Dining in Budapest: Lángos, the filling snack

Fresh Hungarian Lángos Fried Dough

Hungarian Snack Langos fried sour dough

Lángos (say lahn-gosh) is a sort of salty fried dough, usually served with sour cream (tejföl in Hungarian) and grated cheese. It was originally a by-product of making bread. There are all sorts of toppings, including cabbage, mushroom, beef, ham, etc.
Tips: put some garlic sauce, or if you are a garlic fan like we are, rub lots of garlic on top of the lángos, before adding the sour cream & cheese toppings, to make it even tastier. Don’t look at the calories, enjoy the little vice of your taste buds! Lángos is especially great as a beer snack, or an afternoon snack. But you will surely enjoy it without a beer too. :)

Warning: if your lángos is not fresh and is too oily, you are at the wrong place! Escape and try one of the following places below (Fény utca should be a good tip).

Price ranges: plain lángos (like the one to the left) is about 140-160 HUF (about half a euro or 0.77 USD) while turbo lángos with extra toppings is about twice as much.

Where can you buy good Lángos in Budapest?

There are not many super-pleasant places in Budapest where you can try lángos, especially not in restaurants and bars – don’t ask why, it would be an excellent idea! Instead, you can try the pleasant market halls in Budapest and some other places. And once you decide to try lángos, don’t start with the plain ones: choose something with loads of toppings. Here’s a photo of the classic Tejfölös-sajtos lángos (lángos with sour cream and grated cheese) made by Eszter:

Tejfölös-sajtos lángos (lángos with sour cream and grated cheese)

Here’s a short list to start your Lángos tour with (not in order of quality):

1, Vásárcsarnok, or Central Market Hall (higher prices , smaller sizes) is always inviting

2, Another great place to try lángos is the Market Hall in Fény utca: it is right behind Mammut Shopping Mall on the Buda side (the name is Fény utcai piac, say approx. ‘faign ootsai pee-ats’). Some say that lángos with cabbage here is a great choice, and lángos is less oily in Fény utcai Market, which is important.

3, A lot less touristy, truly rustic place is the Lehel tér piac, another big market hall very much frequented by locals, especially from the less rich strata (oftentimes cheaper than Vásárcsarnok). Beware, the building of Lehel Market Hall is really tasteless, some say it was the revenge of the architect on Budapest. But the main point is lángos, and you will find it there too.

4, If you happen to be in Budapest during the Christmas holidays, try lángos on Vörösmarty tér: usually there is a beautiful folk market on Vörösmarty square, and also great food and drinks, e.g. lángos and mulled wine.

(from now on, I will mainly rely on a great Lángos test, made by Eszter Fűszeres in November 2007 – in Hungarian)

5, Garay utca piac – temporarily moved to Rottenbiller utca (according to locals, the best version is Hungarian lángos with the Greek tzatziki, but many bought Lángos with ham and ketchup).

6, 58-as Lángoskert (Lángos Garden Buffet): great lángos, spacious place for up to 40 people. Only open from spring to autumn and is operating in an old streetcar named desire Lángos.

See the Lángos Locations on the Budapest Tourist Map (click on the yellow basket signs to see detailed info on the food markets):


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Read more about the Best Restaurants in Budapest or the Best Cafes in Budapest.

Did you know?

Most Hungarians associate Lángos with holidays spent at Lake Balaton (the ‘Hungarian sea’ as we call the great Hungarian fresh-water lake). It is great between two dips, and you will surely find lángos makers in almost every town at Lake Balaton, too.

I think, most people in Hungary think of Lángos as a savoury snack (salty not sweet) and Fánk (another deep fried dough or doughnut) is what is eaten sweet. But some people mention eating lángos sweet with sugar, jam, cinnamon, etc. Apparently, Hungarians living in Transylvania eat lángos with fruit spread, sweet.

Lángos (or lángus), is also sold in other neighboring countries, such as Austria, Romania, Serbia, etc.

Vásárcsarnok in Budapest: Central Market Hall

Vásárcsarnok (Central Market Hall) in Budapest offers a great rustic market experience in a beautiful building: you can buy several Hungaricums, as well as organic vegetables, home-made andouille sausages, salamis, pastries, etc. Great place for buying gifts, souvenirs (e.g. Szeged or Kalocsa paprika, embroidered tablecloths, blouses, Hungarian spirits like Zwack Unicum, cans of goose liver, various Russian dolls, etc.). As you can see all sorts of people here Vásárcsarnok (say: vaash-are-char-knock) is also a great place for people-watching! Here’s a photo of Budapest Vasarcsarnok on a less busy day:

Vasarcsarnok Budapest Central Market Hall on a less busy day

What is worth trying?
Tastes differ, but for a gastronomical tour you may wish to try the following foods, dishes, drinks:

  • Lángos (say laan-gosh) is a sort of salty fried dough, usually served with sour cream and grated cheese (Tip: put some garlic dip on top of the lángos, under the sour cream & cheese toppings, to make it even tastier). Don’t look at the calories, enjoy the little vice of your taste buds! :) Lángos is a great favorite of Hungarians especially in summer between two dips in the water on beaches and lidos (e.g. at Lake Balaton, on Csillaghegyi Strand, etc.)
  • Goulash soup: forget the canned versions of goulash and try the real Hungarian goulash for authenticity. It is filling and great with some spicy paprika.
  • Organic fruits: try some organic fruits produced in Hungary. I suggest the wide variety of apples, pears, apricots, peaches, plums. Yummy. They might not be huge & pleasing to the eye, but they are not watery, they are really full of flavor.

Opening hours: Mon: 6.00 am – 5.00 pm, Tue-Fri: 6.00 am – 6.00 pm, Sat: 6.00 am – 3.00 pm, Sun: closed
Address: Vámház körút 3, Budapest Hungary
Phone: 00-36-1-366-3300
Getting here:

  • Trams/ streetcars: number 2, 47 or 49
  • Metro: blue line, get off at Kálvin tér stop and walk towards the River Danube for about 5 min.

Vásárcsarnok, Central Market Hall on the Budapest Tourist Map (see the yellow basket in the middle):


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Video of Budapest Central Market Hall
Here’s the video made for budapestinfo.hu:

If you are absolutely in the shopping mood in Budapest, here’s a great map for Budapest Shopping,, nothing else but shopping: ranging from wine shops through designer jewelry or hats to fake 18th century umbrellas on the Ecseri flea market. The different types of shops and stores are color and symbol coded, which hopefully will save you time, money & headache. For example, click on the symbol of a Cocktail Glass for wines, spirits, palinka etc.


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History of Vásárcsarnok Budapest

The idea of establishing a central market hall came in the 1860s. In fact, the idea was not simply to have a well organized venue for selling foods and farm produces, but also to improve the quality of products by ensuring quality assurance standards in the new market. The newly formed Food Committee put together a proposal in 1883 to establish market halls. They chose the present venue of the Central Market Hall in Fővám Square, on the site of the Salt depot. The location was very logical as it could be easily accessed from the River Danube, by rail, by wagons, or on foot. As the plot was the property of the state treasury, “the royal government relinquished the plot for the sake of the capital”, according to the history of Vásárcsarnok. There was a tender for design announced in 1892. The most practical design came from Samu Pecz, and basically the Central Market Hall was built from 1894 to 1896.

design from 1893 for Vásárcsarnok Central Market Hall Budapest
Samu Pecz’s design for the Fővám Square front (1893

Just ten days before the completion of the market, however, there was a sudden fire breakout, which caused serious damages. The investigation into the fire accident, which lasted for a whole year, could not reveal what caused the fire. Then Samu Pecz started the repair works, this time with additional structures in order to increase safety. Petz worked with well established names in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, like Schlick (iron foundry making the steelwork for the building), or Zsolnay (making the pyrogranite coloured ceramic roof tiles), etc. The Central Market Hall finally opened its gates in 1897. The Central Market Hall supplied goods both to the capital and the countryside, and people were not always satisfied. Clients often complained that traders lacked manners and cheated with the measures.

Zsolnay tiles on Vásárcsarnok roof, Central Market Hall Budapest
Zsolnay pyrogranite loft ventilation caps and chimney pots on the Fővám Square front

The Association of Market Hall Traders established in 1897 was formed to solve such problems, come up with better rules to create a fair competition. However, when World War I broke out and the market police disappeared from the Central Market Hall, prices surged, so police had to be called back to resume order. Unfortunately, in WW2, the market hall was heavily damaged. Despite reconstructions in the 1960’s, the pillars of the building badly deteriorated, so the market hall was closed down in 1991. Vásárcsarnok was reopened as a protected monument, and a city favorite in 1994. Now you can hear the market hall clocks play Zoltán Kodály’s folksong tune, “I went to the fair…” every hour.

Which Is The Best Hungarian Paprika And Why?

One of the best Hungaricums, i.e. real and high-quality Hungarian products is the ground rose paprika. As Encyclopedia Britannica writes:

The rose paprika of Hungary is generally considered the finest variety. It is made from choice dark red pods that have a sweet flavour and aroma. A sharper Hungarian variety, Koenigspaprika, or king’s paprika, is made from the whole pepper.

Hungarian Paprika world renowned for delicacy and Vitamin C content

Paprika is not simply a popular seasoning in Hungary, but its at the very core of Hungarian cuisine (I have also personally realized it while living in New Orleans). It is used for its flavor and for its bright color in two varieties: édes or sweet and erős or hot/ spicy. Most households will have both for Hungarian dishes like goulash (gulyás, or gulyásleves: say goo-yaash), which is the flagship Hungarian dish (alas, slightly threatened by more modern and healthy cuisine trends). If you think you have eaten goulash, think twice: most of the goulash or canned goulash sold in western countries is not resembling the real goulash (it’s like having a real New Orleanian gumbo soup or getting a canned gumbo in Sweden). Another version of goulash is made with beans (babgulyás): it is wonderful, very filling though, so better eaten for lunch to give your stomach some time to digest it.

Further typical Hungarian dishes made with ground paprika are different stews (beef, pork, chicken, mutton, most typically), which we call pörkölt (perr-curlt) in Hungarian, fish soup, lecsó, ‘paprikás’ anything as ‘paprikás’ means ‘with paprika’ so you can have paprikás krumpli (potato stew with sausages) or paprikás csirke ( a type of chicken stew), paprikás gomba (mushroom stew), etc. As you can see, Hungarian like stewing all kinds of things. I remember eating ‘fake paprika‘ dishes, which doesn’t mean that the paprika is fake: ‘fake’ refers to the fact that there is no meat in the stew (e.g. green pea stew with noodles), so it’s only imitation of the real stew – by default made with meat. Of course, an economical solution for more vegetarian days. :) What else? Other Hungarian dishes with paprika include – well, almost every spicy, salty dish will get a little color with paprika – depending on the cooking style of the kitchen queen or king (green bean soup, stuffed cabbage, different vegetable dishes thickened with roux – főzelék in Hungarian).

Best Paprika Brands in Hungary: where to buy and what to buy?

If you are not sure what kind of paprika you should buy in Hungary, the safest choice would be to go for Szeged or Kalocsa paprika. Both Szeged and Kalocsa are cities in Hungary competing for the title of Paprika Capital for centuries. You can buy it in most supermarkets at normal price, or in the Central Market Hall in decorative packaging. The quality range goes from extra delicatesse, delicatesse, noble sweet, hot delicatesse, and rose. Here are the major paprika locations on the Tourist Map (see the red signs for the Central Market Hall, Kalocsa and Szeged)

Szeged

By today, I think Szeged is typically associated with the best paprika in Hungary. Why? Probably for several reasons: a, the paprika plant spread and most paprika dishes come from the Szeged region (although there are wonderful paprikas grown in Kalocsa and other parts of the country too) b, better marketing – already exporting to western countries (incl. the US) in the 1930’s c, biochemist Professor Albert Szent-Györgyi got his Nobel in 1937 for discovering vitamin C, which, as you may have guessed, happened to be very high content in Szeged paprika. And this fact in itself, seems to have won the Paprika Capital title for Szeged. To put Albert Szent-György­i’s discovery more scientifically:

Walt­ner treated the ef­fect­s of vit­am­in A found in the Hun­gari­an cap­sic­um, while Al­ber­t Szent-György­i ex­amined vit­am­in C. He dis­covered that cap­sic­um [i.e. paprika] is the main source of vit­am­in C. He pro­duced it in a large amoun­t thus cre­at­ing the pos­sib­il­ity to state the ex­act chem­ic­al struc­ture of this vit­am­in, also c­alled ascor­bic a­cid. He also elab­or­ated a tech­no­logy for the pro­duc­tion of a paprika sort with con­densed vit­am­in C, a most healthy spice. … He dis­covered the cata­lys­is of di­car­bon a­cid C4, a basis for the Kreb­s cir­cu­la­tion pro­cess. His re­searches con­cern­ing the per­ox­ide-sys­tem led to the dis­cov­ery of the re­du­cing a­gent ne­ces­sar­y for ox­id­a­tion – the ascor­bic a­cid. He es­tab­lished the com­pound­s of hex­ur­on a­cid, iden­ti­fied it with the ascor­bic a­cid – an­d this is vit­am­in C.

Kalocsa
Growing paprika in the Kalocsa region (mid-southern part of Hungary) goes back to the 18th century, but industrial production only started in the 1920’s. Kalocsa was in strong competition with Szeged, especially in the sweet paprika (édes paprika) market. Their extra strength is that Kalocsa folk dresses are beautiful and girls look pretty with the paprika.

Paprika Garlands
I think I am lucky enough to say that I was making paprika garlands with my grandfather. It is an old tradition in Hungary and a practical way of letting the paprikas dry on long strings hung out in front of the house. Although a paprika garland is also very decorative, you won’t see many these days: it is more simple to buy the ground version (as dry paprika powder or as wet paprika cream, like Erős Pista).

Did you know?

0, Paprika contains Vitamin C, anitoxidants and capsaicin. Hungarians use paprika in dishes that you could describe as ‘tons of paprika,’ which turns out to be a healthy thing!

1, Paprika is a Hungaricum, despite the fact that paprika as such only came to Europe in the 16th century thanks to the doctor of Columbus, Diego Chanca. Paprika (or capsicum in Latin) comes from Central America. Europeans were quite suspicious about the new plant: for two centuries it was only used as a decoration. Paprika came to Hungary in the 16th century: there are documents from 1570 about the ‘red Turkish pepper‘ as it was called at that time. In the 17th century there are already family names with Paprika.

2, Paprika became a popular part of cuisine in the 1780’s in Hungary. The technique of making sweet paprika was gradually developed in Hungary from the 1850’s by getting rid of the seeds and stems, only keeping the pods.

3, One of the most popular TV channel in Hungary is TV Paprika: a cooking program

4, To make dishes hot, besides spicy ground paprika, several Hungarians also like wet paprika cream (especially in meat soups, goulash and stews) and the small hot green pepper originally imported from the excellent Bulgarian gardens in the 1870’s.

5, There is a Paprika Museum in Szeged with standard exhibitions of the His­tory of Szeged Paprika as well as the Pick Salam­i. En­trance fees are dirt cheap (at the time of writing in 2008: 480 HUF/adult, 360 HUF/chil­dren, stu­dent­s an­d pen­sion­er­s). Szeged is about 170 km/ 106 miles from Budapest. There is also a Paprika Museum in Kalocsa (see the map above).

6, paprika is NOT red pepper. It is totally different.

sources: Hungarian Folk Lexicon (in Hungarian), and Szeged Paprika Museum site

Budapest Zwack Museum: History of the Hungarian Liqueur

The Zwack Museum in Budapest shows the history of the Hungarian bittersweet liqueur called Zwack Unicum, and so much more than that: the exhibition is also the history of a family of six generations going through the ups and downs of Hungarian history. You can see the greatest European mini-bottle collection of 15,000 pieces, as well as the passport to Sweden made out to Peter Zwack by the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

But we can learn about the exciting story of how János Zwack managed to save the secret recipe of Zwack Unicum in an oil barrel in 1948, when the factory was taken away by the communist government. How did they continue producing the liqueur in the communist era? How did Peter Zwack manage to get back his family business by outbidding the Guinness Group? etc.

Of course, the tickets include tasting too: you can try three different Zwack products (the legal age for drinking alcohol in Hungary is 18, so kids under 18 won’t be given Zwack products to try). The museum is accessible for guests with limited mobility too.

Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm
Tickets: 1500 HUF (850 HUF for students under 18), but admission is free with Budapest Card.
Group visits need to be booked in advance at muzeum@zwackunicum.hu
Further inquiries: 00-36-1-476-2383

Budapest Tourist Map:

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Special Products in Hungary: Zwack Unicum, the bittersweet herbal liqueur

If you ask a Hungarian to tell you some of the typical Hungarian products and produces, you will very likely hear of the Hungarian paprika, the Rubik cube, Tokaj wine (especially Tokaji aszú) and a kind of herbal digestive bittersweet liqueur called Unicum amongst the top Hungaricums. And Unicum means Zwack Unicum from the Zwack family, exported to 40 countries all over the world. Now unlike the magic cube invented by Rubik, Unicum is a century old product, going back to the 18th century.

What do the leading tenor Luciano Pavarotti, American icon Jacqueline Kennedy, and world famous conductor Zubin Mehta have in common? These celebrities have all shared a weakness for the Hungarian bitter liquor known as Unicum.

What makes Zwack Unicum special?
The liqueur is not only fun, it also blends the healing power of more than 40 herbs & spices to ‘cure you of all ills.’ Of course, Zwack Unicum has its own secret formula, so secret that even the master blender does not know the recipe of the liquor: “There needs to be one family member present with the master blender when the herbs are being blended, and even the master blender doesn’t know the recipe because he receives them pre-mixed,” Izabella Zwack, a sixth-generation Zwack said. In addition to the numerous Hungarian awards, it has also been the Worldstar Winner in Tokyo in 1998

History of Zwack Unicum
Like Jagermeister, Unicum has its own history. According to the Zwack family legend, the liqueur was made in about 1790 by a Zwack who was a doctor, and as he happened to be the Royal Physician of the Austro-Hungarian emperor Joseph II, he presented the unique concoction to the Habsburg kaiser. Joseph II appreciated the drink saying “Das ist ein Unikum!” (“This is a specialty!”), most probably with a bittersweet face as the liqueur is literally bitter and sweet at the same time. And more than that: you can feel the special harmony and magic witchcraft of forest sorceress’ age-old herbal knowledge.

The founder and owner of the Zwack liqueur and rum distillery, a Moravian József Zwack, set up his company in Pest during the middle of the 19th century. He insisted his spirits should be made of organic raw materials, never of synthetic substitutes. Production of Unicum bitters started in 1860; the trade mark was patented in 1883. Since then, it has been sold in a dark green spheroid glass bottle (source: Avenue Vine)

Zwack Unicum poster from 1915 shipwrecked man with a happy survival bottleUnicum is a true trademark: a long standing (or flowing) and trustworthy brand in the Hungarian market, easily recognized by the white cross emergency sign on a deep green rounded bottle (it’s as default brand for Hungarians as Coca Cola for the international market, you just cannot imagine not having it). In 1915 Sándor Bortnyik has created one of the most famous and popular poster for Zwack Unicum: a shipwrecked guy happy to find a bottle of Zwack Unicum (message in a bottle) in the stormy sea (you can buy it as a poster too).

The liquor even survived the communist period when the factory was confiscated from the Zwack family and the whole family had to escape. “My grandfather escaped with the recipe in his pocket and that was the only time when Zwack was not in the family.” says Izabella Zwack.

In the 1956 revolution in Budapest, Unicum, the bottle of which looks like a peculiar vintage bomb, was used as a case for ammunitions against the Soviet tanks. And in 1988, just a year before the silent revolution and the birth of the new Hungarian democracy, the Zwack descendants went back to Hungary and bought back the Zwack factory and facilities.From 2007, Unicum is not only exported to about 40 countries, but the mysterious concoction is currently available in limited release in Ohio and New York too.

spheroid, bomb-shaped bottles of Zwack Unicum from HungaryBomb-shaped bottles redefined, or refined
As Frommer’s guide writes, “With its memorable bomb-shaped bottle, emergency-cross logo, and unforgettable taste — it’s Uniqum.” These days it is marketed in a more peaceful style (see the picture below made by Columbus Alive in Ohio).

Further Zwack Drinks
Besides Zwack unicum, which is a polarizing drink (either you love it, or you can’t stand it), often compared to Jagermeister, Ouzo, etc., the Zwack company also offers Zwack Attacks, Bloody Hun (basically the Bloody Mary a la Zwack with 3 oz. Bloody Mary mix, 1.5 oz. Zwack Unicum, celery, pepper, salt), and Zwackstache in foreign markets. In Hungary, you will find Zwack branded as Unicum, and a similar Zwack drink (less bitter, more citrusy) called Unicum Next. Give them a try.
How to drink Unicum?
The best drinking advice comes from the producer, so let’s quote Sándor Zwack: “It’s a wonderful drink, it is wonderfully made. You can drink it room temperature if you want, with a nice cigar. You can mix it with cranberry, pineapple and orange juice. It’s great with Red Bull, but the way we market it is to be ice cold.”

Zwack Unicum gift: Essence of Hungary
You will find Zwack Unicum in all stores and gift shops (a bottle of 0.7 l [1.43 UK pints, 1.48 US pints] is approx. 3500 HUF). The Essence of Hungary is aZwack Unicum Essence of Hungary gift package with Tokaj wine, pálinka and Zwack Unicum beautiful gift package, which in fact combines all three flagship drinks of Hungary: besides Zwack Unicum, you will also get Tokaji aszú (a sweet Tokaj wine) and Pálinka (strong brandy made of flavoury fruits).

For some reason, the Essence of Hungary drink trio is only available in the Zwack Specialty Store located about a 20 minute walk from the Central Market Hall: go from Liberty Bridge (Szabadsághíd) to Petofi bridge (Petőfi híd), then straight ahead to Dandár utca 1. in the 9th district. Or you can take the blue line metro and get off at Klinikák station followed by a 10 minute walk.
Check the Zwack Specialty Store location on the Budapest Tourist Map:


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Cheers in Hungarian
When you want to say cheers in Hungarian, you need to muscle up your linguistic skills a bit: you can say egg-ace-shage-ed-rae (Egészségedre, literally ‘To your health’), or egg-ace-shage (Egészség) for short (informal). For a less neutral version, you can say Isten-Isten (ish-ten, ish-ten or God-God). The real black belt version of Cheers is when you want to say cheers to everybody in a bigger company (‘to our health’), which is Egészségünkre, say egg-ace-shagen-krae. Cheerio will be also understood by most people.

Traditional Hungarian Instruments: Cimbalom, Magyar Pipe & Doromb in Action

There is a wide range of traditional Hungarian musical instruments, from simple ones like the ‘doromb‘ to more complicated ones like the concert cimbalom (or cymbalom) and the Hungarian bagpipe called Magyar Pipe. See these instruments in action in the following song performed by Bea Palya and her Quintet – the host of the show says a few introductory words and then the music starts. You will see interactive hotspots that give you extra info on the instruments and the musicians (click on the hotspots).

If you want to take away a special musical souvenir from Hungary, try to find a ‘doromb’ or Jew’s harp: although it is one of the oldest instruments in the world and has its own regional variations, it can be a nice present to give a Hungarian one. It is small, decorative, little challenge to play with, has a funny cartoon-like sound (as if Bunnies jumping around), and is more than thousands years old. Here’s a doromb-maker’s product show (different harp for different pitches).

The shape of a doromb is like a horseshoe – it has an iron (or reed) frame and a thin middle part, which acts like a gentle spring. You must place the ‘horseshoe’ in your mouth (be careful with your teeth!) and string the spring while crooning. The origin of doromb may go back to Central Asia (more on the mouth harp: Michael Wright). The smaller the doromb, the louder it is, so go for the smaller ones. Doromb is often used in Hungarian folk songs, and there are special Doromb Festivals in Hungary too.

Budapest: Vaci Utca the Shopping Street

Váci utca (say Vaatsy ootsaa), which is not to be confused with Váci út (Váci Road) has been a pedestrian only, shopping street for decades. It is well worth taking a leisurely stroll along the street, where one end runs into Vörösmarty tér, the elegant square where Café Gerbeaud is located, while the other end of the street leads you to the Central Market Hall in Fővám tér.

Suggested Tours:

Start in Café Gerbeaud (you may try the Hungarian cake called Dobos), walk through Vörösmarty square (Mihály Vörösmarty, after whom the square was named has his marble statue in the middle of the square). It takes about 20 minutes to walk through Váci street flanked by many 19th century residential and commercial buildings, banks, trendy and classic boutiques, souvenir and antique shops, bars, etc. (interestingly enough, restaurants in Váci utca are not really highlighted in guest or professional reviews). Peep into side streets. Cross to the other side of Váci street (after the white bridge, Elisabeth Bridge). Do some shopping in the Central Market Hall (closed on Sundays, end closes early on Saturdays).

See Vaci utca indicated with a blue line.


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Art Gallery Tour

Buying arts and crafts: zoom in on the map by double clicking, check the purple balloons for art galleries, antique shops. You may find the following places of interest in Váci utca:

  • Auction House, City Center (Belvárosi Aukciósház). Address: Váci utca 36. Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10am – 6 pm, Sat-Sun 10am- 4pm
  • Arten Galéria/Arten Gallery fine art studio (mostly Hungarian contemporary art works). Address: Váci utca 25. Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10am – 6:30 pm, Sat 10am- 6pm
  • Abigeil Galéria/ Abigeil Gallery (auctions, exhibitions). Address: Váci utca 19-21.
  • Sziget Galéria/ Sziget Gallery (exhibitions, sales from 19th to 21st century art). Address: Váci utca 63.

Have a look at this video on Váci utca made by Tamás Kulcsár and a Hungarian girl, Gyöngyi:

During the communist era, Vaci utca was The Shopping Street with luxury boutiques tagged with unavailable prices for most Hungarians (even the Hungarian version of the board game Capitaly had Vaci street as one of the most expensive lots to buy). These days, real high-end boutiques are not only in Váci utca, they are either scattered or in malls too, or simply not represented in Budapest. Is the street touristy? Sure, it is, but you will still enjoy its beauty, the chic boutiques, the good cafés with terraces to people-watch, etc. When looking at the prices, keep in mind that VAT is included in the price, so what you see is what you pay. Opening hours for non-food stores are generally from 10 am to 6 pm or even up to 8-9 pm (especially in malls).


History of Váci street

The story of Váci utca goes back to the Romans (“what have the Romans ever done for us? The aqueduct?”). They have built Contra Aquincum in the 3rd century, which was opposite – surprise, surprise – Aquincum on the other side of the river. As the River Danube was strategically quite good for the then Roman ruled Pannonia, they needed fortresses, baths, places for the soldiers, etc.Later on the ruins of these fortresses were used by the Magyars who conquered the area and settled down in the 9-10th century after years of wandering, nonstop horse-riding and backward shooting with their fierce arrows. Chief Árpád brought Muslim tradesmen and Bulgarian plus Slav ferrymen in this area who co-habited with the local Hungarian ad Slav agricultural workers. Between 1218 and 1225 German craftsmen and tradesmen arrived, and then Jewish settlers, so the developing Pest was a real melting pot. The Germans reused the good stones of the former fortresses to build their houses and the Pest side had only weak wooden walls.No wonder the whole city got ruined by the armies of Batu Khan in 1241, who had spies reporting him about the weakness of the settlement. Alas, the winter weather also liked Batu Khan, the grandson of Ghengis Khan, as the frozen river let the armies cross from the Pest side to the Buda side, and not only flatten the buildings of Buda (todays’ Old Buda or Óbuda), but go on to proceed to today’s Austria, Dalmatia and Italy. Luckily for the rest of the Europe, Batu Khan had to go back home for a big CEO meeting after the old khan died and the grandsons had to discuss who is going to be the heir.

In the middle ages, Váci street was called Big or Main street in the 15th century trading city, which had 3 gates to let people in and out through the thick protective walls (they learned from the 1241-42 spectacular defeat from Batu Khan).

Then came the Turks in the 16th century, and decided to love this city and linger on for another 150 years. Most of the city dwellings were in ruins after the long siege, and wooden houses, minarets, Turkish baths sprang up. The street had a Turkish name (Big or Nagy Mahalle), and the hygienics of the middle ages (many dead animals left rotting along the Mahalle). By this time, Turkish tax registries show that most of the settlers were Hungarians of Christian religion and the two major minorities were Germans and Jewish.

1686 was the next turning point that said goodbye to the Turks under the leadership of the Habsburg emperor Leopold I. The city started to rebuild and re-flourish. Again, many peoples found their homes here, including Greeks, Macedons, Armenians, Serbians, Slovakians and of course Germans who got the plots from the Emperor for a few ‘cents’. Most of the settlers, besides Hungarians, are Germans. The Nagy Mahalle (today’s Váci street) is named after the victorious emperor as Leopoldgasse. The city gets back its privileges as a free royal city, which hastens its dynamic growth into a modern commercial and cultural centre.

So much so that Váci utca becomes a fashionable walking street for civic residents to show off new clothes, to gossip, tp fall in and out of love, to talk about serious political issues, etc. And to window-shop, of course! So elegant boutiques concentrate their business efforts in the street already in the 19th century. The tower guard cries the hours every hour and the Svab German milk-women as well as other tradesmen sell loud their produce all day long. The water of the river Danube is sold for drinking, which today is hardly suitable for even bathing.

In 1838, a big-big flood washes away many things, animals and people, while ten years later the firy spirit of the Hungarian revolution upsets peaceful promenading in the street. After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise in 1867, when Hungary is given some freedom, both the Pest and the Buda side gains even more impetus for development, and the two sides join in 1873, giving birth to Buda-Pest, i.e. Budapest.

The two world wars, needless to say, bring about a long sad and ruinous break, followed by another ruinous communist era when the shopping street was turned into just a plain street with offices, stores and state-owned shops with uniform products. In 1964, Váci utca becomes a pedestrian only zone, and the gradually softening goulash communism slowly lets back elegant boutiques – after all, the wives of prominent communist leaders also like shopping western quality things.

Some of the historical buildings in Váci utca

No. 9 Pest Theater today, and one time inn, where 11-year-old Ferenc Liszt gave a concert.
No. 11 The facade is covered in Zsolnay ceramic tiles.
No. 39 Three reliefs show that the Zsolnay’s had an office, apartment and store here (1, a man making pottery, 2, a poet 3, the five-tower porcelain factory emblem).
No. 42If you watch hard, you will see owl statuettes at the balconies – once the house of a famous Hungarian doctor (Frigyes Korányi). The facade is covered in Zsolnay pyro-granite ceramic tiles. Pyrogranite was developed by Vilmos Zsolnay, the greatest Hungarian potter achieving international appreciation for his porcelain, eosin and pyro-granite products.

Sources (Hungarian): BP Archiv and Világjáró Magazin.

What Cigarette Brands Can You Buy in Budapest?

Smokers need not worry – there are several kinds of imported cigarette brands at tobacco stores in Budapest, Hungary.

I quite like the forum of TripAdvisor, it’s a very useful site for reading opinions and asking for advice on all kinds of cities, countries. Now one of the users coming to Hungary wanted to know what brands you can smoke. Here’s my answer:

In general, most tobacco stores sell foreign brands like Marlboro, Pall Mall, L&M, Davidoff, Philip Morris, Eve, Vogue, Camel, Kent, Lucky Strike, Gauloise, Regal, etc. Some sell Benson & Hedges, Dunhill, etc.

Some communist cigarette brands in Hungary

Hungarian cigarette brands have not managed to get among the luxury brands yet, but there are acceptable mid-range local brands. Probably the top three Hungarian cigarette brands are Sopiane (nickname in literal translation: tiger sophie), Helikon and Symphonia (or symphie). More and more people smoke light and ultra light cigarettes, and more and more bars, restaurants become less smoking, but it is still very easy to find places where you can eat, drink and smoke.

If you are not sure where to get hold of a special type of cigarette, pipe, pipe tobacco or cigar, you can expect to find some in shopping malls. Check out specialty tobacco locations on the Budapest Shopping Map (the map icon for pipe stores is the green bonfire). You can enlarge the map by clicking on the View Larger Map blue link under the map.


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