Hangry in Hungary: I went to Budapest and didn't eat the goulash

2019-06-24 14:30
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(View from Citadella. PHOTO: Marisa Crous)

“Eat the goulash,” a friend whatsapped me when I arrived in Budapest.

And I tried, oh I tried to eat it. 

When I choose a destination to visit and I save for months on end to make that a reality, I refuse to be disappointed by a destination. However, the first night I arrived in Budapest, the city so many friends and family described to me as “incredible” left me with a hollow feeling in my stomach. 

A foreshadowing of my soon-to-come encounters with slick food merchants? Perhaps.  

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I always look for the best in a city, but on my first night in Budapest I was confronted with the Hungarian version of Happy Hour. Here it was all day, all night. Dirty streets, littered with English stag lads clad in West Ham football jerseys drawn to this destination for acts of drunken debauchery due to frequent and cheap Ryanair plane tickets and pints. 

What Kool-Aid had my friends and family consumed to deem this “incredible”? Was it served to them in a fish bowl with eight straws? Perhaps at one of the many, many, many Ibiza-style bars found scattered around central strip? Or was it consumed during a ruin bar hopping experience, I wondered... 

But, the next day I awoke with optimism. The kind of pay-as-you-go optimist I felt I needed to harness as I paid good money to see this “incredible” city.

First order of business, the Jewish Quarter. Incredible. The Gellert Baths and Spa. Incredible. 


(Outdoor pool. Gellert Baths and Spa. PHOTO: Marisa Crous)

The popularity of R35 ice coffees on menus in 34-degree heat. Incredible! 


(Solo coffee missions. PHOTO: Marisa Crous) 

Things were looking up.

The Danube River. Incredible. The Citadella. Incredible. 


(Women sitting on a bench by the Danube Riverbank. PHOTO: Marisa Crous) 

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The Central Market Hall. You know the drill...


But getting a hot meal for one. Not so much incredible.

An online search led me to some of the coolest goulash swindling merchants in town. One even called: Ghetto Goulash. It HAD to be cool. And delicious.

As with most cities, you're not likely to eat the most authentic and traditional dishes around the centre of town. Those are called “tourist traps”.

You go to where the locals go. 

So, I did. 

Goulashery #1:

Me: “Good evening, do you have a table for one?”

Host: “I have people waiting so I can’t guarantee you a table.”

Me: “Well, can I also wait?”

Host: “No, it will be at least 15 or 20 minutes and I have big groups waiting.”

(That’s when I realised he didn’t want to give up a table for 2 for 1)

Me: “Don’t you want more customers?

”Host: “Of course, this is a business.”

Me: “Well, you run it badly.”

Goulashery #2:

Me: “Good evening, do you have a table for one?”

Waiter: “You can’t have a table, the counter is for singles. And the counter is full now, so...”

(End of conversation. Byyyyye!).

By this point I just needed someone to be nice to me. Not one, but two goulasheries had rejected me as their patron. In one single evening. I almost cried into my non-existent meat stew. 

So, I went to the closest bar, ordered a beer and a roasted eggplant pita. And because the waiter allowed my presence as “a single” within the establishment, I tipped her 20%. 

After dinner, while plotting my TripAdvisor reviewers' revenge, I wondered whether solo travelling was really suited to me. Would I have found Budapest as “incredible” as the others if I had been there with someone? Would the obnoxious stag lads and dirty streets have faded into the background? Would I be the one sipping fish bowl after fish bowl with eight straws? Nine even!

Or did Budapest's hospitality towards singles just suck? 

I’ll have to go back with someone to see now won’t I.

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