One thing we’ve learned in our time here in Budapest has been that there’s a cheap way to eat and an expensive way to eat.
There are two sides to the city, and in many areas, they’re intermingled among one another.
For the first couple of weeks, we have been staying near Blaha Lujza square, which is on the körút, a boulevard forming a semicircle around the downtown core on the Pest side. The areas along the boulevard contain a mix of native Hungarians and tourists.
The food options nearby reflect that.
On one hand, there are many bars and restaurants that cater to tourists. There’s even a Starbucks just one tram stop up the boulevard (noted: the wifi there is nowhere near as good as some online reviews have claimed; it was basically unusable the one time I tried it). The prices at eat-in restaurants are pretty reasonable, but as anyone who eats out often knows, it’s not a fiscally sustainable method of eating. The cheapest entrees at many restaurants in tourist areas run around 2000 forint, which is around $7.25. And of course they go up from there. I think we paid 1990 forint for csirke paprikás (paprika chicken) at a Hungarian restaurant the other day.
But on the other hand, there are a number of hole-in-the-wall places that offer delicious food for little money. The first place we discovered was a small Turkish gyro shop (not listed on Google maps, FYI) that offered delicious, healthy looking pita wraps for 650 forint (about $2.35 USD) each. They’re huge, and we’ve never needed more than three of them to feed the family for a meal. Typically, we can get away with just two. We also met a nice Greek fellow at a gyro shop the other day while we were waiting to look at an apartment. The flavor of the gyros was a little different, but they were still delicious. And cheap.
There’s also a little chain called Pizza King that sells pizza and gyros. We’ve been there twice. The first time, we got four large slices of pizza (noted: corn is a common pizza topping here; we’ve seen it at every pizza or lángos place we’ve walked by) for 200 forint each. All together, we paid a little less than $3. We supplemented that with some carrots and apples from the grocery store for a more-or-less complete meal.
Pizza King also sells gyro boxes, which basically amount to a large gyro salad with rice, for 550 forint each. Two of those lasted us one meal and half of another.
And when we took the subway out to IKEA to buy a high chair for the baby, we stopped for dinner at a small stand selling lángos, which in this case was a lot like pizza, but with thicker bread. Three of those filled us up for about $3 total.
Bread here is inexpensive, too, and bakeries proffering delicious wares are all over the city. Breakfasts have often consisted of pastries from the various pékségek we’ve encountered.
Oh, one more thing: Want a glass of wine with dinner? Hungarian wine is pretty good and pretty cheap. The grocery store near our flat sells a lot of local options for under 1000 forint ($3.60), with many of them as cheap as 500 forint ($1.80).