This author loves to travel but could never imagine living anywhere other than his beloved Budapest.
Hungarians also refer to as “utcakaja” or “utcai kaja” which is a literary translation of the term. Originally it referred to dishes that were prepared outside and not in a restaurant. Street foods conforming to the traditions of Hungarian gastronomy include, among others, langosh, sausages, roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob. Hungarians also prefer bakery products and different types of sandwiches.
The hamburger appears on the scene
The hamburger had already swept through the world by the time it arrived to Hungary in the early 1980s, as one of the first messengers of the Western world of the 80s. Despite the popular belief, it was not invented in the United States, however, it was indeed there, where people really took a liking to it, so the first fast food chains originate from the US.
After it had first appeared in Hungary the hospitality industry reacted in an instance to the local needs, the first rudimentary Hungarian street food chain was developed in half a year, where the basic hamburger meant soft bread rolls filled with the beef patty, garlic, mustard and mixed pickles (the so-called csalamádé)—the latter still enjoys great popularity, you can even find gyros filled with “Erős Pista” hot paprika and mixed pickles.
The Renaissance of the craft burgers
Fortunately, the culinary world has turned a corner in the past decade! The stereotypical thought that “the hamburger is unhealthy” seems to be disappearing. What is more, bistros creating craft hamburgers pay special attention to the quality of the meat, as well as that of the sides. The high standard burger producers are not simply toying with gourmet gastronomy, they are in fact pursue it.
1. Bamba Marha: Basilica, Oktogon, Deák Square
They have been one of the leading street food companies for years, proving that it is still possible to succeed in the midst of the burger flood, if “the quality, the marketing, the creativity and the top location” is provided, as the owner puts it. The business started in the summer of 2015 and today they have restaurants at the busiest locations. They consider fresh, local ingredients, extravagant burger combinations and home-made dip sauces to be crucial.
Morover, they are full of awards. In 2019, the Bamba Marha was the 5th best burger place in Europe according to the Big Seven Travel magazine, who also ranked them 13th among the 50 best burger places of the world.
Where is Bamba Marha?
2. My Favorite Hamburger
After all, you do not have to stick to beef, burgers can take anything from salmon, through chicken breast, all the way to blue cheese specialties. No wonder that many of us - myself included - become “burger addicts” from time to time. However, I love to consume perfectly delicious meat, healthily prepared French fries and vegetables that are either crunchily fresh or steamed to perfection.
I'm a ‘resident of the Radisson Blu Béke Hotel, Budapest so of course I'm a regular at the Zsolnay Café (their bistro). The meat patty in my favourite hamburger - 'Foster Burger' is made from the best quality beef, with cheddar cheese melted over it. The bun is freshly baked, and the relish gets its unforgettable flavour from the excellent Bourbon whisky, cayenne pepper and a few other, secret ingredients. They serve it up with fried potato wedges and a garnish of fried bacon.
Zsolnay Cafe is in the heart of the city, just a few paces from Oktogon.
Enjoy Budapest café life in the new Zsolnay Café.
In addition to the unique atmosphere of Zsolnay Café, the award-winning design and the bistro menu, the new burger promotion shows everything which the international and local gastronomic traditions can offer. József Jaksics executive chef created an amazing burger menu in which you can taste giant shrimps in rice bread roll, goose liver, vegetarian or portobello blue cheese types as well.
And once the Burger Weeks are over, you will still have the chance to have a hamburger at our place: the rightly renowned Foster Burger has cheddar cheese and crispy bacon on its meat patties, and we pour a sauce made from bourbon whisky, honey and cayenne pepper on top of them. And there is the rethought Catfish and Chips, consisting of delicious catfish, fresh fries, served with salad.
3. Let’s go to Lake Balaton: Kalóz Strandbisztró at Balatonfövenyes and Badacsonytomaj
Lake Balaton is the place to be in the summer! Gourmet places are now available by the lake as well, such as the Kalóz Strandbisztró, where the owners had a big dream and in 2015 gave up on the regular Balaton buffet offers.
Instead of the hake and the langosh they found their own way, among others in the form of the Catfish&Chips, which became the beach food of the year in that very year. Make sure to check out of their restaurants!
Where is Kalóz Strandbisztró?
4. Pirog-Da: delicious Russian street food
If you have not visited the snack bar at the Újpalota housing estate, you have no idea what you have missed out on. Genuine Russian delicacy, one of the greatest filled pastry I have ever tasted.
Even though it is prepared in a small booth, next to a store. I asked for the classical version with cabbage and I loved it, although I would not call it a light dish. The pirozhki (pirog in Hungarian) does not fit the nouvelle cuisine line, the pirozhki does not wishes to be seen anything other than it is: simple, honest and tasty. Where should you go? 15th district, 36 Erdőkerülő street.
Where is Pirog-da?
5. The Langosh place at the Flórián square subway
The street food that is, or is believed to be, the real Hungarian street food, is the langosh. During the decades I have had a great deal of bad experience in this respect: I have been served langoshes that were fried in stale oil, half-baked, too dry or the contrary, too chewy. There are not many outstanding places. But those few rise high above any other.
Just like the Langosh place at the Flórián square. Hungarian and foreign customers recommend to each other the stuffed langosh and the “normal” ham sour cream, cheese version. Similarly to pirozhki, langosh is also a popular food that is quite simple, yet has the potential of many different flavours and combinations. The selection is huge!
But what makes a good langosh? Success requires many details to fall into place. The langosh dough contains potato as well, and the quality of the flour is very important.
A good langosh makes you yearn for it. Its secret is that it is crunchy and soft at the same time, light yet filling. It grows thinner inwards, the rim can be quite full while the middle might get crispy. The dough must be thick enough for you to be able to tear it not only to break off bits. As far as toppings go: not too little but not too much. It is unfortunate when the overzealous buffet attendants overload the langoshes, which in turn are impossible to eat in a civilized manner.
Luckily, there are no such problems here, so feel free to experiment: try the filled langosh, the sausage langosh, or perhaps the bacon and onion one.
The Langosh place at the Flórián square subway
Why do langoshes look the way they do?
As the langosh used to be a type of “side product” from the very beginning, it is not surprising that nobody cares about its appearance. It looks exactly like what it was meant for: a piece of dough cast aside. Langosh started to spread together with bread making, as its dough was nipped of while kneading. So while the bread was baking, the family could have breakfast.
6. An older favourite: KOLBice
Two Hungarian favourites, the bakery product and the little sausages combined with a great twist and a spiced with a silly pun: kolbász (sausage) and ice. Why? Because the grilled meat is placed into a cone-shaped baker ware, instead of a traditional roll. And these cones are exclusively produced for the company! KOLBice started with a wandering life, as a food for fairs or the market. One could try it at festivals and bigger events.
But now, they have moved on – although they still visit festivals, since 2014, they have permanent stores all over Hungary. They use franchise approach, owing to which they are also present abroad.
It is quite tasty with cabbage and cheese sauce as well, so it is high time you tried a bite.
Where is KOLBice?
7. Pizza Me at the beginning of Király street
Many claim that Pizza Me has the best pizza you can get in town. On the thin, light and crispy crust, you will find delicious toppings: according to the owner all ingredients are imported from Italy to reconstruct the taste.
Well I would not go as far as to give my vote to one pizza place only, however, it is a fact that I have popped in several times for a slice and I have never been disappointed – something, that has happened though, was that so long was I supposed to wait for the desired flavour that I decided to choose another one.
Where is Pizza Me?
8. Mexican fast food: El Rapido
Mexican fast food at 10 Kazinczy street. New guests tend to marvel at the pleasant service and the wonderful offer. Not to mention the eclectic, almost exuberant decoration of the interior. This is the place for those who would only like to grab a sandwich, and who prefer a tad stronger tastes as well as tortilla wraps. Everything is prepared in front of us, from the ingredients we choose.
Where is El Rapido?
9. Been loved for years: Vegan Love
The business started in 2010 and its success is unbroken ever since. It is their goal to show that a plant based diet does not mean giving up things. One of their special features is the largest Mexican food selection you can find in vegan restaurants, moreover, they have produced the first vegan BBQ meals of the country.
The burger place on Bartók Béla street at Szent Gellért square has put a lot of effort into proving that the vegan label does not equal boring meals, but rather means tasty and exciting food, may it be a burger, a gyros or a hotdog. I really like for example their Juicy Lucy, the nacho burger or the Big Veg: a Big Mac alternative.
Where is Vegan Love?
10. A special sweet street food: kürtőskalács
If you spend a longer time walking in Budapest, you must see a few kürtőskalács (chimney cake) stalls. Lately, they have occupied the Oktogon, where they must have had great success (judging by the long queue) with the different flavours (walnut, almond, vanilla, chocolate) of the deliciously smelling, sugared loafs with their soft dough and crunchy crust.
Kürtőskalács is made from sweet, yeast dough (raised dough), of which a strip is spun and then wrapped around a truncated cone–shaped baking spit, and rolled in granulated sugar. It is roasted over charcoal while basted with melted butter, until its surface cooks to a golden-brown color. During the baking process the sugar stuck on the kürtőskalács caramelises and forms a shiny, crispy crust. The surface of the cake can then be topped with additional ingredients such as ground walnut or powdered cinnamon.
The kürtőskalács was present in gastronomy centuries ago, back then it was an essential part of holidays, while now it is an everyday street food.
And where does it come from?
There are several stories about its origin, but one thing is sure: it comes from Szeklerland. According to one of the myths, it got its name from the stovepipe, which the Szeklers call “kürtőcső” (chimney pipe). The size and diametre of the baking wood used to bake the kürtőskalács also supports this theory. The Szeklers put the glowing embers on top of the stove or in front of the oven, and baked the sweet food by turning it around above the embers.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 14, 2019:
This is a mouth-watering selection of choices. I will pass this on to my daughter who will revisit Budapest later this year. This is a well-illustrated article and a great guide for any visitor to Budapest.