food

Our Budapest Trip

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Ahh Budapest! We visit Budapest quite often because Jan's mom's family is from Eastern Slovakia and the easiest way to get there is via the Hungarian highways on the south (and breaking the 9-hour drive into two bearable halves with some good food in Budapest doesn't hurt, either). Many of our guests visit Budapest as part of the Central European Prague-Vienna-Budapest pilgrimage, too.

An because we are love to travel throughout Europe and Zuzi likes to do her research properly, we will, once in a while, post about our experience in various European cities. It is nice to have a head start with your research, right? We will try to post nice pictures, too, but not this time: our Budapest photos died with the hard drive they were on, but the few surviving photos aren't bad, either. So, without further ado, these are the places we visited and our impressions:

Where to stay:

Brody House 

The Brody House is much more than a hotel - it is a collection of individual apartments appointed by local artists and designers who find support in the facility. The Brody House often holds exhibitions and public readings with local artists. It is conveniently located near the Astoria on the Pest side, near Fekete for good coffee. We also liked the nearby parking facility that charges about 10 EUR a day. [website]

Where to eat:

Borkonyha Wine Kitchen

So far, this has been our favorite place in Budapest both in terms of the food and value. They have a huge selection of wines with many by glass and that's only the start. They use local ingredients, including the Mangalica pork and foie gras, which we both recommend.

We loved the simple but nicely decorated interiors. This is clearly a favorite for business lunches and the atmosphere was bustling yet relaxed, especially for a Michelin-star restaurant. We wore jeans and did not feel out of place. [website]

Bock Bisztro

A wonderful selection of wines. Put yourselves in the hands of your waiter; he'll give you good advice. As for the food, they focus on Hungarian cuisine (sometimes deconstructed) and they do it well. As a welcome gift you get fresh bread with a tub of bacon-studded lard, and it only gets better from there. They also have a sister restaurant in Buda which we've not visited, but heard that it was of a great quality too with more relaxed atmosphere. Well, there is always next time, right? [website]

Csalogany 26

Located in the Buda district, this place serves very affordable lunches and tasting menus in the evenings (you can opt for a la carte dishes). Not all dishes are perfect, but we really enjoyed our evening. We really enjoyed the local vibe and cooking, which reminded Jan of his childhood spent in Eastern Slovakia. The only complaints we had were the simple interiors and the unfriendly service but we believe they just had a bad night. [website]

Onyx

Onyx really shows that the Hungarians are proud of their food, using lots of locally sourced ingredients and turning them into dishes worthy of the Michelin star. That said, it did feel a bit stuffy, with their protocol and etiquette policy and all. [website]

We did not visit Costes, the third Michelin star restaurant in Budapest.

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Where to go for coffee

Espresso Embassy

Opened by a former barista at Printa Coffee, this place is very serious about coffee. You can get virtually anything: drip coffee, flat white, cortado, you name it. On our second visit, we were served cappuccino by an intern/salesman from Drop Coffee, a café/roastery in Stockholm that we visited in October 2012. The café has a nice atmosphere and lots of locals work there with their laptops. [website]

Tamp and Pull

This is a small café where things are clearly done with love. We had a great cappuccino there, and in addition to coffee-making supplies, the shelves included a "6th place" trophy from the 2009 World Barista Championships. They also offered small things to eat like croissants, breakfast sets etc. [website]

Fekete

Fekete is a tiny espresso bar near the Astoria subway stop. The really nice outdoor seating invites you to get a cup, have a seat, read a book and catch a few rays. It is clear that this place is run by coffee nerds... ehm... we mean aficionados. You can get both espresso and filter. If the only complaint Zuzi had was that the cortado glass was too thick, you know they're not that bad. [website]

Madal Coffee

As soon as we saw their La Marzocco machine dominating the room, we knew we were going to be happy here. They offer many single origin coffees either as espresso or brews. [website]

My Little Melbourne

This is a very diminutive, two-story café with a very lively vibe. The coffee is good and the barista is very skillful. They also serve some small food there, too. [website]

Where to go for something sweet

Rozsavolgyi Csokolade

A chocolate lover's dream and a great place to buy presents for someone at home who loves great chocolate. This small chocolate shop sells its own chocolates and pralines of very high quality. We tasted some pralines and although we are not usually fans, we loved these ones. [website]

Levendula Kézműves Fagylaltozó

If you like ice cream, you will probably love this place. In addition to classics, they offer some unique and interesting flavors, incl. the Tokai wine or lavender/lemon, Japanese green tea, caramelised fig and so on. You just have to disregard the violet paint job that... ehm... stands out. [website]

Cakeshop

Small and relatively new cake shop run by a very passionate owner. In a fairly rare move, they also offer lactose and gluten-free cakes, all made in house, which is reflected in the pleasant smell that hits your nose when you walk in. [website

A Table

A small French bakery/pastry shop. This is a great place for breakfasts - we had a great croissant with two marmelades and a pain au pistache that packed about a million calories, but who counts them when you're on vacation. However, we will not be rushing back: the service was not particularly friendly and we're putting it mildly. They have two branches. We visited the one at Arany János Utca opposite Espresso Embassy. The other branch should be better, we've heard. [website]

Daubner Cukraszda

This pastry shop is recommended by virtually every Budapest guide. From the Pest side, it's a rather long bus ride (line 206) from the Nyugati train station, and then a 10 minute walk up a hill to get there. It's a really local experience - when we asked the bus driver where to get off, we received an answer in the universal language: Hungarian spoken v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y. We suggest you ask someone younger for directions to get a response in English. The pastry shop is more shop than café: most of the orders are take-away and there are really no seats there. But the cakes were good, and the ice cream was even better. In all honesty, we thought it was not really worth the long ride. But if you love cakes, this one might be for you. [website]

Where to drink

DiVino

There are so many nice wine bars with a great selection of Hungarian wines in Budapest. However, we liked this one a lot. The place is buzzing with a nice mix of locals and tourists. Great Hungarian wine selection and friendly, helpful service if you don't know the wines. [website]

Kandalló

Nevertheless, if you are into beer, this artisanal pub is great! Interesting home-brewed beers and traditional Hungarian side dishes in a lovely place. [website]

Boutiq'Bar

We had great cocktails in this popular bar. 'Nuff said. [website]

Lehütö

In addition to testing your keyboard skills when you try to type the name, Lehütö offers a great selection of local and international craft beers. All the attention is paid here to beers, which means they serve no accompanying food. Opt for the outside seating if the weather permits. [website]

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Where to shop

Printa Coffee

This café/gallery/printshop is a great place for small souvenirs or a rest, and we recommend it as your start to exploring Pest. We bought their map and guide of Pest and used it throughout our trip. They use Has Been coffee; however, you can see that their best barista left a while ago: our cappuccino was far from perfect. Still, we loved the place and we got a lot of tips from the staff. [website]

Food Market

A big indoors market with a bustling mix of locals and foreigners. You can see Csabai sausages and dried paprika everywhere. They have special national weeks: on one visit, we actually went in and realised the Czech week was on (all the lagers you could buy - lucky us ;).

Nanushka

For fashion lovers among you, Nanushka offers interesting models made of great materials in inspiring interiors. Btw if you can not make it to Budapest, they also sell their beautiful clothing online. [website]

Culinaris

A few steps from the Parliament, this is a place for the foodie inside of you - a small shop that carries lots of ingredients from all around the world - cheeses, hams, chocolates, teas, fruits and vegetables, more exotic spices etc. The place also serves food - we had soups and were satisfied. [website]

Hybridart Design Shop and Café

A great, centrally located shop with designer jewelry, homeware and accessories made by local designers. Stay away from the coffee. [website]

Culinary Budapest

Cooking classes and food tours run by a couple, Agnes and Istvan. You can see that Agnes and Istvan love what they do and we are sure that if you have a special request, they will do everything to accommodate it. We absolutely endorse them. [website]


Vegetarian restaurants in Prague

Being a vegetarian in the Czech Republic used to be tough. Some ten years ago, restaurants would have only two "vegetarian" options on the menu: fried cheese, and fried cheese... with ham (really). While things have gotten better recently and vegetarians do have many options to choose from (at least in Prague), for many restaurants that also cook meat, vegetarian dishes remain a mere afterthought, while their focus is clearly elsewhere. You may notice we tend to be quite critical of the local vegetarian scene. Don't get us wrong: we love vegetarian cooking (even Jan) for the variety and richness of flavors. However, some of the older Czech vegetarian dishes are stuck on the practice of basically cooking meaty dishes with meat substitutes. In our eyes, this makes no sense. Goulash with tofu, anyone? Soy "a la beef steak"? Why does Czech vegetarian cooking of the yesteryear try so hard to mimic meat? We don't know. That is why we still tend to think that while some of the choices in Prague are good, they will have a hard time matching some of their counterparts abroad (establishments like Ottolenghi in London, or De Kas in Amsterdam).

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If you are a vegetarian, you can still taste some Czech classic dishes, though. Of course, fried cheese remains a classic, although that dish probably betrays the whole idea that vegetarian cooking should be healthy. Other options include Kulajda, a typical Czech soup with dill, potatoes, mushrooms and a poached egg. Dill sauce or lentils with a hard-boiled egg are also quite common. In addition, we should not forget the staple of Czech cuisine: hot sweet main meals. These include dumplings filled with fruits (usually plums or strawberries), or "sisky" (similar to gnocchi) with poppy seeds.

Anyway, without further ado, here is a selection of vegetarian restaurants in Prague:

Lehká Hlava (Borsov 280/2, Prague 1) Probably the best-known vegetarian restaurant in town. Reservation is definitely recommended. In our opinion, Lehka hlava is clearly superior to its sister restaurant, Maitrea, although the latter is very popular, too. Both restaurants' menus include dishes that makes little sense to us: meaty dishes without the meat (things like fake roast with red cabbage and dumplings, or vegetable sausages). Maitrea also serves "Czech specials", so you are eating Czech dishes, originally based on meat, with meat substitutes, listening to wind chimes and flutes. Maybe it's just us. If you have to choose between the two, choose Lehka hlava. It is good but we think it's nothing to write home about in international context.

Bio Zahrada (Belgicka 33, Prague 2) A small café/bistro/shop in the heart of the Vinohrady district where local come to collect the farmers' produce they ordered. This restaurant focuses on organic and gluten-free lunches. A nice place with a small outdoor seating area with a nice selection of cakes and sandwiches.

Estrella (Opatovicka 17, Prague 1) A relatively recent entry on the Prague vegetarian scene, this place is a bit hidden but really worth a look. The daily specials are tasty, and you can see the food is made with love. Very helpful, young staff.

Secret of Raw (Seifertova 13, Prague 3) Recently opened, this small place made big waves in online circles when it opened as the first raw food eatery in Prague. A confession: we have not been there yet but a look at the menu raises suspicions: avocados, coconut and other ingredients really make it impossible to call this restaurant's food either seasonal or local. Although raw cuisine may in theory include meat, this is a vegetarian place.

Plevel (Krymska 126/6, Prague 10) Opened just a few days ago, Plevel is a new vegetarian eatery in the hipster heaven that is the Krymska street near the Grebovka vineyard on the border of the Vinohrady and Vrsovice districts. As the name of the restaurant ("weeds" in English) implies, the owners have a humorous take on the whole vegetarian scene.

Mama Coffee (Vodickova 6, Prague 1) A great place enjoyed by local crowds and families, a flagship store of the Mama Coffee coffee roasters that supplies fair trade coffee to many Prague cafes. The cafe offers vegetarian lunches and snacks that cannot deny their Middle-Eastern influence (like hummus and tabouleh dishes, bagels and sandwiches).

Mlsná Kafka (Sokolovska 29, Prague 8) Great for vegetarian Sunday brunches from 11am to 3pm, which give kids the opportunity to prepare some vegetarian food, too. The menu looks very interesting and may be appealing even for carnivores.

Beas Dhaba This North Indian eatery with self-service lunches offers good value for the money. Out of the five branches in Prague, the most convenient and the nicest is the one at Tynska street, which sports a nice summer garden. Free tap water, price is paid per weight. You should expect vegetables, legumes and rice.

Govinda One of the first vegetarian restaurants in the centre of Prague, now sporting two branches. The atmosphere is certainly oriental, with meditative soundtrack playing in the background. Again, food is paid based on weight.

Country Life We are including this in the list just because we would get lots of mail if we didn't. This chain of organic food stores is a good choice for buying groceries but we are not convinced by the food. We saw them serve "svickova with tofu and dumplings". Yes, it makes no sense. (Just that you understand: "svickova" is normally a typical Czech beef dish).

Kidó (Smeralova 22, Prague 7) This quite recently bistro quickly became a local favorite in the Letna district. Great interiors and helpful staff help building a local feel of the place. Kido serves a vegetarian lunch menu every day, allowing you to choose from a buffet of about five daily dishes, or combine them to your liking.

Have a group that includes carnivores and vegetarians who want to eat together? It's still pretty tricky to find a place that would truly satisfy both but we do have two suggestions:

Dish (Rimska 29, Prague 2) A burger joint in a list of vegetarian restaurants? Yes. The wildly popular upscale burger bistro offers two veggie burgers: caponata and falafel. We have enjoyed the former more than the latter. And the regular burgers are awesome. Coming for dinner without a reservation? Forget it.

Pizza Nuova (Revolucni 1, Prague 1) The all-you-can-eat pizza and pasta restaurant is full every evening, and for good reason. The dishes are great and the menu includes meaty and vegetarian dishes. Vegetarians may opt for the all-you-can-eat salad bar that offers many nice Italian vegetarian cold dishes, or you can choose a single dish a la carte.

Sisters (Dlouha 39, Prague 1) Since it opened in March 2014, this bistro that focuses on the modern interpretation of the Czech "chlebicky" (traditional open-faced sandwiches) has become incredibly popular among the locals. Apart from the classic ham on potato salad and steak tartare chebicek, they serve vegetarian options, too: red beet puree with goat cheese, radishes and cream cheese or celery remoulade are the favorites.