to Budapest, so the sights and see-worthies had already been exhausted the first time around. Pure gluttony and slothfulness were on show this time around. Luckily one of my close friends in Oslo is half-Hungarian and could jot down a few places to check out in-between my ramen and goulash wanderings.
I first stayed literally in "party-central" forgetting the street names and ending up at a glorified hostel, but thankfully with no guests to share common bathrooms with. The last few nights I chose an Airbnb which was far more sensible for a man in his 40's.
With internal decor that makes you pause for a second and think you morphed into a Stereolab cover, this restaurant oozes with character and authentic Hungarian fare. I sat outside, ordered a glass of white wine and their famous Pörkölt. It was my first meal in Hungary after flying in, and ended up being the best.
This dish, visually reminiscent of the famous 2 coloured fish at Contramar with its opposing chambers of deliciousness, arrived at the table piping hot. I tucked in, famished from my wanderings. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. After having spent a month in the Balkans it was the first time I encountered "flavour", something I yearned for.
Gettó Gulyás ($$)
Super famous in Budapest for their goulash, hence the name, I had to opt for a pass and resign myself to maybe not understanding food at all. This was rather insipid, flavourless. In the past I had eaten LEAGUES better goulash than this, in this very town... barely 300 meters away, at a place called Kiado Kocsma.
Kiadó Kocsma ($)
Well wouldn't you know it! The undisputed King of goulash, in my opinion, in Budapest. Accept no immitations. The pub itself is great too, a sort of anarchist, artistic hole in the wall with lackadaisical bartenders, odd artwork and the promise of a sudden party happening or a march or demonstration.
Regardless, this is the only place I will eat goulash at in Budapest until someone shows me a better spot.
Yes, consider that a challenge! I'd be happy to lose if it tasted better than this place.
Biwako Ramen ($$)
I told myself that if I went out and got slightly badgered on Friday night I would wake up Saturday afternoon, walk the 600 meters to Biwako, and allow the healing powers of Ramen to enter my system. I followed the plan despite all obstacles, including intense rain and no umbrella. Found the place, was greeting by two lovely waitresses and an old sleeping Japanese man in the corner. Got my seat, ordered a Miso Ramen with pork and egg, and a Kirin.
To review this ramen would be easier by breaking it down into distinct categories:
THE BROTH: Average, lacking any sort of umami, no depth, no real re-spoonable taste.
THE NOODLES: Possibly some of the worst ramen noodles i've had since Sapporo in Oslo. I order mine HARD in Japan, but these had the texture of raw noodles or noodles cooked in lukewarm water.
THE PORK: Extremely salty, decent texture and flavour apart from the saline overload.
THE EGG: Utterly forgettable. Overcooked, half the yoke was missing, no marinade.
THE TOPPINGS: Dead, soggy spinach? Strange, and very overpowering intense spring onion, far more acrid than anything I had in Japan or elsewhere to be honest.
So, I learned a lesson. You might find amazing ramen in Slovakia, but perhaps not in Budapest. I will head back there again one day and see if any new places have opened, and I will try them... because I WANT TO KNOW!
Shalimar Restaurant ($$)
Like a yogi needs their disciples, and a yoga teacher needs their mat... I NEED CURRY.
It's literally a process I go through every so and so many days, I wake up feeling listless and full of sorrow, check myself in the mirror, listen to my soul and all it's saying is "You need curry fuckface".
I researched and scoured the web for recommendations since I (no judgement) didn't trust the local populations palate for an authentic curry. Needless to say, one place stood out and the laziness in my soul prompted me to go there since it was barely 4 blocks away. I ordered take-away, spoke at length to the waiter who was Indian about how long I had lived there to which he turned and ran back into the kitchen and told the chefs to make it "authentic". That moment of realisation when you see a customer who can handle spices but also oil or herbs that a lot of Europeans would turn their nose up to since they have been forever served blender-smooth curries in pretty bowls. I digress.
The food was good. I managed to keep it hot the few blocks I walked, locked the door, turned on an episode of "Fuck, Thats Delicious" and focused intently on the meal at hand. This wasn't life changing, but it was definitely not an embarassment for the chef or the waiter to serve.
Every sin needs a sinner. Sometimes regardless of whether you are in Tokyo, Bangkok, Medellin or NYC you just want a goddamn burger... usually after some beers. This is a safe place, no judgement here. After spending a few too many hours at both Beat on the Brat and Dzz's Bar, I headed home via the elongated streets that your imagination carves for you when under the influence. I ordered a burger, stood outside in the balmy air talking to the security guard, had to jolt out of the way when a group of british ****'s walked past on a bachelor party with identical football shirts, and the last munter in the group walking 10 meters behind everyone else with his nob out pissing all over the street AS HE WALKED OVER HIS OWN URINE. He missed me and the guard by centimeters, and for once in my life I honestly wanted to stick out a foot and trip the fucking 'wrong sperm' over so he would fall into his own secretions... but then, childhood flashed back and I realised if I did that, his army of brainless plebs would probably beat the living shit out of me, and i'd rather just eat my mediocre burger in my room and pack my bags for Bratislava the next day.
I love you Budapest, just please stop offering cheap flights from Manchester direct.