Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck
It should have been no surprise that we started our culinary tour with a shot of liquor. Considering that during our visit to Romania, Hungary’s neighbor to the east, we were introduced to Palinka during breakfast, we should have known that it would carry over. If there is one thing we have learned about food during our travels, it is that borders have changed often enough that they now blur when it comes to traditions. Unicom, the liquor we downed at the beginning of our 10am tour is, however, uniquely Hungarian and is considered one of the national drinks. Produced from a secret recipe designed by the Zwack family that includes 40 herbs, it carries with it a diverse history that saw it travel the world. During Communism, the family lived in exile in the US and trusted a friend in Italy to produce the beloved drink. The Communist government tried to reproduce it, but failed miserably, and with the fall of the iron curtain, the Zwack family returned to Hungary to take up production of this national treasure. As an aperitif, it did it’s job to stimulate our appetite for the onslaught of food to come. (It also helped that we didn’t eat breakfast that morning, which decision comes highly recommended.)
Most of our morning with the culinary experts from Taste Hungary was spent in the Central Market Hall. Built in 1896, it is as popular with locals as it is with tourists, with low prices and stalls with delicious hot food prepared onsite.
Days could be spent inside, testing all that there is to offer. What impressed us most is that there was an entire section dedicated to pickled produce – everything from peppers to watermelons. The sausages alone required a lengthy discussion and tasting of a variety of animals, including that with which we became obsessed: the Mangalica, which is literally a pig in sheep’s clothing (and a tasty one at that).
But none of our taste testing could compare to Hungary’s other national treasure: Langos. Fried dough topped with garlic, sour cream, and mounds of cheese. It is pretty much the most perfect food ever invented.
As we strolled out of the Market Hall to explore the neighborhood around us, our stomachs were already screaming even though we had just begun. Add artisan ice cream, traditional Jewish cakes, a lunch spread of delicious foods good enough to make us cry, plus a sampling of Hungarian wines, and we had cause to request a wheel barrow to take us home.
So then how did we go about placating our food guilt? The next tour…
In a new city, one of the first things Pete researches is where he can go for a daily run. Enter Running Tours Budapest – a company that offers tours we had never seen before – seeing the best sights along with a knowledgeable running partner.
He took part in two different tours they offered (I, on the other hand, believe that excessive exercise is dangerous, but enjoyed the fact that Pete’s running tours also provided us with great walking routes for our coming days). The first was the “Must See” tour: from St. Stephan’s, the Hungarian Parliament building on the Pest side then over to the Buda side to explore the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Royal Palace – it was a solid 10km run. And mind-blowing, as in a very short time he was introduced to how truly picturesque Budapest is.
A big juicy photo post is to come, it’s not the easiest thing to run and take photos at the same time.
He was so impressed, he signed up for another, and the “Shady Tour” brought him through Budpaest’s sector eight. The area is rich in history being formerly occupied by Jewish community and now with the Romani’s. Not the typical tourist route (which is what we both like!), and an extremely interesting insight into more of Budapest’s rich history.
how to do it
Taste Hungary offers a variety of food and wine tours focusing on different aspects of local cuisine. We partook in the Culinary Walk and will highly recommend it, despite the food coma we found ourselves in after.
Running Tours Budapest is a new company that offers tailored tours but also lets you design your own. It is great for beginners and advanced runners, and can absolutely be set at your own pace.
Many thanks to both Taste Hungary and Running Tours Budapest for hosting us on these tours. And they can thank us later for introducing this potentially lucrative cross-marketing idea, hey?