Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: More than goulash on the menus

If you are about to choose a restaurant to go to in Budapest, first click back on this link to our favorite, Fricska Gastropub.

The courtyard patio of Kazimir (featured photo) is a pleasant place to sit. Both the chicken with apples and brie and the parmesan-crusted chicken are excellent, and Kazimir’s bowlful of roasted vegetables topped with parmesan presents a welcome change from heavier fare.

Ultra-casual Jelen Bisztro is a major bargain, a spot to balance out your average meal tabs if you have been splurging. Couscous salad is fresh and light; layered eggplant with pesto is nice and rich; and zucchini fritters are perfect for weekend brunching.

Fried chicken and a mushroom risotto were the lunchtime offerings the day we went to La Tabla, the casual sibling to the more upscale Esca Studio. Both were perfectly prepared, but not inspiring enough specials to draw us away from Fricska. We probably should have tried again on another day.

Not recommended unless you need to lunch mid-sightseeing on the Buda side were Pater Marcus Abbey and Dunaparti Matroz Kocsma. Although we almost were tempted to return for Dunaparti’s mussels, both restaurants are heavy on the touristy side.

Normally, I try not to be too critical in these posts and just skip over a restaurant that turns us off completely, but…. Stand25 Bisztro in the Hold Utca market receives such high ratings and is touted by many as the absolute best place try goulash. We went, and we tried the goulash. It convinced us not to order goulash again during our entire month. The flavor of the lamb pate was unremarkable; the layered potatoes were merely heavy, not tasty; and the beef shoulder smothered with gravy and topped with a grilled round of bread was as unappealing as it appears in the photo. And this lunch was not inexpensive.

Our experience at Stand25 sent us scurrying for refuge in restaurants offering foreign foods, an advantage in visiting a capital city. Missing Spanish dishes, we ducked into Padron for tapas – seared padron chiles and eggplant with goat cheese, honey and walnuts. Cured.

We enjoyed exploring the Lebanese and Mediterranean offerings of Dobrumba. The harira soup loaded with chickpeas, the tender pulpo and potatoes and the squid cooked in red wine all make memorable meals.

Padthai Wok Bar is a chain, but the made-to-order dishes taste so fresh. The one in our Pest neighborhood has outdoor seating on a beautiful little plaza.

And, of course, there’s Fricska. Oh, and those sweet potato fries at Samu-Rice.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Caravan of food trucks kept calling us

Normally our preference is to sit down in a restaurant and be waited upon, but the Karavan Street Food courtyard of food trucks drew us back several times. Trucks line two sides of tables canopied when needed. Unlike many food truck sites we’ve encountered in Austin and San Antonio, access is hospitably pedestrian only. You don’t feel as though you are standing in the middle of a parking lot, and everything seems clean, fresh and new – even the restrooms.

The food is not inexpensive by Budapest standards, but we could buy a reasonable bottle of respectable red wine to have with our lunch. Always a draw for us. In fact, without TABC to interfere, Karavan Bar offers full-bar service.

We cobbled our meals together from several trucks, but always included orders of the best sweet potato fries we have ever had anywhere. Surprisingly, these emerge from an Asian-themed truck, Samu-Rice, specializing in fillings sandwiched in between two rounds of sticky rice – like the chicken teriyaki roll seen below.

The rice rolls are not the only unusual, for us, bun-type offerings. The Mister’s favorite was the curried chickpea patty from Las Vegan’s (Hey, definitely better to have a misplaced apostrophe than for us to struggle to comprehend the same name written in Hungarian.). The Real Cheeseburger skips the meat patty, substituting it, for example, with a wedge of fried camembert topped with grilled eggplant.

There is no shortage of meat, though. The bread encasing the Langos burgers is fried first, without tasting greasy at all. We sampled a beef burger with red pepper and a pork one with red onion chutney, both with a generous serving of sheep cheese.

We were among the first customers for the opening of Rocket Ice, unfortunately near the end of our stay. Fresh ingredients are combined upon ordering and quick-frozen into ice cream using some mad-scientist-looking process employing nitrogen. The most extravagant combination, Berry’Zola with gorgonzola, blueberries, pears and walnuts, was amazingly good.

Our sampling missed several trucks, including Kobe Sausages, Vespa Rossa Pizza and Pasta, The Soup Truck featuring goulash served in bread bowls and Tortilla Street Pirog, an unusual fusion of Mexican wraps and Russian-style pierogis.

Oh, and chimney cakes. In addition to the truck at Karavan, we saw the pastry cooking over hot coals before being cream-filled at numerous festivals, yet never ordered one. Food trucks and serious booth set-ups are major ingredients of festivals, so I am including photos of the incredibly huge meat-filled sandwiches dished up at Rosalia 2017, a rose wine festival in the city park.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Graves reveal layers of Hungarian history

The policy of the house of Austria, which aimed at destroying the independence of Hungary as a state, has been pursued unaltered for 300 years.

Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894)

A bronze winged genius, a protecting spirit defiantly bearing a torch of freedom, stands guard with a powerful lion atop the recently restored massive wedding-cake-like mausoleum memorializing Lajos Kossuth. A lawyer and extremely effective orator, Kossuth’s journalistic endeavors to promote an independent Hungary led the Austrian monarchy to imprison him for treason.

The Austrians later regretted releasing him, as he became the inspirational leader of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. By 1850, the interlude of independence faltered and Kossuth was in exile in Turkey. In London, he was welcomed as a hero, and New York staged a parade on Fifth Avenue to herald the defeated Hungarian leaders. A bust of him is displayed near one of Winston Churchill in the United States Capitol. While Kossuth spent most of the rest of his life in exile, he was well honored at home after his death.

Kossuth is one of many residents of Kerepesi Cemetery, opened for occupancy in 1847. The national pantheon sprawls over more than 130 acres of peaceful grounds shaded by so many different types of trees it doubles as a botanical garden. Declaration of it as a decorative cemetery in 1885 led to its role as a sculptural paradise reflecting Hungarian artistic trends as well.

Alright, a cemetery is an unusual entry point for the upcoming series of travel posts about Budapest, but it is no secret I love wandering among ancient graves. Also, Hungarian history is so complicated by the turbulent history of all of Europe, the cemetery serves a restful resource for slowly absorbing some of the waves that swept through it.

For example, the genius atop the mausoleum of Ferenc Deak (1803-1876) seems much more peaceful than that of Kossuth. The angelic figure bears a palm frond and a laurel wreath, symbols of immortality. Deak is remembered as a statesmen who successfully negotiated with Emperor Franz Josef to establish a dual Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, the Compromise of 1867.

Here you find graves of artists and writers inspiring patriotism and those motivated by their words who fell in wars. Arcades adorned with mosaics offering shelter to some of Budapest’s wealthy stand in contrast to the workers’ pantheon added in 1958. There are graves of Russians who died liberating Budapest from the German fascists, and memorials for Hungarians who were killed during the 1956 unsuccessful revolt against Soviet control.

Art deco details in some sections stand in stark contrast to the severe style dictated by later Communist rulers. Four horses struggle to break free from the corners of a tent-like shroud ominously sheltering the tomb of the Hungary’s first elected president after the fall of Communism, Jozsef Antall (1932-1993).

Introducing you to Budapest through this cemetery is meant to illustrate how we failed to strictly adhere to guidebook lists of the top 10 must-see attractions and things to do when visiting, despite staying there for a month. I’ll just get our shortcomings as guides helping shape your future travels, probably verging on sinful to many, out of the way now.

(1) We did not take the dinner cruise on the River Danube. Spending time standing in a buffet line to get food while missing the scenery seemed as though it would defeat the point, so we walked both sides of the river instead. Multiple times.

(2) We did not dip into the famed Turkish baths. As architecturally seductive as they are, the images of people crowded in the pools and men standing in waist-deep water playing chess failed to entice me to want to join them. They seem to have an abundant supply of wrinkled, overweight patrons without me.

(3) We only tasted goulash once. Can’t believe I confessed to that last one.