Finally, I found myself in Budapest. Well, I did not just find myself there I went there. On purpose. I have heard so much about it. Lashings of adjectives like beautiful, romantic attached themselves to travellers summations of the spirit of Budapest. But truth be told, it was reading my friend and fellow blogger Nicole of Vegan Nom Noms account of Budapest and who was gushing about the vegan food there and posting photos to tempt me, that was the tipping point.
Upon arrival I immediately noted the low cost of food, essentials, travel and entertainment. I could not help but get a sense of freedom of not having to count every penny. In contrast to say..Paris where hanging out in a cafe can be something you need to add to your budget as a costly excursion. I took to sitting on walls with a bottle of water to people watch! No need to do that in Budapest, it is a very affordable city. Budapest is a very walkable city, though it is fairly easy to get around with the metro, tram or bus covering most parts of the city, but I mostly walked. All the main attractions are in a small area. Nothing took more than an hour to reach on foot from my base up near the foreign embassies. It is a good idea to go on one of the free walking tours to orient yourself and get a little background culture. The guides are also great at advising on the 'must do' activities and sites whilst you are visiting.
Upon setting foot in the city I quickly familiarised myself with a few basic words. Not easy though. To say both hello and goodbye Hungarians say szia, pronounced seeya. They also say 'hello' when bidding someone goodbye?! If you can get your head around the pronunciations of their 44 letters of the dictionary (for instance who'd a thought that the character dzs (not a typo) was pronounced like the English G?! ), you are halfway there. I wish I planned that far ahead. I usually end up learning when I am in the thick of it.
When I go to a new city, I have no idea why, but their style of telephone box, metro signage, cab colour (all yellow by law) and post box somehow sum up and fix in my mind part of their culture. Yes, question that, I do!
I always enjoy seeking out the local street markets. I bought a bunch of parsley, bound carefully with twine from this beautiful lady. I was so taken with her gentle features that I enquired if the young girl next to me spoke English. She replied that she did so I asked her to translate, 'you are so beautiful, please may I take your picture'. The lady smiled so sweetly and nodded humbly. This is one of several I captured of her. She is like the generic kindly woman in a children's storybook! I wanted her to adopt me!
I spotted this. It struck me as something I wanted to tell you about. What a genius and eco friendly idea. Herbs and spices in simple paper bags.
Bio ABC was one of several well stocked organic stores in the city. They had many gluten free and vegan products. A good range of organic vegetables. Bulk bins. A cake counter with traditional desserts and even some vegan and raw treats.
Bio Abc was one of a few places in the city where you can buy raw products by Elet Konyha ( Life Kitchen). They provide raw vegan catering and host the most amazing pop up events.
The buckwheat carob cup biscuits where so morish! If I go back to Budapest this is the food item I will track down first! I wish they shipped to the UK!! Then I will book a table at their pop up restaurant. Bucket list.
One of the numerous Hummus Bar restaurants dotted around the city. You are never far from your next bowl of pureed bean and tahini! I had a topping (they have a host of toppings to choose from) of fried aubergine and carrot salad. I also opted for the fava bean instead of the ubiquitous chickpea hummus. So filling and utterly delicious. Something about consuming hummus for me is so very grounding. Yum.
I only had one week in the city. I did not get to try everything vegan that is on offer. Vega City (it was Le Bar..and has now moved to larger premises just a few steps from its first incarnation) was one of those I missed this time. A friend told me the food there was good. Served canteen style with some traditional Hungarian dishes. Smoothies, juices and desserts. It can be a bit hit and miss, depending on the time of day you arrive as to the range of choice available.
The fisherman's bastion is a must see on the Buda side. So called as an honour to the guild of fishermen who defended this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages.
Az Elet Etterme (once called Mannatural) meaning restaurant of life. A raw food restaurant that should be a torch light to all others in its affordability. £5 for a large plate of delicious raw food?! The sample plate was as suggests a bit of everything; raw crackers, 'sour cream', pickles, salads, and sprouted quinoa. Lovely. Olivia the server was a bubble of energy, so friendly and her English was impeccable.
I opted for the raw lavender and apple cake, oh, and that little coconut energy ball. The topping of the cake was lovely but the addition of the physilium husks in the base was a little too evident. I left my plate clean though.
Napfenyes Etterem (sunshine restaurant) is located on a quiet street just North of the Jewish district. You walk downstairs into an underground space. I expect it would feel really cozy on a wintery day. The food is Hungarian inspired. The menu is set everyday and listed on their website. One or two gluten free options appear most days. I opted for the goulash and a selection from the cold salad bar. The food was comforting and flavoursome though a bit oily. Most of the staff were friendly and one spoke good English. As with many of the restaurants they had an English menu you could order from.
Did you know a Hungarian invented the Rubik's cube? I never did master it. Perhaps I will in my dotage, if I sit down for long enough! AND the biro. Yup, invented by a Hungarian.
Budapest has become quite famous for its Ruin Pubs. Basically run down (some even have no roof) buildings in the Jewish district that have been turned into pubs and cafes. Heatlh and Safety would never allow it in the UK! At the weekends the Szimpla Ruin Pub houses cute and friendly little farmers market. A great place to while away a few hours people watching and listening to the laid back sounds of the live music.
Dynamo Bake is a cute and friendly little cafe just off of the busy Muzeum Konut road . It is a bike rental shop coupled with a bake shop. The owner, Bea (pronounced like bear) returned from a time living in Portugal where she had grown accustomed to the Portuguese way and missed eating baked treats and pastries for breakfast. She is singlehandedly attempting to bring the Hungarians around to her way of thinking. Bea opened Dymano Bake once she decided to merge her two passions of biking and pastries.
She had a small selection of vegan offerings. I was excited to find a gluten free and vegan black bean brownie (this is my recipe from way back for fudgy black bean brownies). The one I ate at Dynamo Bake had a crumblier consistency and a thick chocolate shell. It was not overly sweet and her pastry school credentials shone through. I was very happy, sipping my tea, nibbling on my brownie and enjoying the peaceful space.
Research also uncovered an ice cream parlour that was offering a selection of dairy, egg and gluten free ice cream. Levendula (lavender) has two locations in Budapest. I went along to the one on the Pest side which is located on the fringe of a large shopping centre. I had a scoop of the red berry, coupled with the dark chocolate and chilli. They even had gluten free cones. I got very messy with it (very hot day) and looked like a (happy) chocolate covered toddler by the end of it. Delicious.
I did not get to try Atma Buda (yoga centre with vegetarian cafe) but it has good reviews on Happy Cow.
Mid week I heard about a salt cave underneath a juice bar (Zold Turmix..green smoothie) in Pest. I had to go and experience that. It is a natural treatment said to treat respiratory and skin conditions, used to treat since ancient Greeks saw the benefits of the anti microbial action of salt. There was only two of us in there. It was a strange air and when you breathed you got a slight sensation up your nose similar to when you get water up your nose. It was very relaxing being down in the cave and the music they fed in in the hour I lay in my reclining massage chair was very chilled. Chilled as in relaxing. Not chilled as in cold.
Edes Elet Cukraszda (vegan cake shop and candy store) is not far from the bridge that crosses the danube and also takes you to Margaret Island (a small island where joggers, beach bums, tourists and locals escape the city for a bit of green space). There are three vegan eateries in this small area. So visit hungry! It is totally vegan and has lots of cakes, bakes and slices on display. Sadly, they did not have any gluten free cakes on the day I visited. I was reliably informed by a fellow traveler that they were super tasty.
I found this hipster coffee shop, Madal Cafe just on the next street. They had some raw treats so I ordered a specialist green tea to go with a sweet macha morsel, took and seat and watched people come and go. It was a popular spot.
The spas with medicinal waters are very popular in Budapest. The Turkish occupation of the city in the 16th century saw many spas to enjoy the thermal waters. Whilst the Hungarians then built several spas of their own, a few of the original Turkish bathing houses remain. I choose to visit a lesser known and the oldest in the city Veli Bej (and therefore far quieter) spa which has a hospital built around it. I bathed in the 38 degree waters, had a blissful massage, sweated and steamed many times in the infra red sauna and the steam room. Throwing handfuls of ice on my body in between the two. A total of 3 hours and I emerged the cleanest person in Budapest, and the most chilled. Recently refurbished to a very high standard it was total luxury. Bliss for around £20!
A cute house. One of many photos of buildings I took. I will share one.
Edeni. A totally vegan, canteen style eatery situated in a buzzing intersection of restaurants on the hilly Buda side. Inexpensive and simple food. My Mexican chilli was very good. My eating companions declared their choices were tasty too. They had authentic gylash (it is often thought, incorrectly, that goulash is their national dish but it is not, theirs is a soup style medley of ingredients, with a different spelling). Lots of gluten free choices for dessert. The double decker style of cake popular in many of the vegan places I visited, was tasty and surprisingly light..not so for my friends chocolate torte, which though rich and delicious, had them beat!
Crazy Fruits. A fast food vegan smoothie and raw food and wrap cafe. Sadly it was closed for the day when I visited.
Mid way through my stay I decided to get out of the city and see what the Hungarian landscape looks like free of concrete, brick and steel. Under an hour, the train skirted the Danube and stopped at Visegrad a small town beside the Danube in an area dubbed by the locals The Bend. The nearby quaint villages are popular with tourists but I wanted to visit the lush green vistas I'd seen in my Google searches. There is a castle built after the Mongol invasion in 1240 to protect royalty against invaders atop a hill. I had to take a little ferry boat that runs once an hour to the other side of the river and then climb up, quickly as the rumbling thunder was growing more threatening by the minute.
The climb was worth it. Ah, how serene.
I visited the Hungarian Ethnographic museum situated opposite the Parliament Building. It had a fascinating exhibition with real sized examples of traditional Hungarian homes, churches, places of work. Costumes and pottery. One of the staff members is a keen photographer and had put together a fascinating collection of people in rural Hungary and their homes, surprisingly they live like this today! Basic needs are met and need none of our modern day frippery.
The cool white stone of the Parliament Building.
The Shoes, honour the Jews killed by fascist militia in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to remove their shoes prior to being shot at the edge of the water. The river consumed their bodies and carried them away. The memorial was conceived by a Hungarian film director in honour of those who lost their lives.
Peas & Love is a little cafe recently opened by Rebeca, a young Romanian foodie who wanted to offer a more healthy and affordable (some might say it is all affordable) option of plant based food in the city. The owner is super friendly and speaks English.
I chose a small selection of their salads to go with my beet burger. Which I have to say was awesome. So tasty and substantial!
She even has launched her own range of vegan supplements!
Balamber cafe is located in the area west of the Royal Palace, down a zig zag of steps. It's cutesy interior is bright and welcoming. Owned by two friends, Rita & Panni, with no previous restaurant experience just a strong passion for healthy and delicious plant based food. The menu is mostly vegan. Two plates are on offer each day. I chose a raw zucchini and tomato salad with sweetcorn fritters. You do need to ask which is gluten free and vegan if that is your bag, too.
Delicious 'three bite' chocolate cheesecake. It was lovely. I wish all places had smaller offerings so you can indulge freely.
A scene in one of the lovely parks.
I climbed up Gellert Hill to reach the Freedom Statue. If you are not feeling so energetic you can take the 19th century Funicular Railway to the top of Castle Hill and then walk over.
I loved my time in Budapest. The Hungarian Forint can buy you a nice lifestyle I would definitely hope to return one day and also explore more of Hungary. If you are vegan or vegetarian you will be well catered for! I wished I'd gotten around to trying all of the ones featured on Happy Cow. Being gluten free does sometimes hinder my tasting adventures. There is a totally gluten free restaurant that I will check out when I return. It is not vegan but they cater for vegans. If you go then give Koles a try.
Aside from the obligatory Happy Cow as reference I also got lots of information about Budapest from We Love Budapest Budaveg Budapest By Locals Hipster Hostel and Indefinite Adventure
Top tips: Useful to print out and take with you before you go.
I am vegan and gluten free - en vagnok vegan es glutenmentes
For reference if you are gluten free say nem (no) to;
Buza - wheat
arpa - Barley
zab - oats
rozs - rye
bolgar buza - bulgar wheat
buzadora - semolina
tonkoly - spelt
malata - malt
kusz kusz - cous cous
malatacukor - maltose
vegan say NEM (no) to;
hus - meat
hal - fish
vaj - butter
tojas - eggs
sajt - cheese
tejtermekek - dairy
tej - milk
krem - cream
laktoz - lactose
zselatin - gelatin
allat - animal
zsir - fat or lard
mez - honey
say IGEN (yes) to;
vegetáriánus/vegan - vegan
glutenmentes - gluten free
vagyok - soy
cirok - sorghum
rizs - rice
nemzet - millet
bab - bean
kukorica - corn
len - flax
hajdina - buckwheat
amarant - amaranth