Underrated Food Cities: Bratislava and Budapest

A gem of a find from my travels: check the ingredients in case you were in doubt.


Budapest is a major European destination while Bratislava is less so. However, I believe both cities are wonderful locations for different reasons – Budapest, because the cultural vibe and architecture is similar to Vienna, and Bratislava, because though its architecture is the legacy of Communism, it’s a really laid-back capital city with cobblestone streets and good, friendly service.

But both have got wide, clean boulevards with trendy cafés and restaurants, and though Budapest uses the forint and Bratislava the Euro, you will not disagree with the prices.

Bratislava’s up first.

A well-known statue off the main square in Bratislava. You could trip over it if you’re not paying attention…

Left: Church of St. Elizabeth, or the Blue Church, a short walk from the center. It’s in the Secessionist (Art Nouveau) style, with gorgeous mosaic-work on the side – a must-see. Right: the EU Slovakia bear.

If you’re headed there, I highly recommend Hostel Blues – a reasonable, centrally-located hostel that’s clean, friendly, and offers lots of opportunities to meet others.

They’ll also recommend you some great eateries if you ask. Bratislava’s *gastronomy* has got a lot to offer.

Classic chicken with rice and the Slovak national beer, Zlatý Bažant
When you’re in Bratislava, it would be a crime to skip halušky – I have written about it here in connection with Czech food – but the original Slovak-style, gnocchi with fresh brynza (Slovak sheep’s cheese) and bits of fried bacon.

From Da Vinci bistro
I am huge on comfort food, and this is it. Warm, tummy-filling, the perfect compromise between wanting pasta and wanting potatoes, wanting meat and wanting cheese. So needless to say, it’s not Kosher-friendly.

Soupa is one of my favorite restaurants in this world. It was recommended to me when I was heading to Bratislava, and when I decided to go there for lunch, I was rain-soaked and hungry, and discovered I had to wait on a line that stretched to the corner of the street. I almost gave up, but I’m so happy I didn’t – where there’s a line, there’s usually a reason for that line, and that’s true here 100 times over.

When you enter, you take a tray and utensils and study the options in laid out for you behind the glass, some of which are vegetarian-friendly. You tell the server what you want and she gives you a portion à la carte. You can add some great-looking pastries or muffins or a smoothie. The food is on rotation and you’ll never get the same thing. Even the simple tomato soup is something to behold. I’ve had a Middle Eastern chickpea dish with couscous, Indian curry chicken, and Greek moussaka. All rivaled home-cooked versions.

It’s a small, cutely decorated place with a high-turnover, since no one waits on your table. So don’t leave the line, even if you have to wait outside in the rain without an umbrella.

Hipster-style coffee scene



From a café near the Old Market (Stará tržnica). I got fresh fruit juice and Oreo cheesecake.

Speaking of which, Budapest also has an intrinsically classy café scene. One of my favorites, across the street from my hostel, was Szabo Marcipan Museum. Check their model of the Hungarian parliament building, MADE OF MARZIPAN!


That alone shows you what the artistic Hungarian mind can accomplish, but the Gothic and Renaissance Revival-style parliament building itself rivals Bucharest’s for grandeur:


In the café, I had a marzipan chocolate cake and a fresh berry smoothie. Not cheap, but worth it.

If this didn’t brighten your outlook immediately, Budapest has a great foodie scene. In the lively downtown area, there’s a food truck village with any kind of local and foreign food you could imagine:

Langoše is a Hungarian dish, a piece of round fried dough smothered in ketchup and grated cheese. I’m not a fan… instead, I took the opportunity to eat ramen for the first time since I’d come to Europe!

Also try goulash, a classic Hungarian dish. I ate a couple bowls while there but unfortunately don’t have the photos to show for it.

Another of my favorites is Spinoza, a fine-dining restaurant in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest, with weekly Klezmer music performances. There wasn’t any when my friend and I were there, but we did have some excellent duck, chickpeas, and couscous.

Via spinozacafe.hu
With the time you’re not stuffing yourself on reasonable, quality food in Budapest, be sure to check out the House of Terror Museum, which tackles the mass imprisonment, killings and expulsion of Hungarians during the Nazi and Soviet regimes. The information there is clear, immense, and overwhelming, but it’s an important story to be told. It’s probably the only example of a museum when the audio guide didn’t annoy me to death.

I learned, and laughed later that I hadn’t known, that the city’s name comes from the combined western and eastern sections (cut by the Danube), Buda and Pest, both of which have different vibes. Pest has the downtown and Buda gets more residential. You can cross over the river via many bridges, including the gorgeous Chain Bridge with its lion statues standing guard.

Have you been to Bratislava or Budapest? Where are your favorite places and recommendations?


A misty view of the Parliament building from across the Danube at Buda Castle


  1. I lived in Bratislava when I was attending university there, from 1995 to 2000. The Blue Church was the only thing from your post that was there, and maybe Da Vinci, if memory serves. I’d offer a correction, though: You can’t trip over the Man at Work (Čumil) statue because there are always tourists around taking photos of it.


  2. I haven’t been to Bratislava in ages, but I’ve been to Budapest about four times and I never get bored of the place. Architecturally and historically, Budapest is simply astounding.


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