This article was created in collaboration with National Geographic Traveller (UK).
The city of Budapest offers a delightful culinary experience, and one of its beloved staples is the pogácsa. Resembling a cross between a scone and an American biscuit, this Hungarian treat is commonly made with cheese or potato and pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee. During my time in Budapest, I’ve developed a fondness for this morning ritual. However, I recently had a unique variation of the pogácsa that left a lasting impression—a tantalizing blend of wild onion added a distinct flavor. Despite having indulged in a pastry just moments before, I couldn’t resist taking a greedy bite, and then another.
On a vibrant Saturday morning, the Fény Street Market in leafy Buda, located on the west side of the Danube, buzzes with activity as shoppers stock up for the weekend. This bustling marketplace, housed under a glass roof, boasts a wide range of vendors selling fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and of course, pogácsa. During my visit, I was fortunate to receive a treat from a local couple, Gábor Merfelsz and Krisztina Arató, who couldn’t resist picking up some pogácsa while shopping for sourdough bread at a nearby bakery on the market’s first floor. Krisztina shared with me that they had been so busy cooking that morning, they hadn’t had a chance to eat breakfast themselves. As we enjoyed our snacks, the crumbs playfully danced around us, adding to the lively atmosphere.
The sourdough bread would be a part of our lunch later that day. With our picnic basket in hand, Gábor and I embarked on a 10-minute walk to the spacious apartment of Krisztina’s daughter, Fanni Bakos-Blumenthal, and her husband, András Csernóczki. Nestled within an old converted building, their apartment radiates with natural light and features a terrace adjacent to the dining room. Soon, we were joined by Misi, Krisztina’s inquisitive 14-year-old nephew with an adventurous palate, and Dani Dévényi, a close family friend and co-owner of the popular tapas restaurant UnoMas.
While Gábor and Krisztina busied themselves in the kitchen, their lively granddaughter, Ella, enthusiastically engaged in one jigsaw puzzle after another. In the midst of our conversation, I caught a glimpse of several balloons discreetly tucked away in her parents’ bedroom, signaling the upcoming celebration of her brother Emil’s first birthday.
The apartment’s dining and living rooms seamlessly merge into a convivial space, exuding an air of elegance with a well-stocked bar, a piano, and an assortment of books and antiques. Fanni’s refined taste, honed during her previous role as the head of PR at the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest, is evident throughout the space. Meanwhile, András, who runs his own production company, has tastefully incorporated elements of his profession into the decor, such as a vintage cinema light and framed film poster adorning the walls.
As for Gábor and Krisztina, their passion lies in the world of wine. Splitting their time between Budapest and Gábor’s hometown of Szekszárd, renowned for its red wines, they have cultivated the Merfelsz Winery. Established in 1999, the winery produces a selection of exquisite reds and boasts a cellar dating back to 1832. I was delighted to learn that Gábor planned to showcase some of their wines during our lunch, adding a touch of sophistication to the meal.
While we eagerly awaited the feast, conversation flowed effortlessly among family and friends, often lighthearted in nature. As we savored more servings of sausage, our discussions ranged from the latest Netflix releases to Emil’s upcoming birthday festivities. We also reminisced about the pure joy of unwrapping Túró Rudi, the iconic Hungarian snack introduced in the late 1960s during the communist era. Made with a curd cheese known as túrós and coated in chocolate, Túró Rudi remains a beloved treat in Hungary.
With the sun gradually setting, a relaxed ambiance settled over the room as Emil found solace beneath the table. Though we were satiated from the incredible spread, Gábor had one final surprise in store—a dish of plums filled with cheese and wrapped in bacon. I expected the filling to feature traditional goat’s or blue cheese, but Gábor revealed it was made with trappista, a widely available mass-produced cheese that originated from Trappist monks and was prevalent during communism. This unexpected combination offered a delightful contrast of flavors, perfectly concluding our meal. Gábor explained that for him, trappista cheese evoked cherished memories from his childhood.
Experiencing such an exceptional family meal in Budapest reminded me of the city’s ability to continuously surprise and delight. With each visit to the Fény Street Market or any other local market, new discoveries await, showcasing the vibrant and ever-evolving culinary scene of this captivating city.
Note: The recipe for Lecsó, a Hungarian ratatouille-style dish, can be found below:
Preparation time: 30 minutes
- 10 peppers (a variety of yellow, red, and spicy green), thinly sliced
- 8 tomatoes, peeled
- 5 onions, cut into semi-circles
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika paste
- 1 teaspoon paprika powder
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 6 slices of smoked bacon, cut into cubes
- 50g smoked sausage, thinly sliced
- Mashed potatoes and crusty bread (optional), for serving
In a skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until the fat is rendered. Transfer the cooked bacon to a plate and set it aside. Add the sausage to the rendered fat and cook for 1 minute, then transfer the sausage to the plate with the bacon.
In the same skillet, add the onions and cook until translucent, approximately 10 minutes. Gradually add the peppers and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Next, add the tomatoes and mix everything well. Stir in the tomato paste, sweet paprika paste, paprika powder, sugar, and salt to taste.
Serve the lecsó alongside the sausage and bacon. Optionally, serve with mashed potatoes and crusty bread.
Published in the July/August 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Budapest culinary experience
What is the Fény Street Market in Budapest?
The Fény Street Market is a bustling marketplace located in leafy Buda on the west side of the Danube. It is a glass-roofed hall filled with vendors selling a variety of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and local delicacies like pogácsa.
Who are Gábor Merfelsz and Krisztina Arató?
Gábor Merfelsz and Krisztina Arató are a local couple in Budapest. They have a passion for cooking and wine. Gábor is a winemaker, and together with Krisztina, they run the Merfelsz Winery, producing delicious red wines.
What is lecsó?
Lecsó is a Hungarian specialty that resembles ratatouille. It is a velvety vegetable ragout made with a variety of peppers, onions, tomatoes, and often flavored with bacon and sausage. It is typically served with mashed potatoes and crusty bread.
What is the significance of paprika in Hungarian cuisine?
Paprika is a beloved spice in Hungarian cuisine. It was introduced by the Ottoman-era Turks and is made from dried, ground red peppers. It adds a distinct flavor and vibrant color to countless traditional Hungarian dishes, such as goulash, fish soup, stuffed cabbage, and chicken paprikash.
How can I subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine?
To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine, please visit their website. Please note that the magazine is available in select countries only.