About the Food
Hungary has always been noted for its cuisine. Even during hard times Hungarians always paid more attention to their food and placed greater importance on it than many of their Eastern European neighbors. The cooking is distinctive, with Austrian, Bohemian and Transylvanian overtones. Certain specialties should not be missed. No other paprika in the world comes close to the Hungarian version, which is mild or sweet. Normally labeled "Csemege" (CHEH-mah-guh), this paprika is a brilliant orangy-red. Buy it in grocery stores. Small 100 gram bags cost 115 Ft ($.74).
Some typical dishes to try are: "Gulyas," a broth stew which comes from the herdsman tribes cooking the dried meat in a cauldron on an open fire with fresh vegetables added; "Paloc soup "(PAH-lowtz), a delicious combination of lamb, potatoes, and green beans; "Jokai" (YO-kai), thick kidney beans in a smoky pork soup; "Fruit Soups," chilled summer soups made of any variety of fruit (we tried seven types) in a cream base with additional fruit added, whipped cream on top, absolutely delicious; "Hortobagy Palacsinta" (HORE-toe-bahdj), minced veal stuffed crêpe with paprika sour cream sauce; "Hungarian Foie Gras," goose liver pate; "Lecso" (LECH-oh), yellow pepper, tomato, onion saut; "Fogash" (FOE-gosh) or Süllö (SHOE-lure), pike-perch fish indigenous only to Lake Balaton, as much as four times cost of other fish but worth it; "Dobos Torte" (DOUGH-boush), six-layer chocolate creme filled cake with hard caramel topping.
Eastern Europeans eat on the late side, we dined most evenings around 8 or 9 p.m. Have your hotel make a reservation. We often reserved a day ahead but the same day normally is fine. Many restaurants recommended in this issue are not suitable for walking to at night. Take City Taxi (2-111-111), it's only a few dollars each way. Today nearly all menus are in several languages. Our local advice was to tip 10%, and 15% in the better restaurants.
Opera tickets can be had for a little as 100-200 Ft. ($.66-$1.33) on the main floor or very upper balcony. The most expensive tickets, $12, are for boxes, including the Emperor's box, with six delicate French chairs. A 45-minute tour of the Opera House costs 500 Ft. ($3.33).
An Evening of Music
Near the Opera House is Belcanto Restaurant (Dalszenhz u. 8). During dinner, members of the Budapest Opera and students of the Academy of Music perform. Even the waiters sing. The interior is elegantly simple with plain, painted walls, wood floors and signed pictures of theater and opera performers. The menu is quite extensive, prices are high for Budapest and a 15% gratuity is included, but you come for the entertainment, not the food.
Hotel procured taxis are usually Mercedes Benz autos and the drivers will be wearing suits. They charge at least two to three times more than normal city taxis. Therefore, always request City Taxi. Your hotel will call if you ask. The number is 211-1111.
Be careful when checking out hotels to look at the beds. Hungary is notoriously full of what I call the "glorified sofa." Low, cot-like, and narrow (32" wide), these so-called beds, upholstered in atrocious fabrics, are found in many hotels. You can sleep almost as comfortably on the floor.
Local currency is the forint (Ft.). At press time, 156 forints equaled $1. There are many ATMs throughout Budapest and even in the smaller Hungarian towns.
Travelers checks are easily cashed in any Western European bank, but not so in Hungary; only certain ones cash them. American Express has an office near the Kempinski but exchange rates aren't as good as at banks. But persevere, there are banks that cash travelers checks.
We met six Brits, four of which had lost all their money, passports, tickets, and credit cards at Keleti (KELL-ah-tee) train station. They were pickpocketed. Beware of these poorer parts of town like Keleti, where train loads of destitute Poles and Czechs shop the cheap stores around the station, work the crowds, and go back home. Two hotels are near Keleti, the huge Hungaria and the Park, a dump we stayed in 20 years ago.
Subscribers who take advantage of the special Gemütlichkeit price reduction program with Swissair should be aware that there are two Zürich-Budapest flights daily.
Malev, the privatized Hungarian airline which has daily non-stops (5 times a week in winter) from New York's JFK Airport to Budapest, offers a City for All Seasons package priced at $1,100 per person, double occupancy, which includes roundtrip air between New York and Budapest (add-ons available from other U.S. cities), six nights at the Gellert, Hilton, Marriott, Atrium Fashion, or Corvinus Kempinski, airport transfers, a dinner at Gundel, entrance to the casino, half-day sight-seeing tour, and an opera performance. The rate is through October 31, after which prices should be a bit lower. This is a $3,000 value if priced separately.