I’m back to blogging after a busy few weeks and slowly catching up on a backlog of posts. This one is particularly old but brimming with pics, so I felt it was worth persevering with. So- a while back, I won’t mention quite how long ago for fear of revealing my blogging laziness, we made the uncharacteristically adventurous decision to have a proper holiday somewhere new. Toby has a bit of a thing for Easter Europe, so we booked a long weekend in Budapest.
Having not seen much of this part of the world, I wasn’t sure what my expectations were really. But I was totally taken aback by this enchanting city reminiscent of Belle Epoque Paris with such a rich (albeit recently pretty horrific) history, beautiful architecture and dense cultural (we manged to catch not one, but two concerts) and food scene.
Of course, you have to do a few token touristy things, like walk over Chain Bridge and grab the cable car to the top of the Castle District and take in the views, warming up with a vin chaud along the way. An afternoon spent at one of the many spas came highly recommended by all of our guidebooks and didn’t disappoint. Our spa, picked entirely at random, the Kiraly, dates back to the Turkish rule, which is rather incredible in itself. Once we got past the rather complicated ticket booth issuing locker keys and towels, we got changed (though you can go to some spas entirely in the nude, should that be your thing) and then walked through a series of cave-like chambers, with pools at a variety of different temperatures, each more serene than the last.
There is a vibrant café and cake culture in Budapest, which we were more than happy to indulge in . We particularly enjoyed a decadent breakfast at the lavish Central Café (8 Andrássy Út) and later at the rather swish New York Café (Erzsébet körút 9-11).
|Elegant café ceilings
On our first evening was spent Klassz bistro (Andrássy út 41) which is owned by the Hungarian wine society. Brilliant, carefully roasted duck and excellent wine, including a bottle of Lollipop- a sparkler we ended up bringing back home for a couple for quid. We also really enjoyed the Doblo Wine Bar (Dob St 20), where staff spoke animatedly in perfect English about Hungarian wines, plying us with sips to try before deciding what to take back home.
Although it was relatively cold when we went, on the plus side there were plenty of outdoor winter markets scattered throughout the city. It seemed every time we turned a corner, we were greeted by a collection of little huts selling traditional produce and warming spiced wine. Although partly, of course, a tourist rouse, they did offer plenty of opportunity to try local delicacies, if of the slightly kitch variety.
The Central market was clearly the place the stock up on paprika, but we also stumbled upon a Hungarian take on a farmer’s market in the Szimpla Kert (14 Kazinczy Utca) bar on the Sunday morning before our flight. Kerts are apparently old ruin bars- ramshackle affairs in old townhouses with courtyards that are meant to be brilliant during the summer. Come daytime, they turn into cafés and clearly also event spaces, including for this market where you could pick up anything from pickles to blueberry juice.
|Emerging from the Kertz farmer’s market with a proud purchase|
|Inside the Kertz
|A novel way of selling veg|
|The streets of Budapest
|A camera shop we passed that caught my eye|
|Browsing classical LPs
Back at home, I wanted to take inspiration from some of the dishes we’d tried and loved. Particularly the warming winter stews and smoky flavours. This particular dish naturally sprung to mind as not just typical of Hungary but a modern day classic. Who can forget, after all, thisscene from When Harry met Sally?
For this recipe, any old paprika will do, but if you can get hold of some of the smoky, slightly sweeter variety that is ubiquitous is Hungary, that will absolutely make for the most evocative dish.
Chicken Paprikash Stew
You will need:
4 chicken thighs (skin on)
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 tsp paprika
1 tsp flour
generous pinch oregano
salt and pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 large tomatoes, chopped
300-400ml chicken stock
2 peppers- 1 yellow and 1 orange, cut into strips
100 ml full fat crème fraiche
handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1. Brown chicken thighs over a low heat, rendering the fat right down. Set aside and wipe out the pan of any excess fat.
2. Soften diced onions in the same pan, without colouring (as they teach us in school, a damp cartouch, low heat and a pan lid will generally do the trick. As long as you don’t walk too far away from the kitchen for too long).
3. Once the onion is soft, add garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add flour, seasoning, tomatoes and tomato paste and continue to cook for another few minutes before gradually adding the stock.
4. Bring to a simmer then add chicken pieces. Leave to bubble gently on the hob for approx. 30 minutes.
5. Finally, add the peppers and cook for approx. 5 minutes. Stir in crème fraiche and heat through until thickened slightly. Add chopped parsley before serving in generous bowls with a bit of bread or with a rice.