We’ve eaten (and drunk) a lot this year. Hey, it’s part of the job. And we love that. Of course, not everything we’ve eaten has been good (such as a disastrous attempt at kürtőskalács in Seoul, sampled by one of our tour guides). But luckily plenty of it has been very good. We’ve asked some of our tour guides (who eat and drink for a living) to recount their year in food and share the best things they’ve eaten in 2016. Some of these eating experiences happened at restaurants in Hungary (we’ve shared the addresses here so you can try them for yourselves). Others happened during our travels around the world, which is when we are all most open to allowing ourselves to encounter new experiences and flavors. Others—like a feast Júlia ate in her hospital room, which was lovingly prepared by her father—were so personal that they left an indelible impression, which goes deeper than the actual food that was eaten. That’s the real magic of food. We hope that you also experienced some of that in 2016.
Here are some of the best things that Taste Hungary guides have eaten in 2016. We’re already looking forward to what will come in 2017!
“One of my many outstanding food memories of 2016 was when I was guiding our tour to Istria in partnership with Zingerman’s Food Tours. We were at a small family-run restaurant in Istria, Croatia eating scallops which the owner cooked right in front of us, in their own shells, in a wood-burning oven in the dining room. They were prepared very simply, with olive oil, salt, black pepper, a bit of garlic, and parsley [pictured above].”
“My most memorable foodie experience of the year happened on the evening before our son’s birth. As I was scheduled for a C-section the next morning, I was told not to eat anything after midnight. Obviously, I was way too excited to sleep. So I found myself wandering the hospital hallways at 11:30pm, wondering what to do with my time when I remembered that my dad put some stuff in my backpack “in case I needed dinner.”
To give you some context I will take this story back to my childhood. We rarely had hot dinners at my house. Like most Hungarians, we ate hot lunches, then a lighter cold dinner. But dinner was always an important family moment. My dad would lay the table (tablecloth, napkins and all), and put cheeses, salamis, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, and all kinds of cold cuts out for us. He never left them in their original packaging—things were always served on little plates, artfully arranged. We always had tomatoes, peppers, and baby radishes. We were taught that dinner without vegetables simply would not do it!
So I went back to my room and discovered that I had quite a feast waiting for me (stinking up the whole bag): Hungarian goat cheese, goose liver paté, spring onions, and homemade flódni to close the deal! I laid everything out, and had such a feast. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a nice midnight dinner in my life (OK, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to eat anything for the next 24 hours also helped.) Needless to say, I probably killed the doctors with my super-Hungarian breath at 5am when I made it to the operating room… but I still think one should not face such a situation without having had a proper family-style (stinky) dinner beforehand!”
“I rediscovered a butcher, Pecsenyesütő, at the Hunyadi Square market (it’s next to Coffee Time, which is a nice coffee stall in one corner of the market). I had eaten there once many years ago when I wasn’t so much into meat. There are really fresh and tasty butcher dishes. Beside their roasted sausage and homemade black pudding, there are other standard roasts, and sometimes the owner fries fresh pork liver. You can also find different tasty pork parts like roasted jowl and cheek. If you like it spicy, they can grind some black pepper over everything.”
Hunyadi Tér Market
Hunyadi tér 4
“Jumbo prawns from Zanzibar! I love shrimp and I never had such giant
ones … they were delicious!”
“After spending a week visiting wineries in Jerez, Spain, and falling even more in love with sherry, we spent our final day of this trip to Spain visiting Cadiz. This day was one of my best food memories of the year. We had the perfect hosts, a culinary tour guide pair, who took us on a whirlwind tapas tour of the town. That it happened to be Carnival and there were crowds of locals wearing all manner of costumes made the day even more unforgettable. We arrived and started out by sampling the local street food: tiny raw shrimp sold in a paper cone. Next we stood outside of a tiny tapas bar eating some of the best aged jamon I’ve ever had, washed down with a bottle of local red wine. Next we went to a place so packed with festive locals that we were pushed together shoulder-to shoulder. We drank the local fino from plastic cups, and ate smoked tuna, pork belly,sheep-milk cheese, and jamon which was served on butcher’s paper. Next we headed to a local institution, where we were lucky enough to find a place to stand in the corner where the bartender passed us our plates as soon as they came out of the kitchen—shrimp swimming in butter and garlic, fried shrimp cakes, clams in tomato broth, and black risotto. Of course, there was plenty more fino … a perfect complement to the whole scene.
This tapas crawl was not an official tour, but our friends,
Valeska and Fernando, have a culinary tour company, which we highly recommend:
Paladar y Tomar
“The winner was a raspberry soup at Zsolnay Restaurant (in Pécs) during a Szekszárd/Villány Wine Tour. It was a mint flavored raspberry soup with some crispy vanilla crumbles floating in the dark red soup. Fresh, not too sweet, the cold soup and the crispy crumbles were a great combination, really heaven. And you need to know that generally I don’t like fruit soups, but this one was amazing! I also loved the restaurant, which had a unique atmosphere in an old factory building. The walls are covered with Zsolnay tiles, and every meal that I tasted there was great, traditional but still original. Actually, that’s how I imagine the menu of Hungarian restaurants at the turn of the century.
Also in Szekszárd, I tasted the best charcuterie in my life when I had ham and sausage at the Heimann Winery. They were made by Zoltán Heimann Sr. and were unforgettable!
The cevapcici at Castro Bisztró (in Budapest) was one of my best culinary moments in 2016, and also in every year. I love Balkan cuisine, especially cevapcici, and I’ve tasted it at many places in Budapest. But my favorite is at Castro Bisztró, served with ajvar, red onions, and fresh bread.
I have a French favorite food moment too! I’m a huge fan of French lemon cake (tarte au citron) and every time I arrive in France, the first thing I do is eat one. I’ve tasted it in hundreds of bakeries and pastry shops in different French cities, but this was the perfect one at a small bakery on the main street of Amboise. When I asked them why it was so different they replied that it was because they add a little bit of lime too. So, if you visit the Loire Valley, don’t miss it!”
Zsolnay Restaurant & Café
Felsővámház utca 50-52-54
Heimann Családi Birtok
Madách Imre tér 3
“I’ve had too many best experiences this year, so it is hard to pick. But learning about new wave coffee was definitely a highlight of this year—what good quality means, and how amazing and how different coffee can be, depending on varieties and terroir. The biggest WOW moment with coffee in my life was when I had a Kenyan Cold Brew in May, and I could clearly realize an amazing, and unquestionable, tomato juice flavor in it.”
“My best culinary moment of 2016 was trying tobacco coffee at Cafe Frei on a cold winter day. I’ve been experimenting with different coffee styles in Budapest for a few years, and now there is a wide range of options. But when I tasted the Nicaraguan tobacco coffee I found myself in the Caribbean, and that was something special … Their brewing method involves the Nicaraguan tobacco leaves being steeped in a rich solution of grated apples, and then boiled with cream. You taste it, and the colorful and chaotic world of Latin America is immediately conjured up in your mouth. Warning: this is a sweet coffee, so don’t expect something like a traditional Italian bitter style. The sugar goes into the ground coffee at the beginning and is melted by the boiling water during the brewing. The sugar becomes caramelized and absorbs the slight bitterness of the coffee beans.”
Váci utca 74
“My greatest food discovery this year was Petrus, a French restaurant in Budapest, where not only the atmosphere but also the cuisine is absolutely French. I had snail variations, but the main courses are also amazing. The chef worked in Speiz (in the Castle district) and opened this the 9th district bistro in a residential neighborhood far away from the touristy areas. It’s always fully-booked, and I learned that French people love it. It also has a Bib Gourmand award.”
Ferenc tér 2-3
“My favorite food experience is always homemade food. I’ve been to a few restaurants this year, but nothing makes me more excited than a homemade lunch or dinner (especially my dad’s). I think my best ever food experience in a restaurant ever was at Laci! Konyha! in the 13th district—it’s a small underground place with small portions, but the taste… OMG!
I’m not a beer drinker, I was really impressed by a local IPA called Tavoli Galaxis.”
Hegedűs Gyula utca 56
“I’ve eaten at Fricska over 150 times. I frequent restaurants all over Hungary and all over the world, but none as much as Fricska for a couple of simple reasons—mind-blowingly delicious food, awesome wines, and most amazing to me, the standard of quality. In all of my times eating here, I’ve had one soup that was much too salty. One! That is crazy! I’ve stopped eating at so many restaurants because the quality slipped over time. Not here.
There is this Hungarian dish called paprikás krumpli. It’s basically a potato stew, with a red sauce base, sometimes with chunks of bacon and chorizo-style Hungarian sausage in it. That’s it, it’s a simple Hungarian peasant dish. I’d seen it on their lunch menu a bunch of times, but never ordered it for that reason. One day I had no choice but to order it (because all other options either had fishor had run out). My grandma makes a pretty mean paprikás krumpli, so I had high standards. Goodness F*&k’n gracious! It was one of the tastiest things I’ve ever had! With a couple of simple tweaks, they made the best paprikás krumpli I’ve ever had. The sauce was made separately, with capers, olives, and finely chopped bacon and sausage. The potatoes were pan-roasted separately, and the addition of pork loin really made this an amazing dish. Basically a deconstructed paprikás krumpli. This is so indicative of the cooking at this restaurant. Taking something infinitely simple and elevating it to a whole new level. Regardless of the occasional service problem, food at Fricska astonishes me every time.”
Dob utca 56-58
“For me it was a strange year foodwise, since I am pregnant and there were four months when I could hardly keep anything down. Luckily, it was summer because I was able to eat fruit, especially cold and sour ones. Pops! (Popsi), which sells popsicles made from 100% percent fruit, was a life saver. It was in Gozsdu Udvar and at Karaván.
The foie gras creme brulee at the Pampas steak house was also a highlight. Barbecue and good meat really seemed to be the thing this year, and it’s easier than ever to find good quality in Budapest, but even among all the steaks I’ve had, this was something even more special.”
Kazinczy utca 18
Vámház körút 6
“Internationally, my highlight was street food at Kwang Jang Market in Seoul, Korea. Locally, my favorite dinner was at Laci! Konyha!. My best burger of the year was at Stika on Dob utca.”
Dob utca 46/a
Hegedűs Gyula utca 56