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Budapest with a Picky Eater

My wife and I will be in Budapest and I'm looking for lunch recommendations in the downtown area. While I will try just about anything, my wife is very picky. It's not that she necessarily wants western food, but before she eats anything she has to know what it is, examine it, and remove anything she deems offensive (e.g. tomatoes, seeds, vegetables that have been cooked too little for her liking, any little bits of fat on meat). She doesn't like spicy food or food with a lot of flavor. I've seen her totally lose her appetite over salmon or steak that were cooked to medium instead of med-well/well. All the while, I'm on the other side of the table enjoying my medium-rare.

We've been joking that this trip to eastern Europe will be the best diet ever, but seriously, I would like to find something where she won't go hungry, but I can still dive into some of the local cuisine. The primary concern is the "knowing what's in it" issue. If she can't answer that question, there is no way she will attempt to eat it.

Posted by
16781 posts

It should not be hard to find menus in English, although the translation won't list every ingredient. A fair number of dishes are likely to have a hidden element, for instance stewed in a sauce, or wrapped in a crepe or a cabbage leaf. At the same time, grilled meats should not be hard to find and are not likely to be served rare. Salads will be pretty straightforward. Does she like meatballs or sausages, if she did not make them herself? She can look at some traditional recipes online or in a library book, for instance for Hungarian goulash soup, and expect those standard dishes to be made the same way pretty much everywhere. Tripe and tomato soup is out there, but also roast duck. Sweets include lots of pastries that will look familiar, or a cold fruit soup.

Posted by
10984 posts

I don’t think I would call it bland. It’s not particularly spicy like medeterian food, but there is good and bad.

I will send you a link to some restaurants. Nothing special, just my favorite places. I can attest that they all have English menus and noting much stranger on the plate than what you would find in the U.S. The most striking differences are going to be the common occurrence of Duck and Goose. Now if you like foul that’s good and if you like foie gras then this is a great thing.

Posted by
12117 posts

If one has discriminating tastes rather than is a picky eater, one reason for going to Budapest is for the cuisine....plain and simple. Try the coffee at the big M, you'll see the difference...that's just for starters.

Posted by
11158 posts

With the common use of ingredients like paprika, I'd hardly call Hungarian food "bland." I found it incredibly tasty, to the extent that I had almost no other cuisine during my time there. Even at a pizzeria, I had cream of garlic soup followed by ham and smoked cheese pizza - yum.

It is true, however, that it is not "spicy" in the manner of Szechuan or some Indian food. If you're seeking a vindaloo level of hot and spicy, you won't like it.

It seems your wife has very particular tastes that are not easy to categorize; I'm not sure how you handle this at home, much less in another country.

I'll put in another one of my plugs for the Trofea Grill Etterem. It's an all you can eat buffet, but don't let that put you off - it's really good. The big advantage is that since it's one price, you can get as much or as little of any item as you want; so, if your wife finds something she wants, she can fill up on that, while you can try a wide variety of dishes. And since it's a buffet, you can see what you're getting without having to order blind.

They have multiple locations. Here's one of their websites; for each restaurant, click "enter" to get the English site for that location: http://www.trofea.hu/

And here's the one I went to: http://trofeagrill.com/slide-hu.php#!/slice-four/. If you want to go to that one, here's how: take the metro line 1 (the yellow line) to the last stop, Mexikoi Ut. When you reach the top of the stairs of the metro station, turn right. You will see tram tracks: cross them, and turn left. At the end of the block you will see the restaurant.

A nice bonus of the one I went to (can't speak for the others) is that many local families come, so it's a fun atmosphere. And I seemed to be the only non-Hungarian there.

Note that the price is much lower for weekdays than for weekends, and much lower for lunch than for dinner.

Posted by
1878 posts

I am also very picky about certain things when traveling and in general. On the pedestrian walkway leading from Istvan's Basilica, there are a number of cafes that are much like those found in Western Europe or even California. Also Taverna Diynsos http://www.taverna-dionysos.hu/ is a Greek place that is quite nice. My wife and i ate there twice on our five night stay in Budapest in 2011, and twice again about a year ago on a return visit before boarding river cruise.

Posted by
10984 posts

VS: There are café’s in Budapest as good as the ones in Western Europe or California? Come on, that’s hard to believe!!! And Taverna Diynsos restaurant really does have an outstanding reputation. I’ve had almost 200 dinners in Budapest but haven’t been there. I recommend Karamanlidika for Greek food (it’s in Athens). Did you find Diynsos as good as Evvia or Ephesus in Palo Alto? How did the Hungarian food in Budapest stand up against the Hungarian restaurants in Palo Alto? I agree with you about the café’s by the Basilica. One of the nicest things is everyone, staff and guests; speak English. Makes it so much easier to order a pizza or ice coffee.

And Western European food is so much easier for picky eaters. Fried baby octopus in Spain, cockscomb in France, kidney pie and blood sausage in the UK or haggis in Scotland proves that Western European food is just so much more civilized. On the other hand Hungarian food is replete with nasty’s like Beef Soup/Stew, stuffed cabbage, sausage and cucumber salads. YUCK!! Worst yet, pate de foie gras and caviar are not only available, but reasonably priced! Outrageous!!

Posted by
334 posts

Thanks everyone. If nothing else, I at least feel somewhat better armed for this culinary adventure. Knowledge is power.

Posted by
2096 posts

I did have a great lunch at a restaurant called Cafe Picard on Falk Miksa (lots of antique shops, right off the square where Parliament and the Museum of Ethnography is located), several pasta and salad options along with some traditional Hungarian food, but the one thing on the menu that gave me pause was deer spine...I am still wondering how that's prepared. A chicken Caesar and glass of wine was more to my taste, at any rate.

Posted by
10984 posts

I’ve had lunch at Cafe Picard a couple of times. Sort of THE place to sit after hours of scouring antique shops. If you head that way you have explore the basements of Pintér Antik at #10.

As for the Deer Spine. Welllllll…………… things get lost in translation. I am going to guess the intent was for the back-strap; the only part of venison that makes good steaks. That was especially true with the tiny little hill country white tails. The rest we always turned into sausage.

When traveling in non-English Europe it’s also common to be served wonderful dishes full of Fungus (mushrooms). Mmmmmmmmm: let’s go get some fungus soup!!!!!

I bet your wife doesn't like the south side taquieras or Fred's Fish Fry? Real Shame.

Posted by
3696 posts

I don't find the food 'bland'... while its not spicy the paprika always add a flavor that I love. In the market there were plenty of simple foods for even picky eaters. I had lots of chicken there, along with potatoes and vegetables. And tons of my favorite goulash suppe! Hopefully she will try that. It is delicious and nothing strange in it (that I know of) It took me a few years to perfect my recipe but I now make it at home and it always reminds me of those wonderful trips.

Posted by
334 posts

James,

My wife would totally eat at Fred's Fish Fry or the south side taquerias if 1) she wasn't being carb/calorie conscious and if 2) the restaurant was totally up to code. Her pickiness comes from two main things: texture (such as hating the feeling of biting on a seed), and being a health officer for about ten years. She used to sometimes do restaurant inspections, and can spot violations a mile away. If anything looks sketchy to her, she will not eat there. That background has instilled her behavior of wanting to know what's in everything, and how it was stored and prepared. That's also why she likes certain foods "overcooked." I'm sure that if I had her level of knowledge of restaurant code and foodborne illness, I might be somewhat picky myself.

Posted by
10984 posts

Personally I avoid Fred Fish Fry............. Concerned for my arteries. But now I understand! This is a sort of pickyness i can relate to. For the most part you are going to find the restaurants very clean. To US standards? "Probably" She might have a little issue with the often talked about food court in the Market Hall as its hard to tell if anything is really maintained to temperature; but it sells fast so I guess its no worse than that left over pizza that you left in the car last night and ate for lunch today.

The list I sent you all appear as you would expect in the US as do most of the restaurants in the part of town you are likely to visit. The odd and weird seed? Well, I don't much care for that eathier. Haven't found the odd ingredient floating in the mouth any more often in Budapest than I have in San Antonio.........actually if you count the Taquerias, probably less often in Budapest.

I think there is a perception that you have to overcome. Budapest isn't Bulgaria or Albania; heck it isn't even "Eastern" Europe. It is as western as Germany or Austria and probably more familiar in style and customs (and cleanliness) to an American than Madrid would be (and I would argue Rome as well).

We became so comfortable so fast in Budapest because it was so familiar. The people, the standards in areas like cleanliness, politeness, generosity are all very familiar to someone from where you and I are from. There is rarely a trip to Budapest where we don't find ourselves at a tram stop or on the metro platform, where I guess we look lost or confused and someone will approach and offer to help. And now there is rarely a time when we can walk down the street without some one recognizing us and welcoming us back in town.

You will have a better time if you test me on this. Treat the people you come in contact with as you would if you ran into them in SA. Oh, the language............naaaaa, that's different. Way different.

Posted by
3696 posts

Understand her pickiness now...
Rent an apartment, go to the market, wash and cook your own food:))

Posted by
12117 posts

I agree with that assessment that Budapest isn't even eastern Europe with its implications, not Albania and Bulgaria (defintely not the former) and is similar to parts of Austria and Germany, at least from the parts of the city I've seen. you look at the infrastructure such as the WC, in buildings, at Keleti similar to Austria and Germany. Ticket office for the Metro is geared to foreigner tourists with signs only in English. Take that M4 subway, reminds you of the London Tube with its deep and fast escalator, faster than that in London. The subway trains themselves remind you of Vienna, and still in the compare and contrast aspect, you have the choice of languages in menus and which to use with the wait staff. since the menu is multilingual. You climb hills in SF, you'll do likewise in Budapest to get those photographic shots.

Posted by
10984 posts

Not to belittle Bulgaria. Planning my third trip which will take me through that amazing country.

Posted by
2096 posts

James--I kinda had a feeling you'd be able to explain deer spine! My first thought was maybe like a rack of ribs.

Now that Mike has explained his wife's reasoning behind the pickiness I can understand it. I must add that a trip to Europe is a bad place for a diet (unless it's about food allergies or chronic illnesses, etc)-I find myself walking so much that not only do I actually need more food, I can eat whatever I want and somehow manage to come home 5 lbs lighter.

Posted by
334 posts

I'll keep a look out for that tasty deer spine and fungus!!

Posted by
3286 posts

Since this San Antonio native has gastrointestinal issues that can appear anywhere at any time from the least provocation, my motto is "Keep calm and carry Imodium." I must also say that I love goulash and goulash soup. Be sure to have some while you are there.

Posted by
10984 posts

IF, you wife would like to know every aspect about what she is eating I do know a woman who gives cooking lessons in her apartment in Budapest. You cook a little, kick back a little palinka, then cook some more, the kick back a little more palinka and so on and so on. She taught me how to make Töltött Káposzta; I love the stuff (stuffed cabbage).