Friday, January 15, 2016

Eating In Hungary

You may have realized from my previous post that I really enjoy visiting Hungary and that one of the reasons is for the food. On my last evening in Budapest I went out in search of dinner. In the spirit of adventure and also believing that the meal would be delicious wherever I ended up, I planned to stop at the first restaurant that looked like it was well populated with locals. Not understanding a word of Hungarian, a language that bears no relationship at all to any other language I know, I thought that I would just point at the menu and be pleasantly surprised by whatever I was served. I found a warm and welcoming restaurant with just one table open, happily a small table in the corner where a woman eating alone in a foreign country could feel comfortable. When I looked at the menu I was at first a little disappointed to see that it was printed in Hungarian and English. There went the sense of adventure! But how glad I was for that English translation when I saw that most of the offerings were for various combinations of animal guts; intestines stuffed with chopped kidney, scrambled brains topped with sweetbreads, scrambled sweetbreads served on a bed of sauteed intestines... Yes, I did eat there. Thanks to the English translation I was able to order a lovely chicken dish. With no guts.
It is generally a good rule when traveling to avoid the restaurants that cater especially to tourists and seek out the places where the natives eat. The food will often be better and the prices lower. Be aware, however, that most European cultures eat their evening meal later than we are accustomed to. If you plan to find a good dinner restaurant based on the crowd inside at 5 or even 6 in the evening, you are probably going to find a restaurant that is filled with American tourists. In my experience, the locals don't venture out much before 7:30 and in many cases the good restaurants don't even open until after 7, sometimes as late as 9.

Major cities offer familiar options. I avoid fast food even when I am in the States, but especially so in Europe where there are so many more interesting options. Once, though, on my first solo trip, I was feeling timid and confused and vulnerable in the Latin Quarter of Milan, Italy. Everything was so different. So foreign. But I was hungry. I went through the familiar Golden Arches and ordered the Big Mac.
Big Surprise. The 2 all beef patties might have been beef (or perhaps not); the special sauce was Mexican style salsa; there was no lettuce; the cheese was mozzarella; pickles - no; onions - yes, sauteed and lots of them; and, the sesame seed bun was, in fact, rosemary foccacia bread.

Best rule of travel: always expected the unexpected and when it comes, embrace it.

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