Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Food in Budapest - 7 Scams for 7 Days

It was Monday, October 28, 2013 and I had just spent an entire week of my life in Budapest, Hungary. There were some undeniably good things about the city, such as the presence of cormorants in the man-made pond in the city park and the architecture of some of the buildings.
But when it came to food, this city was a scam.

Waiting at the Keleti train station for a train to Bratislava, Slovakia, I stopped to reflect on how many times the Budapest food industry had scammed me in a mere seven days. I was also busy trying to force down a bottle of soda water that I yet again accidentally bought because apparently this city doesn’t sell noncarbonated bottled water.

The Hungarian Food Scams:

  1. Blueberries.
What they should look like

Mmmm, fresh blueberries at an organic-looking little produce market. I paid over $1 for a small handful (about 20) of blueberries which ended up having more seed than fruit! Since when do blueberries come with seeds? Bitter and inedible, I decided to leave them on the side of the bridge. Doubt the birds or the homeless would touch them, though.

  1. Falafels
Some of the best. From Le Marais in Paris.

Falafel-pita, the amazingly fulfilling street food that got me through Israel, is sold at Turkish kebab restaurants throughout Budapest; there’s at least one on every block. In Budapest, a falafel sandwich is actually a flour tortilla containing three dry, tasteless, microwaved falafels and a handful of shredded iceberg lettuce. They don’t even have hummus!

  1. Baklava
Spain had a much more impressive selection...

No better than the falafel situation, baklava in Budapest is a watery, sugary mess lacking texture, flavor, and variety. I’m missing Israel more and more.

  1. Water
One would think they could count on the availability of bottled water in a developed country such as Hungary. But no, this country only sells sparkling water. I made about a dozen attempts to buy still bottled water in supermarkets, newsstands, gift shops, and other places, with a success rate of zero. I asked, I tried to read labels, I shook all the bottles to check for bubbles… it simply doesn’t exist.

  1. Langos
Is this really supposed to be appetizing?

This is supposedly a ‘traditional’ Hungarian bread. But from my experiences, it’s actually just a chewy, microwaved greasy slab of dough smeared with sour cream and half-melted cheap cheese. Gross.

  1. Burger King
Let’s just say the actual products are so far removed from the photographs in the windows and on the menus that it should be illegal. Luckily I don't regularly frequent this place.

  1. Fruit at the Keleti Train Station
I spent my last minutes in Hungary at the train station trying to use up my last 200 Forints (just under $1). I’ll buy a piece of fruit, I thought. Wrong. I went to the fruit stand to ask how much a banana cost, but my 200 Forints weren’t enough. Nor were they enough for an apple. Thinking it was a communication issue, I showed her the change I had left and asked what I could buy, and she laughed in my face. ‘Hahaha, nothing! You fool!’ she might as well have said.
In my country, a dollar most always buys one a piece of fruit…