My apartment here in Budapest is just off one of those main boulevards that every big city has. It is heavily trafficked by motor and foot alike. Along the wide sidewalk are hundreds of restaurants and cafés, almost all of them shit. Un memorable places lacking in character, quality food and creative cuisine. But they are flocked to by tourists because of their superficial appearance and most of all, convenience.
I don’t eat at those restaurants. Food is one of my biggest expenditures traveling, so of course I’ll do it right. Plus, I’ve found that food offers a great way to explore a new city.
It gets repetitive seeking out tourist destinations and monuments. Across countries and cities, they tend to lose their distinction when you’ve seen too many. Plus the hordes of tourists and the spectacle of grimy industry and low level crime that follows makes these sights unappealing for long periods of time. I’m all for choosing random points on the map and exploring, but these are even better with a destination, especially a food one.
It’s a strange reliance on the internet, but one that has it’s benefits. Look up where you want to go beforehand, take an interesting route to go there, and hopefully the restaurant is in a new neighborhood.
I find this is often the case with good food in new cities. The best places to eat and have coffee are tucked away in nice streets or little neighborhoods. Sometimes they are somewhere familiar, but the journey to them takes you through new places.
Today I met with the contemporary curator at the Museum of Fine Arts. I’m getting used to how these meetings go, we swap backgrounds, I try to explain why I’m here (it is easiest to explain it as a curating residency), then I get a guided tour of the exhibition, followed by a peek behind the scenes.
The MFA is like the Louvre or the British Museum, it is in an impressive classically styled building, and has a large collection of historically important works from across Europe. Most of the masters are represented. However, it has no Hungarian art (I wonder if they themselves don’t consider their tradition fine art…). What’s great is that the museum proves that for many years the government did have a system of buying art. I’ve heard it over and over again, now I got to see it. The negative to this is that the Hungarian people see art collecting as a governmental act rather than a private practice, so nowadays the market is far from thriving domestically.
Anyway, the best parts were the temporary exhibit of Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs and drawings, and the archives. I got to see hundreds of lithographs of Miro, Chillida, Tapies, Hartung and more. These were shown in a temporary exhibit previously. I was not only fortunate to get eyes on those but to see the museum, as they are soon closing for a three year renovation project.
Back to food. I left the museum hungry, and was quickly dismayed by the pouring rain. The MFA is on hero’s square and it was raining so hard even that was vacated. I figured it was the perfect time for some ramen. I’d walked by a place Ramenka numerous times, intrigued by the idea and it’s minimalist design. A quick internet search showed vastly favorable reviews, and let’s be honest, there is only so much Hungarian food one can eat.
The restaurant is on a popular street, and as I said, I’ve walked by it a few times. But never from this direction. So I pretended I was in Tacoma, and a few minutes later I didn’t even notice the rain. Soon it stopped all together.
I walked by some stately official looking buildings, down cobbled alleys and past cool little shops. The kind of sights that make you linger but don’t scream to be photographed. Close to the restaurant, I entered a covered pedestrian zone full of restaurants. A lot were overpriced, looked like they lacked in character but specialized in many drinks and outdoor seating. But a coffee shop and coffee roaster nonetheless caught my eye. I saved the spot in my mind.
The ramen was spot on, as I was cold, a little wet, and as it turns out, desperately missing Asian food. Turns out the preparation is very authentic, with the broth being brewed at least six hours. Good luck finding western silverware either. Older generations might not enjoy the community seating, modern design or trance music, but I found the Ambiance fit the food nicely. All in all, they successfully create a unique space and experience despite being on a known party street.
So after lunch, my mind goes to one thing of course. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. I had looked up the cafe, Blue Bird Cafe and seeing overwhelming good reviews. I’d already found great third wave coffee in Budapest, but was stoked for more. Hands down, this place wins. The coffee was delicious and expertly prepared, and the seating was comfortable, with great people watching opportunities. It doesn’t hurt that the name is eerily similar to my favorite roaster back in Tacoma…
So there you have it, a little exploration, a little research, and you eat better and see more unique things. I’m lacking the wifi powers to get pictures up, but they’ll come. My time in Budapest is coming to a close, and there is still a lot to be said. And to be done for that matter. And of course, to be eaten.