Eric and I first traveled to Budapest in 2012, during our whirlwind tour of central and eastern Europe. We spent a week there and thought it a beautiful city, but we sort of overlooked the food. We rectified that during our next trip when we investigated the Budapest food scene with a focus on traditional Hungarian food and drink. In this post, we share our tips on what to eat in Budapest.
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Why Visit Budapest
We spent several months exploring central and eastern Europe in 2012, traveling from Tallinn, Estonia, down to Montenegro. We ate well but our focus wasn’t really on cuisine. Not in the same way it is now. We spent over a week in Budapest, staying with an American friend who lived there and we rented an Airbnb apartment. I remember visiting the Central Market and eating a lot of international food. It was our chance to be in a big city and take a break from the staple of meat and potatoes we ate during most of our trip.
During that first trip, we explored Budapest as most travelers do. We marveled at the stunning architecture, the larger-than-life parliament building. We visited a few Budapest Ruin Bars and took a memorable trip to one of the Budapest baths. But we overlooked the great food, instead focusing on some of the cheap eats in Budapest. Eric and I ate a lot of kebabs. We rectified that during this trip. We focused on finding the best things to eat in Budapest and I was not disappointed.
Cruising The Danube From Budapest
We spent the weekend in Budapest before boarding our Avalon Waterways Active and Discovery cruise. This Active and Discovery cruise is exactly what it sounds like. We had an opportunity to dive deep into the culture along the Danube as we sailed from Budapest up to Linz. That doesn’t assume that Avalon overlooked local food. (Read our full review of our Avalon Waterways Danube River Cruise.)
In fact, I found many of the dishes we ate touring our own exploration of Budapest on board during our cruise through Hungary. I was impressed not only at the amount of traditional Hungarian cuisine on offer on the cruise, but how similar the dishes tasted to the food we ate on dry land.
Food To Eat In Budapest
Unlike during that first trip I now do a ton of research before every trip we take, creating my own list of Budapest must eat dishes. Although we dined at a Budapest Michelin-Starred Restaurant, we focused mostly on Budapest traditional food, the Hungarian and Jewish dishes that are known throughout the city.
I’ve come across lists of what and where to eat in Budapest with loads of recommendations for pizza and Italian restaurants (one blog post recommended a spaghetti Bolognese in Budapest, a dish I am morally opposed to as not being Italian at all.) There is soul food, Vietnamese, loads of brunch places, and more burger joints than you can shake a stick at. For travelers, though, if you only have a weekend in the city, focus on the Budapest’s local food and drink. That’s what we include in our must-eat list.
What To Eat In Budapest Hungary – Traditional Hungarian Food
Here’s our list of dishes and food to try in Budapest. I tried to include the Hungarian names where I could, to help you read the menu. I did the best I could. If you are Hungarian and see a mistake, please let me know. I struggle enough with Spanish let alone Hungarian!
As for travelers, English is spoken at a lot of restaurants so no need to stress about the long and complicated Hungarian names. When in doubt, just point politely at a dish on a menu. That’s worked for me in over 70 countries over the years!
Goulash – Gulyás
Normally I start these lists with snacks, street food, or starters, but for this list, I want to start with one of the heartiest dishes you can eat in Budapest – goulash. During our first trip to Budapest, I was so focused on goulash that we really didn’t eat much else.
Back then I never would have thought of researching what to eat in a new city. It’s a different world now. Plus, I love goulash, which is a stew of meat and vegetables. Some versions cross over into soups, with more broth. It’s a stick-to-your-ribs classic Hungarian dish that is popular throughout central and eastern Europe. It’s flavored primarily with paprika, which gives it its color as well. Frequently it is matched with some sort of dumpling or pasta to soak up all the tasty and tangy sauce. If there is one dish that could be considered Hungary’s national dish, it is most likely goulash.
Where to eat goulash in Budapest: Try Baltazar Budapest, a boutique hotel with a reputation for great traditional Hungarian food and contemporary dishes in a cool and hip setting. Frici papa kifőzdéje is also a great option for loads of typical Hungarian food. They also have a daily menu with specials.
Pörkölts is another Hungarian stew that might be confused with goulash. It includes boneless meat, normally beef, and is stewed with onions and vegetables. The difference is that it is normally served without potatoes. At more traditional restaurants they may add liver to the dish, giving it a more mineral taste. The photo above translated to goulash in English, but in Hungarian, it read Pörkölts. Regardless of the name, just enjoy at least one plate or bowl of stewed meat in Hungary!
After starting with my fascination with goulash, I will start where I usually do with snacks and street food. Nothing says Hungarian street food like langos, which should be at the top of any list of the best cheap eats in Budapest. Sometimes referred to as “Communist pizza,” langos is a fried circular dough that is deep-fried and topped with shredded cheese and gooey sour cream.
Many places today have started to get creative and you can find langos topped with all sorts of tastiness – even Nutella. Traditionally topped with only cheese, savory toppings now include ham and garlic butter – both yummy! You can also find them made with potato and topped with sausage – a great way to eat meat and potatoes in Hungary with a little twist.
Where to eat langos in Budapest: Try Retro Langos, which is a food stand specializing in langos or Karavan, a Budapest street food stall or courtyard on Kazinczy Street. We also ate a really good version of this on our Avalon cruise. It was great to know that Avalon was able to take traditional street food on board.
Kürtoskalács – Chimney Cakes
A popular sweet snack now in several central European countries, kürtoskalács are often found at outdoor markets or festivals. They are also super popular to eat in Prague. They are made by wrapping pastry dough around a cylindrical form. Kürtoskalács are baked over hot coals outdoors and covered in caramelized sugar. These tasty treats are called chimney cakes because they are so warm that when you eat them steam escapes from the center.
This is a perfect fast food in Budapest for a quick snack while seeing the sites. You probably won’t find it at a Budapest restaurant unless it is a contemporary interpretation of this classic treat. To eat them street-side, slowly unwrap the strips of dough carefully. After, go ahead, and lick your fingers clean!
How To Find The Best Food In Budapest Pro Tip:
It’s super easy to find chimney cakes in Budapest. You might find kürtoskalács on display waiting for a purchaser, but try to get one hot off the presses. It’s a real treat.
Kolbász and Sausages
We grew up in New Jersey, which not only had a huge influence from southern Italy, but also from Germany and Poland. My grandmother’s family was German, and I remember eating dishes that were influenced by this part of the world. One of the main dishes we ate regularly was kielbasa, a smoked Polish sausage, along with sauerkraut. Although Eric loves eating anything pork, I find myself drawn to the sausages in Europe because they remind me of my childhood. Kolbász fits this bill perfectly.
Like their neighbors, sausages form a staple of Hungarian meals. Eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they are eaten on their own, or in stews and soups. Look for kolbász, or other types of sausages, that are either boiled, cured, smoked, or grilled. Try one called csabai kolbász, which is flavored with paprika. Or look for the black sausages, which are blood sausages or liver sausages.
Where to eat kolbász in Budapest: It’s not hard to find sausages in Budapest, but for a quick Hungarian fast food or snack, try them at Budapest’s Central Market. Or, try Belvarosi Disznotoros, with two locations in the city center. Choose a meat and two sides for a quick, cheap meal.
Gyümölcsleves – Cold Fruit Soup
When researching Hungarian food for our trip to Budapest, all of my must-eat dishes seemed to be heavy and hearty fare. These dishes are perfect for surviving a harsh winter. We visited Budapest in late June, and I joked to Eric about how hard it would be to knock back bowl after bowl of stews and dumplings in 90-degree weather. It was a sacrifice I was willing to take for our readers and followers though!
That’s why it was so refreshing to find cold fruit soups on Hungarian menus. I’ve always been a fan of borscht, a cold beet-based soup topped with sour cream. And I love gazpacho and salmorejo, cold soups commonly found in Seville and around Andalusia. If visiting Budapest over the summer look for gyümölcsleves, a cold fruit soup. The most popular version is called meggyleves, which is made from sour cherries and sour cream. It’s got a little bit of sweetness to offset the sour flavor. It’s super refreshing in the summer.
Where to eat cold fruit soups in Budapest: Check out Kispiac Bisztro, which has a good menu of traditional Hungarian dishes as well as cold soups in the summer.
Jókai Bean Soup
If traveling to Budapest during the colder months, a cold fruit soup probably doesn’t sound all that appealing. In this case, track down Jókai, a hearty bean soup made with sausage and vegetables. It is normally topped with sour cream (see a theme here?).
I love anything with paprika, both sweet and smoked. Paprika is ground red pepper and it features prominently in the most famous Hungarian foods. We use it a lot in the Spanish dishes we prepare at home. After this trip to Hungary, though, I think we need to add chicken paprikash into our cooking rotation at home. This is a classic Hungarian dish with roasted chicken in a red pepper based cream sauce, generally served with handmade noodles or spaetzle.
Where to eat chicken paprikash: It’s pretty common to find this dish on the menus at the best local restaurants in Budapest. If out sightseeing, try it at Pest-Buda Restaurant near the castle. They also offer other varieties of paprikash including a version made with catfish.
I become more and more addicted to duck every time I have it. I think this is, in part, to the availability of delicious duck on Catalan restaurant menus. If you see duck on the menu in Budapest, try it. Crispy skin on the outside and tender and juicy meat on the inside.
Where to eat duck in Budapest: One of the best Hungarian restaurants in Budapest has to be Kispiac Bisztro, which was one of the best meals we ate in Budapest. They had a variety of roasted meats, including a whole or half roasted duck served with a ginger-spiced paprika sauce.
If you are a fan of the blog, you know I am addicted to anything in the noodle, dumpling, or pasta family – in every shape or size. Nokedli fall within this category and kind of reminded me of kniddelen in Luxembourg or a dense German spaetzle. These egg dumplings go well with goulash.
There seems to be no shortage of Hungarian versions of noodles and dumpling dishes. Stropachka is a Hungarian version of spaetzle.
Let’s keep going down the noodle rabbit hole. Next up is Túrós Csusza, which is made with flour and eggs. They are torn by hand, which makes them very homemade looking. Look for them slathered in sour cream, cheese curds, and cured bacon.
This was one of the best Hungarian dishes I ate in Budapest. When I researched the best dishes to eat in Budapest before leaving I didn’t see this one on any other list. When I saw it on the menu at Kispiac Bisztro I had to order it. Hortobágyi palacsinta is a savory Hungarian pancake or crepe. In this case, it was filled with tender shredded chicken and covered in a spicy paprika sauce and sour cream. Soft and yummy.
We also ate a super tasty version on our Avalon cruise. It was a smaller portion served as a starter and was filled with ground meat instead of shredded.
Töltött Káposzta – Stuffed Cabbage
This is another comfort food of my childhood. My grandmother made fantastic stuffed cabbage when I was growing up. I am not sure how authentic her version was when comparing it to the Hungarian version, töltött káposzta, but I am always excited to see it on a menu. Stuffed cabbage is exactly what it sounds like, cooked cabbage leaves stuffed with ground meat, rice, and seasonings. Sometimes it is hard to find in the warmer months in Budapest.
Where to eat stuffed cabbage in Budapest – Százéves Restaurant serves loads of very traditional Hungarian dishes and is one of the city’s oldest restaurants, dating to the 1830s. The restaurant is very touristy but was one of the few serving this dish.
Töltött Paprika – Stuffed Peppers
I feel like a broken record, but here is yet another dish from my childhood, Töltött Paprika. Remember that paprika is really the word for pepper and is not limited to ground pepper seasoning. So Töltött Paprika is a pepper version of stuffed cabbage. Although I grew up eating stuffed peppers made from bell peppers that are common in the US. In Budapest, they use slightly different style peppers, but they are still stuffed with meat, rice, onion, and seasonings including, of course, ground paprika.
Rántott Sajt – Fried Cheese
There’s just nothing wrong with fried cheese. There’s nothing more to say other than try to find this starter or snack on Hungarian restaurant menus. It is normally served with horseradish cream for dipping. At Belvarosi Disznotoros they serve both grilled and fried cheese.
Uborkasaláta – Hungarian Cucumber Salad
Most of the main courses on Budapest restaurant menus came with two side dishes. This often includes a potato or a noodle along with some sort of pickled vegetable. With all of this meat and potatoes, we craved vegetables while in Budapest. Even if they were pickled. This was one of our favorite side dishes. This dish includes thinly sliced cucumbers with a sweet vinegar sauce. Very refreshing on a hot day and it also cuts through the heaviness of many of the dishes.
I often write about how to find great artisan gelato in Italy. I am kind of addicted to it. But, in Hungary as well as around central Europe, rose-shaped gelato is all the rage. And, because we visited over the summer, it was a perfect treat on a warm Budapest day. Try this dessert at Gelarto Rosa Budapest. Be prepared for lines. Choose two or three flavors and of course, choose bright colors for that perfect Instagram post.
Palacsinta is a type of Hungarian crepe, normally served with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. I am not one for desserts, but this hit the spot. We ordered a version with apple compote, cream, and ice cream. It was huge. I couldn’t believe anyone would eat this alone and was very happy we shared.
The easiest way to explain this is that it’s a Hungarian strudel. It is commonly found at bakeries or shops that specialize in rétes, including shops in the Budapest Central Market. Look for apple, cherry when in season, or plum fillings.
If you love chocolate cake, the dobos torta is a must-eat in Budapest. It is served at cafes and bakeries. The dobos torta, also known as drummer cake, normally includes between five and seven layers of sponge cake and chocolate. There’s a crispy top made from caramelized sugar.
Where to eat Dobos Torta in Budapest: Try this at Fröhlich Cukrászda in the Jewish Quarter, but they are closed on the weekend. Also try Auguszt Cukrászda, a bakery dating from the 1870s, with a few locations in the city.
Sajtos Pogácsa – Cheese Scones
These were a little treat at the Budapest Central Market. Sajtos pogácsa are bite-sized cheese scones. We ordered a small bag of warm scones just out of the oven and I could have eaten a dozen more.
What To Drink In Budapest
Budapest is definitely a city for drinks. It’s a huge city break destination for Europeans coming for a cheap drink. But, there is more to drinking in Budapest than large, cheap beers. Check out these local specialties to drink in Budapest.
Fröccs are wine spritzers, generally made with Hungarian red or rose wine and soda water. They are super popular on a hot day. I think I would enjoy this more if it was served over ice to make it seem like a cocktail. Instead, it seemed like watered-down wine more than anything. But, it’s cheap and worth trying it at least once. Order then at one of the many Budapest ruin bars.
Palinka is a fruit brandy made from a variety of different flavors including cherry and apricots. It is served as a shot but you can sip it as well. It’s a little strong, but still sweet. You can generally find palinka on the menu at many Budapest ruin bars.
We tried Unicum while in Prague, so skipped it during this trip. You can find it anywhere and everywhere as it is normally considered the national drink of Hungary. Unicum is an herbal liquor drank as a digestif after a meal.
Tokaji and Hungarian Wine
Most people probably don’t associate Hungary with wine, but they make some pretty darn good wines. Tokaji is their most famous, which is a darker yellow color wine. It is generally sweet although there are more dry versions. It was not my favorite as it is often a little too sweet for me, with flavors of honey. That said, we drank some very good wine and rose wine from Hungary at very good prices. Don’t turn your nose up at Hungarian wine! It’s a must-drink in Budapest.
FAQs – Budapest Food Guide
The list of famous food in Budapest is long. Probably the most famous dish is Hungarian goulash. It’s on every menu in the city and best of all every restaurant makes it differently. This is the one dish you can’t leave Budapest without tasting.
Budapest offers a wide range of dining options. From street food to high-end dining, the cost of food varies. However, for the most part you can find very affordable and more importantly very good food almost anywhere.
Unicum is arguably the most popular drink in Hungary. The drink itself is traces its origins back to the 18th Century. Its herbal taste helps as a digestive and is usually drunk either before a meal to open the stomach or after to aid in digestion.
*Our trip to Budapest preceded our Danube cruise.This trip is a project managed by iambassador in partnership with Avalon Waterways. As always, With Husband In Tow maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. Learn more about Avalon Waterways Active and Discovery Cruises where they help you explore more while cruising.