Budapest’s Great Market Hall on Fővám Square tends to get most of the attention. But it is far from the only market hall in Budapest, and for some of us, it’s not even the favorite. From market halls like Hold Utca Market Hall in the District V to the Buda-side Fény Utca Market Hall in District II, each has its own distinctive character. In the coming months, we will look at a few of the market halls that don’t get as must attention, beginning with the most lively and arguably, the best in Budapest: Lehel Piac (Lehel Market) in District XIII.
The quality of the produce and the diversity of food stands here is exceptional, and we could have easily listed many more highlights. Lehel Market is one of the rare markets that still relies on tables set up in the center of the hall for vegetable sellers, who all have their own specialties. At one you will find yellow and green tomatoes, and another Romanesco broccoli, along with dependably inexpensive staples. The food stalls on both the first and second floors include two Vietnamese spots, a few lángos stands, and what some regard as the best fried chicken sandwich in the city.
Lehel is a large market, in a building designed to look like a ship—though it comes off looking more like a misbegotten, ugly cousin to the Pompidou Center. In the opinion of Steve Fallon of the Lonely Planet travel guide, “Lehel Csarnok is housed in a hideous boat-like structure designed by László Rajk, son of the Communist minister of the interior executed for ‘Titoism’ in 1949. Apparently this is his revenge.” For some, however, its unattractiveness is part of the charm.
Once inside, Lehel Piac takes some time to get to know—but once you do, it is hard to imagine shopping anywhere else. So, without further delay, here are a few of the amazing stands and food stalls we frequent when shopping at Lehel Piac.
1. ÍNYENC BUTIK (GOURMET BOUTIQUE)
This humble but impressive gourmet cheesemonger recently moved from a less trafficked side passageway to the center hall, no doubt due to its popularity. Focusing on French and other international cheeses and delicacies, it offers a touch of worldliness to the very locally minded market. Highly recommended are the Spanish manchego, and French gruyere, while the best value is a small wheel of French camembert for a mere 320 forints. Equally enticing are the other French products: salted butter, liver pates, and occasionally yoghurt.
2. PHO HANOI
Since opening a few years back, Hanoi has taken over the adjoining shop to add more space, expanding from its original four table setup. Don’t be surprised to see older Hungarians trying their first bowl of Vietnamese pho here. And for the price, it’s the best in the city, at 1,200 HUF for a large bowl, with variations of beef, chicken, and shrimp. Moreover, Hanoi also now serves other traditional Vietnamese dishes and Vietnamese coffee. Go for an early or late lunch to avoid the crowd, but if you can’t get a seat, head down the aisle to Mien Tay Quan, the second Vietnamese spot to open in the market.
3. HARANYI ÉS TÁRSA
This quality butcher is at the back of the hall, selling a variety of meat, along with artisanal dry sausages, which are the real reason to shop there. Alongside the traditional selection of dry pork sausage, you can find turkey sausage, goose sausage as well as mutton, ox, mangalica, and horse sausage. In a city where butchers tend to be gruff, the people behind the counter at Haranyi és Társa are polite and will humor your patchy Hungarian, should you choose to deploy it.
4. THE SPICE LADY
On the west side of the main hall, from a small fragrant table, the ‘spice ladies’—as the mother/daughter duo are collectively called in certain circles—sell satchels of fresh-cut sage, tarragon, basil, thyme, and chives as well as whole chilli peppers like Jalapenos and Hungarian hot peppers. At 350 forints a bag, the zöldfűszer—‘green’ spices that aren’t dried—are a great deal. Know your spice names in Hungarian, unless you can identify them by smell and sight.
5. LÁNGOS CENTRUM
Run by older folks, but for hungry day-drinkers of all ages, this lángos and rum stand right off the center hall, next to a row of pickle stands, sells fresh-made lángos (fried dough) and fánk (Hungarian donuts), as well as inexpensive shots of rum and other spirits. The delightful proprietors make sure you’ve got everything you want coffee and tea-wise as well. So never mind that it’s ten in the morning: dig into that shot of hard booze while scarfing down your sour-cream-and-cheese-covered fried dough that you so richly deserve.