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Kolbász, Cakes and Unicum – Taste Hungary Review

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Budapest may not be your first thought when considering Europe’s culinary capitals but join a food tour and be prepared for a surprise. From plump paprika-laden sausages to perky pickles, there is a whole host of Central European treats that await you. Taste Hungary runs a huge variety of courses and tours that cover food and wine from across the region and we were thrilled to join them on a 4 hour Culinary and Wine Walk tour that took us from the Great Market Hall, through the Old Town and into a world of food we had never tried before. Read on for our full Taste Hungary review.

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Budapest Great Market Hall

Budapest’s Great Market Hall (otherwise known as the Central Market Hall) opened in 1897 and it is very reminiscent of a Victorian train station. Its wide brick frontage and pointed trainshed-style roof, all constructed in girders could easily be the city’s main station. Instead, it is a celebration of all things food. You will find it on the Pest side of the river, right next to the Liberty Bridge.

A Cheesy Treat -Turo Rudi

We met our guide, Angela, and she started the tour in excellent fashion with a lovely little sweet treat. The tour starts early in the morning and has 8 food stops. The advice is to arrive hungry so we had skipped breakfast. The sweet cheese bar was the perfect little starter, preparing our tummies for the goodies to come. They are a popular snack in Hungary and have been since the 1960s. We don’t have much that is similar in the UK and the sweet, refreshing curd wrapped in chocolate was a delight.

Another Cheesy Treat – Lángos

Often described as Hungarian pizza, garlicky, cheesy Lángos may actually be a tiny bit better. Well, I know which I’d rather have after a night out. The base is a fried flat bread and the topping consists of lashings of sour cream and a mountain of cheese. The flatbread at the bottom can be plain or contain potato or cream and it can also be topped with cabbage, ham or sausages. I am not sure why you would pick cabbage over cheese and cream but I guess that is a personal preference. We had a couple of pies to share between the group and after everyone had scoffed a slice or two each, there was one left. I had already had two slices so didn’t feel like it was mine to take. Angela insisted we finish the breads and after a minute of coaxing, I did the honourable thing and enjoyed my third slice. This stuff is so delicious, hot, cheesy, addictive. I would have happily had the whole thing.

Confession time: We arrived at the Taste Hungary tour with quite a hangover. We had been out doing the very cultural thing of drinking at a ruin bar. I was so hungry and am hanging, I crave things that are super savoury things. That is why the Lángos went down so very well, and why our next stop was perfection.

Curative Cured Meat

Deli meat, curd meats, continental meats…whatever you call them, I love sliced, salty salamis, chorizo and other sausages. We got to try four different kinds on a little platter. They were all delicious but the bright red Kolbász, packed full of paprika was my favourite. It was almost smoky with the spice, thickly cut and perfectly chewy.

Potent Paprika

Next door was a whole stall dedicated to that tasty paprika. Hungary is one of the world’s biggest paprika producers and it is probably its most famous food export. You can pick it up in many forms, powder or paste, sweet or spicy. In fact, according to Wikipedia, there are 8 different kinds. It is made of red peppers (bell peppers) and is used in cuisines across the globe.

Lovely Lavender

The next stall along was an array of lavender products. My mum went through the biggest lavender phase. We had strings of lavender bunches strung across every room of the house Lavender tea, lavender ice cream etc etc etc. I couldn’t smell the stuff for a long time but happily, it is coming back around. We visited a lavender farm a couple of years ago and I did enjoy the field and the lavender cider. I was a little hesitant to try the lavender honey we were offered (oh the childhood flashbacks) but it was delicious! It was tempting to buy a few more products to try and test my tastebuds but I changed my mind, scared that it would all taste like potpourri…I still have some years to go I think.

Perfect Pickles

The art of pickling is a magical thing. The pickling spices, the balance of salt and sugar, and knowing which ingredients match each concoction is such a skill. We head down to the lower ground floor, to the dark underbelly of the market hall to discover a stall that was stacked with pickled goodness. At first glance, it looks nice and colourful and then, looking closer you see the adorable pictures the proprietor has created in the jars of veggies. So cute! Angela ordered a selection and then we all sat down for a little pickle picnic. The sauerkraut was pretty good but the highlight for me was the baby watermelon. It was sweet, sharp and so unusual.

A Walk Through the Old Town

Emerging into the sunlight, we crossed the road and wandered into the old town. We followed along, listening to snippets of information and meeting our fellow tourists. It was nice to get some history of the area and the wider city. Budapest, in my opinion, is missing a good city history museum, so to have a linear account explained to us was so helpful. We passed old city walls, memorials to city floods and beautiful buildings. At every point, Angela gave us a slice of social history and we lapped it up.

A Shot of Unicum

No tittering, please!

Pronounced oo-nee-coom, this herbal liqueur is one of those medicinal concoctions that are necked by some and sipped by others in Hungary. Of course, the name is rather funny, especially to visiting university students so it graces many a booze shelf around the world too. As with many of these old herbal liqueurs, it started life as a medicine and comprises over 40 different herbs We definitely indulged in some of thick thick, black booze on our first trip to Budapest so I was very happy to try the plum variety this time around. I can report…it is still quite extreme. To be fair to Unicum, my hangover probably made it worse than it was. It probably is a very good hair-of-the-dog being so full of herbs! We learned all about the history of the drink and a little more about Angela as we slowly sipped at the drinks. It was nice to take a rest and have a chat.

The cafe we visited to try the Unicum was a very cool, slightly hipster place with some real 1970s communist vibes. Take a minute to poke around if you get the chance.

Right, no more nibbles and hopefully no more Unicum, it is time for a big meal.

A Traditional Hungarian Lunch

The group walked around the corner, chatting more freely after the shot of liquor and we claimed our table outside in the sunshine for this next stop. Locals popped in and out with reassuring frequency from the butcher’s shop style restaurant. Inside there was a counter full of pickles, salads, creamy side dishes of all types…I didn’t know what any of it was but I was really excited to see what we were due to try.

Super Soup

The meal started with a little bowl of goulash each. Goulash is one of those soups that has seeped into my consciousness without actually having any idea what it is. Turns out, it is a thin, paprika-infused broth with beef and veggies inside. It was both relatively light and also very comforting. I can imagine a big bowl of this on a cold night would be a delightful dinner.

Meat Munchies

After our starters came the meat course. We split a couple of sausages and two huge duck legs. The sausages were fried and stuffed with different levels of…you guessed it…paprika. I think these were varieties of Kolbász. One had a lovely spicy kick and just begged to be paired with beans and tomatoes in a hearty stew or whacked in a big bun with some lemon mayo. The duck was crispy skinned with soft meat underneath. I was getting really full but it was still hard to stop eating the duck. It was only fear of judgment that stopped me from picking one of the legs up to gnaw upon. To the side, we had some sweet, pickled red cabbage (always a winner, especially with these meats) and a variety of potato salad and coleslaw-type dishes. It was a fab dinner and as I was licking my fingers, I realised we hadn’t been to 8 stops yet and I needed to find more room. Whoops.

Dessert Stomach Activated

Luckily, our next stop was a 10-15 minute walk away so I had a little time for digestion before we hit dessert. The light, airy, Geraldine cafe was tucked just behind the Hungarian National Museum and served a lovely array of cakes, pastries and other sweet treats. We were all allowed to choose a cake and drink. I opted for the espresso tonic, a bubbly cold coffee that kicked me in the pants! My cake was the strawberry version of their signature cake, only available in season. It was like a millefeuille and the light strawberry mousse was divine. Mr Fluskey opted for a multilayered raspberry and pistachio opera cake and he demolished the lot. I almost didn’t even get a taste! Both cakes we absolutely lovely and worth hunting the cafe out for.

Wine and Cheese O’Clock

With another short walk, we arrived at our last stop for the day. Turns out, we were at the Taste Hungary hub. The company runs lots of food and wine tasting experiences and many of them are based here. We walked up to our own little from and got a small cheese board each, along with three wines to sample.

Taste Hungary’s wine aficionado popped in to give us a quick talk about the different wine-growing regions of Hungary and to talk us through the wines we had to try. We started with a sparkling which obviously we thoroughly enjoyed. The still white was delicious. Turns out, I am all about Central European white wines. I loved Tokaj and sadly, forgot to photograph the bottle so I will never find it again! The red wine, however, was a lot more challenging. It was complex, tannic and too difficult for my hungover tummy. I traded it with someone who didn’t fancy the wine. As for the cheese, we were so full that we only managed tiny nibbles of each. (The middle medium soft cheese was the total winner and I forced the lot in).

Final Thoughts for This Taste Hungary Review

Our Culinary & Wine Walk with Taste Hungary was utterly eye-opening. I knew goulash was a thing, and I vaguely knew paprika was a thing but honestly, I couldn’t have told you much else about Hungarian cuisine. Turns out it is a varied and interesting range of foods. In writing this blog post, I have had the worst craving for a langos and would you believe, there is nowhere near me in London that delivers!? Being the original food tour in Budapest, Taste Hungary have really nailed this walking tour down to a fine art. Four hours flew by and we were so full, and so happy when we left. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Rosie xx

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