My last experience of the city was while I was certainly living a different life. I had no dietary preferences, I was out of touch with my body and what it was telling me when I ate and I was suffering from numerous allergies, skin complaints as well as persistent asthma for which I was dosing myself daily with steroidal medication. I drank a lot and ate the greasy pastries in the street along with the heavy creamy dishes loaded with meat of dubious origins. This was less then five years ago.
So, this time around, I carried with me a certain level of concern about what I would find to eat as a vegan and supporter of organics. One of my first tasks was checking into Happy Cow and seeing what was available in the vicinity of our apartment. I was pleasantly surprised to find, within a few blocks, numerous options including a fresh produce market and an organic whole food shop. I also noticed a lot of signage as we walked the city offering vegan food and organics so I feel even without the ability to check online I would have been more then provided for.
These are a few of my favourite places that we visited during our stay. We tended to cook at home at least once a day, creating hearty soups and enormous salads all dusted with one of my favourite spices, Hungarian sweet paprika. The produce available is plentiful and also extremely cheap, and as usual it’s the packaged luxuries that take the chunk of your money. We did find the DM supermarket chain to have a good selection of organic whole food including nuts, seeds, oats, rice, coconut oil and even some superfoods!
For me this was a real highlight of the trip and something I really haven’t experienced anywhere before. These guys make the most incredible burgers from a small premises convenient for the Gellert baths and hill. The menu is drool inducing and it was hard to make a choice between such options such as shitake-quinoa and curried lentil. We went for the Mexican burger which was a black bean concoction topped with a thick layer of guacamole, melted vegan cheddar cheese, tons of salad, marinated peppers and a jalapeño aioli, and the BBQ tofu burger which had a nicely marinated tofu steak as its center piece, smoked cheese, baby spinach salad, garlic veganese, both served in wholemeal spelt buns. Orders are served on recycled cardboard platters, which are very necessary with the juicy nature of these beasts. We had thin cut fries served together on the platter. The packaging throughout had been well thought through, we saw people leaving with take out orders in cardboard boxes and biodegradable bags. Ideally they would be using real plates for eat in orders but the kitchen seemed pushed enough as it was, with at least 6 people busy creating the freshly prepared orders. There was at least a separate collection bin for the trays for recycling, but covered in sauce, I’m not sure how viable that actually is but perhaps they are composted.
So, the most important thing is the taste experience and they did not disappoint. I felt each was perfectly balanced flavour wise as well as with the texture and sauce level. Yes it was messy, but I would much rather that then some dry overcooked bean patty in a puffy white bun, which I have experienced at regular joints as a vegan side thought. My burger was chunky with bean pieces, well spiced and a good solid texture. The sauces were succulent and the melted vegan cheese a real pleasant surprise as it’s not something I would usually go for. We shared bites of each other’s choices as well as many sounds of appreciation. The tofu burger was also delicious and had crunchy pieces of onion, which went really well with the creamy cheese. I was very content, feeling the familiar full sated feeling after a glutinous binge but without the guilt and perhaps the uncomfortable stomach complaints that could well follow the meat, cheese, and white bread version. We were nourished. Yes, there was a fair few calories consumed but outside it was below freezing and we had just walked up the Gellert Hill so I feel we were more then entitled to such a pleasant feast. I hope that this is something that catches on, the vegan fast food. The place was very busy but the wait was not inconvenient. Other options included hot dogs with various toppings, an amazing looking salad bar as well as green juices and natural soft drinks. This is a great concept and for around 1500 forints for a burger ($5) a great deal.
Bartok Bela Ut 9 (at Gellert ter), Budapest Mon-Sat 11-8pm Sun 12-8pm
We came to this little place for the recommended brunch. The place opens at 10am and we were the first arrivals and apart from a few takeaways we were the only customers. The space was bright and cheery and the service too. The exciting sounding lunch menu was on our table until she brought us the brunch options sheet. I feel we were both a little disappointed at the amount of choices, 2 dishes being our usual oatmeal and another muesli option, which is not something we would eat out for. We went for the 2 savoury options. Stuffed ‘omelet’ and scrambled eggs. The vegan omelet was more like a crepe made out of buckwheat. It was delicious and stuffed full of marinated stir-fried veg, tofu pieces and lambs lettuce. The scramble was Nathanael’s veggie choice, it was pretty plain with the eggs, some salad and a few sticks of roasted veg with a small piece of bread. Not very exciting but it filled a hole and cheap at 750 forint. We had good coffee and a banana and hemp smoothie, which was full of bananas and nice and thick. The price was good, 1200 forint for a meal, and I think had we both gone for the omlette would have been majorly impressed. Would for sure return to try their more substantial offerings later on in the day. There cakes and raw treats looked great too!
Szondi utca 11, Budapest Open Tues-Sun 10-6pm
This plant filled corner restaurant was on our street so very convenient. We bought a few items from their grocery selection including an amazing (but pricey) local honey. We also tried a lot of their cakes, which were all vegan apart from a few with honey. We would pop down and get them for take away and have them with cacao back at the apartment. My favourite was a banana and chocolate pie with great pastry and also their apple and cherry fruit slice which was stuffed with fruit filling in between wholemeal pastry. We didn’t visit for a meal but saw it was popular at lunchtime for soups, sandwiches and salads. The vibe was always very warm and welcoming. They class themselves as a vegan/ vegetarian restaurant and they use a lot of organic and local produce.
Jokai u. 7, Budapest VI, Budapest Open 7 days a week 10am-8pm
Napfenyes Etterem es Pizzeria
This place came highly recommended and it’s easy to see why. The place is underground with a brick vaulted ceiling and seating in booths. It actually feels rather fancy with the table linens and staff in their whites. We went to the smaller branch with the shorter menu but the list off choices was still vast. Specifically I had a hankering for pizza so that is what we both went for. I choose the Popeye pizza with extra arugula and Nathanael had the three cheese. And yes it was all vegan! Mine was without a tomato base and it had garlic, cheese, nutmeg and the fresh greens on top. It was delicious but very rich and I think I would have preferred one with a tart tomato sauce. Nates was really good, he got faux sausage on top which was well spiced and very meaty. Not something I had tried before. For someone feeling the loss of meat in their life it would make a good substitute. They were huge portions and I only managed half of mind so for sure you could share one with perhaps a salad from the self-serve bar, which looked great. We were so full that we had our desserts to go. I could not leave without one as their selection was incredible. Very decedent creamcake style creations with layers of different fillings and pastries. I had a raspberry concoction, which was a poppyseed cake topped with a creamy whipped raspberry layer. Nate went for a biscuit thing with jam in the middle covered in white chocolate with beautiful piped decoration. This place was a real gem with options for everyone including Hungarian goulash, seitan roast and pasta dishes. I would be interested to visit the larger premises which was advertised as having live music at the weekends and is perhaps better located for those staying more centrally.
Pizzeria: Rózsa utca 39, Budapest 12-10.30pm
Larger Restaurant: Ferenciek tere 2 (at corner of Veres Pálné and Curia)
Budapest is a great foodie destination catering for all. Its very true that you create your own reality and that you always travel through your individual reality tunnel, walking down a street I will notice the vegan offerings and be drawn in by that. Another person might not even notice the same places and be equally attracted to the gyros offerings, leaving with a completely different experience to me. So to say that Budapest is full of healthy eating and awareness around food issues is not true, but there is good momentum and certainly its not hard to find these places if your willing to walk some. So explore each new place with an open mind and open eyes, calling in the experience you desire and what you need will be presented to you. Thank you Budapest for being so willing to embrace the new and for the young who have seen so much sickness in the older generation for stepping up and opening these new health-centered, sustainable operations for all of us travellers to experience and offer our financial support to.