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EATING & DRINKING IN Budapest

 
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Hungarians relish eating and drinking , and Budapest is great for both. Though Magyar cuisine naturally predominates, you can find everything from Middle Eastern to Japanese food, bagels to Big Macs. The diversity of cuisine is matched by the range of outlets and prices - from de luxe restaurants where a meal costs an average citizen's monthly wage, to backstreet diners that anyone can afford. Many restaurants and bars have live music in the evenings; places where the emphasis is on music and dancing are covered under "Entertainment".

Coffee houses, cafés and patisseries

Daily life in Budapest is still punctuated by the consumption of black coffee drunk from little glasses, though cappuccinos and white coffee are becoming ever more popular. These quintessentially Central European coffee breaks are less prolonged these days than before the war, when Budapest's coffee houses ( kávéház ) were social club, home and haven for their respective clientele. Free newspapers were available to the regulars - writers, journalists and lawyers (for whom the cafés were effectively "offices") or posing revolutionaries - with sympathy drinks or credit to those down on their luck. Today's coffee houses and patisseries ( cukrászda ) are less romantic but still full of character, whether fabulously opulent, with silver service, or homely and idiosyncratic.


Snack and sandwich bars and fast food
Budapest has taken to fast food in a big way, with over forty branches of McDonald's and plenty of Pizza Huts and Burger Kings too. On a more positive note, you'll find excellent Chinese stand-up joints - gyors büfé - all over town, many of them serving very good and cheap fare. A Hungarian peculiarity are the étkezde - small, lunchtime diners where customers sit at shared tables to eat hearty home-cooked food.


Restaurants
The biggest change in the city's culinary scene has been the appearance of a number of very good restaurants offering high quality food and the best in Hungarian wine. Places like the Arcade, Krizia, Chapter One, Chez Daniel and Lou Lou are hardly cheap even by western standards, but are extremely popular regardless and always packed. There has also been a welcome diversification in recent years, with many new places offering Chinese and Japanese food, mainly to wealthy tourists and nouveau-riche natives. Restaurants with Hungarian gypsy bands tend to be touristy, but do have a certain distinctive charm. It is wise to reserve a table if you're determined to eat somewhere in particular, though you can usually find an alternative within a couple of blocks. We've included phone numbers where booking is advisable.

Some of the places we've listed are rough-and-ready, others glittering citadels of haute cuisine - it's worth checking out both ends of the spectrum. You can generally reckon that the places further from the Belváros or Várhegy are likely to be cheaper. A popular development with foreign residents in the city are the Sunday brunches now available in the city, giving you as much as you can eat for a fixed price: Gundel by the Városliget is the best location, but many of the top hotels, including the Marriott Hotel and the Hilton Hotel in the castle, also offer an excellent spread. If a restaurant doesn't have a menu ( étlap ) in German (which most waiters understand) or English, basic food and drink vocabulary should help when ordering meals . Simply pointing to dishes on the menu or neighbouring tables is a bit risky.

Waiters in Budapest do very easily make "mistakes" with the bill, and foreign visitors are especially easy targets for overcharging. The worst rip-offs have been when single male visitors are lured into restaurants by women they have befriended and are then landed with an astronomical bill - which the unfortunate diner is forced to pay by beefy bouncers. Other more common tactics include issuing menus without prices, offering expensive "specials of the day", hiking up the bill or charging exorbitant amounts for the wine. Insist on a proper menu (including prices for drinks) and don't be shy about querying the total. The US embassy regularly updates its list of restaurants to avoid on its website www.usis.hu/tourist.htm .


Bars, wine bars and beer halls
It's hard to draw a firm line between places to eat and places to drink in Budapest, since some patisseries double as cocktail bars, and restaurants as beer halls (or vice versa), while the provision of live music or pool tables blurs the distinction between drinking spots and clubs. Budapest's bar scene has burgeoned in recent years, and is centred on three main areas: Liszt Ferenc tér - the place to see and be seen - running between Andrássy út and the Music Academy; semi-pedestrianized Ráday utca, which with its innumerable cafés and terraces styles itself the Budapest Soho; and Krudy Gyula utca, behind the National Museum. Another big growth area has been outdoor bars, but since most of these also have dance floors, they are covered under "Clubs and dancing". The majority of borozó or wine bars are nothing like their counterparts in the West, being mainly working men's watering holes, offering such humble snacks as zsíros kenyér (bread and pork dripping with onion and paprika). Conversely, beer halls ( sörözo ) are often quite upmarket, striving to resemble an English pub or a German bierkeller , and serving full meals. The addition of pince to the name of an outlet signifies that it is in a cellar; many of the new places stink of mould until the crowds arrive.

Most places open around lunchtime and stay open until after midnight, unless otherwise stated. Our list is not exhaustive, since it excludes various club-type places (covered under "Clubs and dancing").

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