It's a blazing hot day in the middle of summer in Budapest, and a group of 11 travelers from various parts of the world gather outside the city's iconic Central Market Hall. We come from New Jersey and Kentucky in the United States. And there is a family of four from Australia.
We're hungry to explore one of Europe's great destinations, and Gergo Csada, our guide, has just the plan to weave together the varied flavors of Hungary's cuisine and stories about the fascinating and sometimes troubled history of his hometown and country.
Gergo begins the tour exactly where you would expect. Leading us into Central Market Hall, which sits at the edge of the Danube River on the Pest side of the city just off the Liberty Bridge, he explains that the massive facility is the oldest and largest indoor market in Budapest.
The place is filled with vendors selling foods and goods brought to the market daily, and Central Market Hall is an important part of life for residents as well as a must-see destination for tourists who are interested in sampling the tastes of Hungary.
No one appears too shocked, and many in our group give it a try. I sample one slice of all seven varieties and note that they are all very fatty but fairly delicious, each with a different level of spice or heat.
We move on to other areas of the market hall, and we watch locals chatting with vendors, ordering fruits, veggies, meats and cheeses that will be taken home and used for the family meals.
Paprika was brought to the region by the conquering Ottoman Empire and has stuck around for centuries since. It's used to add flavor to soups, stews, breads and is universally recognized as a true Hungarian flavor.
Sour cream? Well, sour cream makes everything taste better, any Hungarian will tell you.
"I'm not going to lie and tell you this is the healthiest food in the world," Gergo says. "It's a Hungarian food tour."
He says this as he hands out a favorite treat of Hungarian youngsters. The Turo Rudi is a "healthy" snack bar. Cottage cheese coated with chocolate. We gobble these up as we leave Central Market Hall and head out for more exploration around Budapest.
It's hard to believe we are just getting started because we've tried so much already.
It starts to rain in mid-afternoon, and Gergo has us duck quickly into a quirky bar complex just off the street.
"It's good," he says. "I wanted to show you this place, anyway."
We are standing in a courtyard within the walls of a building filled with eclectic art, murals, posters, drawings, and other bizarre decor. It resembles a flea market more than anything else.
This is one of the city's Ruin Bars. In fact, we're in Szimpla Kert, the most famous of these bars, which are housed in old buildings that are uninhabitable but well suited these days as hip urban hangouts for eating, drinking, dancing and live music.
Indeed, Csendes is quaint and filled with only locals except for our group. Our drink order includes spritzers. White wine and rose. These are like sports drinks, Gergo says, good for cooling off in summer time. I order a Soproni IPA.
This is just the kind of place you would want to spend a few hours at when out on your own in Budapest.
Then, Koleves, a quaint eatery with a pretty garden in the Jewish Quarter, for a traditional matzo ball soup and an apricot and mint soup. Finally, we cap our food fest with what every good culinary tour in Hungary must feature: goulash.
Gergo takes us to Ferenc Jozef Sorozo, a restaurant that serves traditional fare, and we plunge our spoons into bowls of hearty goulash, topping them with paprika, of course. We get a sweet finish to our tour.
The final calorie bomb is Hungarian trifle, a layered pastry with sponge cakes, syrup, walnuts, vanilla cream and chocolate sauce.
Somehow, we find room in our stomachs to finish every bite.
Thanks for reading,
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