One of the best things about travelling is trying out new dishes, and tantalizing your taste buds with something they’ve never experienced before. Budapest food is definitely not going to disappoint you!
Knowing what to eat in Budapest can be a bit of a headache, though. There’s a galaxy of choices: from humble street food, to vast lists of choices in restaurant menus, and a lot of it can be pretty unfamiliar. Traditional Hungarian food is delicious and flavorsome, but it doesn’t seem to have traveled far beyond the country’s borders. I’ll happily admit that I had no idea what to expect before I visited Budapest, except that there would be goulash, and an awful lot of paprika.
Fear not, uncertain traveler! I’m going to walk you through some of the most popular choices, letting you know exactly what they are, and what they taste like. I’m even going to let you in on the secret of where to find some of the best food in the city. Basically, all the useful info that you’ve been craving like your favorite sugary snack!
Visiting Budapest? Spending three or less days there? Awesome! Check out my 3 days in Budapest itinerary, which you can also use for a 2 day stay, or even a single day!
Budapest Food Worries?
Travelling to another country with no idea what the local cuisine is like can be a tad worrisome. Before my trip, I took to obsessively looking up Budapest food options, mostly because I had an irrational fear of paprika. Don’t laugh; I had a traumatic incident, okaaaay? I was worried that every single thing I ordered was going to come with mouth-scorching amounts of paprika, which would turn me into a cheap copy of one of the dragons from Game of Thrones. It sounds so silly, but it was a genuine worry.
So if you’ve found yourself typing “what do Hungarians eat” into Google – relax. Not only is there just as many options as you’ll be used to at home, but not all of them are hot and spicy. In fact, most places will allow you to choose how spicy your food is, by providing you with little pots of paprika to mix into your food. That’s better than having a cook decide for you! Plus if spicy food really isn’t your thing, there’s all those classical Hungarian sweets and cakes to look forward to!
You’ll come home from Budapest wondering why you were ever worried – I’ve even conquered my fear of paprika! I rather like it now! If that sounds like you, check out these Hungarian recipes if you want to try your hand at making your own Budapest food!
Okay, let’s get down to business. Here’s what to eat in Budapest: the traditional Hungarian food you really must try!
Street food in Budapest
Need a quick bite, or a tasty lunch? Budapest food has you covered with these portable provisions!
Lángos are the star item on any list of Budapest street food – they’re beloved by tourists and locals alike, and are completely native to Hungary.
What does it look like? Lángos are made from deep-fried dough, stretched out into a plate-like shape.
How does it taste? Halfway between a pancake and a doughnut, and quite looks like it, too! But just to add another comparison, it can also be compared to pizza, thanks to the mind-blowing array of toppings that you’ll see available. Sour cream and cheese is the most common, but you can also get them with ham and sausages, garlic cream, potato, or even sugar and jam. I decided to copy the local guy in the queue ahead of me (heck, he looked like he knew what he was doing), and had mine plain with a dusting of salt on top. Lángos are definitely a good choice for lunch; they’re filling and tasty!
If you’ve been to Prague in the Czech Republic (or if you’ve just read my guide to traditional Prague foods!), you’ll be very familiar with chimney cakes. You see them pretty much everywhere; no joke. But the amusing part is that they’re not Czech at all: they’re actually Hungarian!
What does it look like? Kinda like a chimney, funnily enough.
What does it taste like? Imagine a ribbon-shaped doughnut wrapped around a stick, and cooked. That’s pretty much what we’ve got here. You can get them with various fillings, from chocolate and Nutella to ice cream, which you can then eat very messily. Although weirdly enough, the nicest one that I’ve ever had was located in a small kiosk on Margaret Island, and it was just completely plain. Expect your chimney cake to be doughnutty, with an element of vanilla and cinnamon, and a hell of a lot of sugar.
Again, if you’ve visited Hungary’s next door neighbor of Slovakia, or the Czech Republic, then you’ll be very familiar with fried cheese. Delicious and calorific!
What does it look like? If anything, it’s most reminiscent of a hash brown; specifically those ones which come in a triangle shape. Would probably be equally awesome with breakfast.
What does it taste like? Cheese. Lashings and lashings of cooked, melting, squishy cheese. It’s always a fairly mild cheese, similar to a Cheddar, with an occasional slightly smoky taste. If you can happily eat the melted cheese on a pizza, then you won’t have any problems here. Will leave you with the bitter aftertaste of knowing that you’ll need to walk roughly 57 miles to burn off the calories.
Traditional Hungarian food
Right, lets get on to the real highlights of the Budapest food scene – the traditional Hungarian food which makes up the majority of main courses! If you’re still dithering on what to eat in Budapest, then you’re going to find the answer on this list – the only problem is narrowing it down!
Hungarian Great Plains Goulash soup
C’mon, did you really think that you were going to get an article about traditional Budapest food without goulash being on the top of the list? I’m way more predictable than that!!
What does it look like? Pretty much like a thick stew. Expect a reddish-brown (yup, there’s paprika) sauce, with meat and vegetables bobbing about. The dish is often served in a plain bowl, with Hungarian Lipóti rustic bread on the side. I you’re feeling like you want to eat, drink, and be Magyar, get one which comes in a bowl made of bread. These are filling and delicious: wise visitors will make certain to eat the stew before eating the bread, otherwise it’s gonna get messy.
What does it taste like? A really hearty soup – Great Plains goulash is generally chock-full of meat and vegetables. It originates with the medieval herdsmen who used to camp under the stars with their cattle, and chuck whatever they had to hand into their stew. You can expect beef, onion, carrots, and even cured bacon, along with the later additions of paprika and tomato. It’s simple and comforting, and is beloved enough by the local population to be considered the national dish of Hungary! You also don’t need to worry about it being too spicy – although it’ll come with a bit of paprika already added for taste, it’ll generally come with a bowl of extra spice for you to make it as scorching as you please.
It would be an act of criminal negligence to visit Budapest, and not try proper goulash! If you don’t, I’ll personally phone the airport, and have them repeatedly turn you back until you have some (not really). And vegetarians are included too: a number of restaurants offer a completely veggie version! See the “Where to Eat in Budapest” section below for my tip on where to find the best goulash soup in Budapest!
Sharing the spotlight with goulash, in terms of recognizable Hungarian food, is chicken paprikash. If white meat is more your thing, then you’ll find this one hard to resist!
What does it look like? A chicken fillet smothered in an orange-brown sauce, usually served on a bed of pasta noodles, with a generous splat of sour cream on top.
What does it taste like? Creamy chicken with a little bit of a kick. This is due to – surprise surprise! – paprika, but it’s generally another one where you can choose how spicy you have it. The basic setting is a mild spiciness: enough to notice, but nothing that’s going to burn your taste buds off. The sour cream takes the edge off the spice if you do happen to overdo it a little, as do the “gnocchi” noodles. The sauce is usually comprised of paprika, tomatoes, sour cream, onions, and green peppers, which all mix together rather beautifully into a smooth and tasty sauce, which’ll get that chicken going down nicely!
Yup, it’s not just Germany and Austria who get all the schnitzel fun. Like most of central Europe, Hungary has it’s own version – and it’s just as tasty!
What does it look like? Reminiscent of a pork steak which has lost an argument with an industrial steamroller, before being coated in breadcrumbs.
What does it taste like? Exactly the same as its Austrian cousin, thanks to the cross-cultural pollination of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The meat is usually pork or veal, flattened out and coated in a gently spiced breadcrumb (note: this generally doesn’t contain paprika, so if you fancy a break from it, schnitzel isn’t a bad choice). The escalope is then fried, and served with parsley potatoes for a meal which is strangely sweet-tasting. Squeeze a quarter of lemon over the schnitzel for optimum tastiness. Hungarian appetites must be pretty good, because during my quest for the best Budapest food, I sampled the biggest schnitzel I’ve ever seen in my life – and finished it all. Oh, how I suffer for you guys!
Beef stew with cottage cheese pasta
Fancy a hearty and meaty stew, but not in the mood for goulash? Try this one instead!
What does it look like? If you’ve visited the Czech Republic, remember what they call goulash there? This is the same thing: a thick beef stew in a rich gravy, with no additional vegetables. It’s very different to Hungarian goulash!
What does it taste like? Imagine tender chunks of beef in a thick beef sauce, with a magic touch of paprika, and you’ve pretty much got it. This is another dish which originated with ye olde Hungarian herdsmen: any animals which were too old or feeble to keep up with the herd were transformed into dinner for the night, with a later addition of paprika to keep things interesting. The cottage cheese pasta was an unexpected delight: I’d never tried it beforehand, and it was very nice indeed! It also offsets the rich beef stew rather perfectly, as the cottage cheese soaks up the meat stew rather nicely. It’s a vegan’s nightmare, but extremely tasty for carnivores!
Stuffed cabbage is a favorite throughout central and eastern Europe, whether it be Romania or Poland, but it has a special place in the heart of Hungarians. It’s a perfect example of a dish coming together because of Hungary’s unique history – the meat element came from the nomadic Magyar tribes, the cabbage from their new settlements when they finally stopped wandering. It’s basically early fusion food, y’all.
What does it look like? The bastard child of a plate of cannelloni and a cabbage.
What does it taste like? Cabbage leaves are lovingly pickled, then wrapped around some tender, slow-cooked meat which falls apart when you poke it. Soft rice adds bulk, and holds it all together. The juicy meat is perfectly offset by the vegetable tang of the pickled cabbage, and something that sounds completely alien suddenly turns into your new favorite. It’s definitely one of those dishes that you need to try for yourself, but completely rewards you! It’s often served with fresh sour cream, and rustic bread; you’ll like it far more than you think you will!
Chicken breast stuffed with cheese and bacon
Hungarian cuisine likes to stuff things inside other things. We’re now going to ignore how completely wrong that sounds, and describe this porky treat (I can’t help it, okay?).
What does it look like? The most straightforward dish on our list of Budapest food, the chicken breast stuffed with cheese and bacon looks pretty much like a chicken breast stuffed with cheese and bacon.
What does it taste like? If you get a good restaurant serving this (see my recommendation below!), the chicken fillet will be chargrilled. This means that the cheese will be delightfully melted and smoky-tasting, whilst the salt of the bacon gives it a perfect tang. It’s a really simple dish, and one that might seem quite plain compared to some of the others when you’re deciding what to eat in Budapest (no paprika? No spicy sauce?), but the flavors all work together beautifully. It’s fully deserving of its place on a list of good Budapest food!
We’re getting back to the paprika-laden stuff! This chicken dish is perfect for the cautious traveler, who might want a gentle introduction to the spicier side of traditional Hungarian food.
What does it look like? A slightly flattened, grilled chicken fillet, coated in a mouthwatering mix of seasonings. Unlike Chicken Paprikash, it doesn’t come in a sauce, and so is less likely to drip down your favorite travel clothes. I’m not speaking from personal experience here, I swear.
What does it taste like? Sweet, with the perfect dash of spice. Hungarian-style chicken is prepared by coating the chicken fillet with tomato juice, paprika, sugar, salt and onions. It’s a mix which really does zing in the mouth, and bring out the contrasts in the ingredients. It’s genuinely a perfect place to start if you’re newly-arrived in Budapest, allowing you to sample the flavors of the area without completely exposing your stomach to culture shock. If you’re good with spices, it generally comes with a side portion of paprika so that you can add as much spice as you like. Try to build it up a little more as you eat it; start off steady, then go as nuclear as you wish!
Pork sirloin skewer with bacon
This is another Budapest food dish which sounds fairly simple, but the description doesn’t do it justice. There is SO much flavor going on in this meal, and it was my favorite of the dishes I tried! I still dream of it now… and wake up chewing my duvet. Send help, guys.
What does it look like? Like a mutated chicken satay. Pork sirloin and bacon are wrapped together in a whirl-shape, popped on a skewer, and drowned in a sauce.
What does it taste like? Angels dancing across the surface of your tongue. Sunbeams shining on your mouth from above. Pixies tickling your taste buds. Yep, it’s that good. The quality pork sirloin combines beautifully with salty, chargrilled bacon, and it’s guaranteed to get your mouth watering in 0.01 seconds. The sauce is very similar to that found on a chicken paprikash, and just brings everything to life, as well as stopping the pork from being dry. It’s not spicy; just a gorgeous mix of flavors. Also, if you’re lucky, it may be served with potato chips – these aren’t the thin crispy things you’re thinking of, though. They’re slices of potato, spiced with a touch of salt and pepper, and baked to a crispy finish.
Seriously – if you spot this dish on the menu, order it. It’s so, soooo good!!
Hungarian braided grilled sausage
Every so often, you’ll order one of those dishes. The ones that when they’re delivered to your table, it makes you go “whoa!”, and everyone sitting at the other tables looks around to see what the fuss is about. You can hear a little chorus of “wow!”s from other diners. Yup, Hungarian braided sausages are one of those dishes.
What does it look like? Hold your hats, folks; this one is a showstopper. It’s three orange-ish Hungarian sausages braided together in a plait, and it’s big. It will be coming halfway off your plate, and it will stun you at first glance!
What does it taste like? Hungarian sausages tend to be a bit spicier than the standard, similar to a pepperoni – you’ll also find that they’re quite moist to eat. The meat gets quite juicy within the sausage skin, meaning that it fairly melts in the mouth when you eat it! The sausage itself will generally be grilled, and served with parsley potatoes and horseradish. It’s on the spicy scale, but it’s not going to cause you any gastric distress!
Gypsy-style pork steak
This is another authentic, rustic Hungarian dish – and a must for your Budapest food sampling list! Bonus points if you eat it in a restaurant with a live Gypsy band.
What does it look like? Kinda like a pork chop, but one which has been on holiday to somewhere warm and sunny. Often has a pork rind on top of it.
What does it taste like? Prepare to repel vampires from neighboring Romania, because this one can get a bit heavy on the garlic. But it’s actually quite mild on the spice: the flavor comes more from the garlic and other seasonings, and it’s not terribly strong. It’ll also have some good tastes on your tongue from being grilled, which always adds that nice, smoky tang. The pork rind will usually be coated in paprika, and you can cut it apart a little at a time to combine with the pork itself. Gypsy pork is simple and rustic, but utterly delicious!
Have you been reading this list, and thinking “pah! These all sound far too mild. Take me to the hot stuff, baby!”? If so, ooo, easy tiger! Rowr! But more importantly, this is what you’re looking for – Fisherman’s Soup is considered one of the hottest dishes native to Europe. It’s time to say hello again to our old friend paprika!
What does it look like? Like a soup, really. A reddish-brown mixture with various varieties of fish bobbing in it. Can also be served in a bread bowl similar to that of the Great Plains goulash, but this isn’t super common.
What does it taste like? Hot. Trust me. This is one of the hotter options available when it comes to Budapest food, so it’s definitely not one to try if you’re a bit uncertain about how you’ll cope with it! It’s got a lot of paprika in it, as well as peppers and onions. It’ll also contain a lot of fish, though exactly which species you’ll get depends on the variety of soup you’re ordering – you can generally expect to have some carp in there, though (the presence of which makes it a traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Hungary). My boyfriend, who likes his food a bit spicy, recommends adding extra paprika to the soup. That Anxious Traveller is not responsible for any toilet-related incidents which may occur due to following this advice.
Fear not, vegetarians! You may have been reading through this list in dismay, but rest assured that Budapest has plenty of options for you too. There’s a very good selection of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in the city, but if you happen to be traveling with dedicated meat-eaters and visiting a standard restaurant, this may be the option for you.
What does it look like? Various vegetables coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried, because traditional Hungarian food is charmingly dedicated to being heavy.
What does it taste like? Whether you’re vegetarian or not, you’ll really like this. If you’ve ever had an onion ring, you’ll know what to expect – expect marrow, mushrooms, onions, and whatever else is seasonably available. Some restaurants will also serve this with fried cheese – vegans beware.
Desserts and sweets
A trip into the Budapest food scene just wouldn’t be complete without a diversion into Budapest desserts and sweets – in a country renowned for its cakes, the capital provides a smorgasbord of choice. The only problem you’ll have is making room for them: traditional Hungarian food, especially the mains, are so heavy that you’ll struggle to get a dessert down. You may be better served by stopping in a cake shop for lunch instead!
Golden walnut dumplings
In the restaurant where I ordered this, my waiter brought over the dessert menu, and said “I never try to influence what people choose, except with the desserts. Try the Golden Gnocchi, it’s too good!” Listen to my waiter, for he is a very wise man.
What does it look like? This dessert has two names, golden dumplings and golden gnocchi, and they’re both accurate. They do look much like a large, sugary dumpling.
What does it taste like? Heaven. They’re balls of yeast dough which are dipped in butter, rolled in sugar and walnuts, and lovingly baked until they acquire their signature golden color. It’s topped off with lashings of vanilla custard – I’m not usually a huge fan of custard, but trust me: this stuff is good. All in all, it’s a sweet ball of goodness which will have your lips smacking in delight. Seriously, take the advice of my waiter; the guy knows his stuff.
Rejoice cake fans, for Hungary is famous for its collection of confectionery! Quite possibly a leftover of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, given the Austrian tendency to invent as many delicious cakes as possible, Budapest has been left with a legacy of baking. There’s too many different types to list in detail, but you should definitely stop by a cake shop in the city, and sample whatever takes your fancy. Just to whet your appetite, here’s some traditional favorites:
Dobos Torte: Layered sponge and chocolate buttercream, with a slab of caramel on top.
Esterházy Torte: Vanilla cream between layers of walnutty sponge cake.
Flódni: Budapest’s quintessential Jewish treat: layers of poppy seed, walnut, and apple.
Ischler: Apricot jam between two crunchy chocolate-dipped layers.
Krémes: Lashings of vanilla cream between two layers of puff pastry. Not to be confused with Krispy Kremes.
Have a look here for more info on Hungarian cakes, and food in general!
Where to eat in Budapest
Dining on good food is highly important in Hungarian culture, and so you can expect to find Budapest food everywhere you look. Seriously. Walk down any street, and you’ll have more options than you can count. The good news is that this means that there’s plenty of choice, and for all budgets too! I’m going to give you my favorite options for street food, restaurants, and cakes, giving a good representation of what to eat in Budapest.
Cheap Hungarian food is everywhere. You won’t have to move far out of the city center to find little hole in the wall places selling takeaway goulash, or stalls selling everything from lángos to sausages. However, if you want plenty of cheap food options all in one place, you can’t do better than popping along to the Budapest Central Market. This large market hall (with a beautifully tiled roof) is at the bottom end of Váci Street, which is the main shopping thoroughfare – you’re bound to find yourself here at some point. The whole ground floor of the market is devoted to food, and it’s definitely the best place to grab a bargain. This is without doubt the best place to get lángos!
On the subject of stalls, watch out for ones located in popular areas, such as on Váci Street or by Fisherman’s Bastion. You’ll pay an absolute premium for anything on these.
You know I just told you not on to eat near Váci Street? Well, this is where you ignore it, because my absolute favorite restaurant in Budapest is based just off it. This place serves delicious, traditional Hungarian food at reasonable prices, in direct contrast to some of the places in the immediate area!
The Hungarian Hell’s Kitchen (also know as “Nagy Fa-Tál Étterem”) is located on Kígyó Street, and it’s simply the best food you’ll taste during your stay. It features all of the dishes I’ve listed above, cooked to perfection on a flame grill in front of your eyes. It serves the best goulash soup in Budapest, without doubt. My boyfriend and I ate here so many times whilst we were in Budapest, and not once did we have any complaints or issues with the food – everything was perfect every time. They also have an excellent Gypsy band playing every evening – I usually avoid places with live music like the plague, but this place truly abolished my musical prejudices. These guys are good.
Visit the Hungarian Hell’s Kitchen; you really won’t be disappointed!
As you’d expect from a city with a rich tradition of rich cakes, Budapest has a heck of a lot of places where you can treat yourself to a few slices of delight. These range from the humble to the truly grand, but whatever the scale, all of them will stock a full range of classical Hungarian sweets and cakes. Check out the following to be truly spoiled:
Gerbeaud: So devoted to cakes that it even has its own variety, the eponymous Gerbeaud Slice.
New York Cafe: No trip to Budapest is complete without a trip to this photogenic grand cafe, but be prepared to pay higher prices.
Fröhlich Confectionary: The place to get Jewish sweetie treaties, including Flódni.
Daubner: An excellent option if you want top quality cakes to take away!
I hope that this guide to Budapest food has been useful, and has got you inspired to try a few dishes! Traditional Hungarian food came as such a pleasant surprise: I really knew so little about it before I visited, and I came away absolutely in love with it. I think you will too – I highly recommend buying some paprika or goulash mix whilst you’re in Budapest, because you’re going to want to try to recreate it! Plus the sweet paprika taste awesome sprinkled on burgers; just sayin’.
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By the way! This article may contain affiliate links. They don’t incur any extra costs or nastiness to you, but basically mean that I get a few pennies which go towards the running of this blog. Any extra money goes towards petitioning Deliveroo to have Hungarian food cycled across Europe to my residence – they don’t seem to be going for it, for some reason. Like, weird.