I’d barely touched down in London and already I missed the eclectic and vibrant city that I got to know over my long girls’ weekend in Budapest. The Hungarian capital took my breath away; the tiny cobbled streets, the buzzing city vibe, the stunning architecture and the incredible food scene. Although Budapest is the capital and is jam packed with cultural highlights it’s not that large, so we managed to clock up quite a few thousand steps on our ventures. That said, it didn’t feel overly crammed and there were no sardine situations on public transport.
Split into two parts by the river Danube, Buda and Pest vary slightly. Crossing the river is beautiful with several bridges to choose from: Chain bridge is the oldest and is considered a major landmark and there’s also Elizabeth bridge further along the river. Buda is more hilly and is where we sweated our way to the top of the Castle District and the Citadella for a gorgeous panoramic view, while Pest is more commercial with the famous ruin bars. We visited the mecca of all ruin bars: Szimpla Kert, a messy array of chaos and colour. These bars are found in the old Jewish quarter in the ruins of abandoned buildings and stores and boast bustling courtyards with a laid-back but fun atmosphere.
From bars to baths, we also thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon in Budapest’s biggest and most popular thermal bath: Szechenyi Bath. There are several natural baths all at different temperatures, one even has a whirlpool – I’ve never laughed so much! Perhaps that laughter was equalled on our four-man (or four-woman) cycle ride around Margret Island the following day.
I could talk for hours about our travels, but it’s about time we discuss the food. To say the vegan food scene exceeded my expectations is an understatement. Every corner we turned, we saw another vegan product, delicacy or café. I dread to think what locals thought of us as we took pictures of the newly discovered fully vegan section in one supermarket. Veganz stocked in a Spar boasted colourful shelves of dairy-free chocolates, sweets, biscuits, snacks, protein bars and powders, as well as delicious cereal bars. We tried the hazelnut milk chocolate and it was so yummy.
Moreover, take the 24hour off-licence for example: even the smallest of shops had at least two plant-based milks on offer. Alpro is a big brand in Budapest as well as more local Hungarian varieties. We even visited a café that made its own almond milk, but more about that later. Let’s not pretend that each street isn’t overrun with meaty and greasy kebab shops, traditional Hungarian restaurants promoting their meat dish of the day, but it wasn’t even on our radar as we were always on the way to our next vegan meal. Without further ado, here are my highlights…
I’m not a coffee drinker but can rely fully on my caffeinated friends for their advice. Our first full day of sightseeing (and eating) was fuelled by iced lattes, chia lattes and flat whites from Espresso Embassy. A small hipster-style café, we were pleasantly surprised to hear their dairy-free offerings; soya, oat and homemade almond milk. A blend of almonds, macadamia nuts and dates this was a distinctly different almond milk which made for a great flat white. Just get there early as they only had one portion left when we arrived.
Falafel Bar does exactly what it says on the tin. There’s a bar and it’s loaded with freshly homemade falafel and all of its usual accompaniments. You would easily walk past this café without a second glace, for their sign talks of kebabs and pittas and doesn’t obvsiouly promote it is vegan friendly. Inside, the menu is clearly labelled with vegan signs – with hardly any actual meat in sight I’m pleased to say. This hummus and grill has developed every combination of falafel, hummus and pitta imaginable and it delivers on taste too. It’s not the best hummus I’ve ever tasted but it is much better than some London chains! Three of us chose the Extra Hummus Bowl: a bowl filled deep with smooth and creamy hummus, topped with fresh falafels, marinated mushrooms, cucumber salad, chickpeas and drizzled generously with tahini dressing. It is also sprinkled with paprika and coriander and is served with warm whole wheat pitta breads. It made for one tasty and wholesome lunch. We also sampled the falafel pitta and the chips.
Vegan street food is a big thing in Budapest, it seems. The first evening, we ventured out in hopes of finding some vegan ice cream at Hideg Nyalat, part of the Vegan Garden outdoor market in the Jewish District. It’s a haven for those on a plant-based diet and boasts six permanent street-food trucks to cater for everyone. Sadly, the sugar and additive free coconut milk ice cream had sold out and closed for the evening when we arrived. The only answer was to get pizza instead. Well, pizzas and a burger to precise. Las Vegans is renowned for its meat-free burgers but they were also offering heart-shaped pizzas complete with vegan cheese. We shared a delicious seitan kebab, red onion and tzatziki pizza which was so great, as well as their bun-free burger platters. The carrot patty was so flavourful, topped with pickled cucumber, salad, sweet potato wedges and we opted for the homemade tomato chutney. Nestled within the Racskert garden, you’ll also find meat-free Mexican food from Vexicana, Napfényes for kebabs and sausages and sweets like brownies and cakes from Vegan Street.
The atmosphere in the garden is laid-back with colourful fairy lights, a fully stocked bar and they even have a new focus on sustainable living. It really is a delight.
There is also the nearby Karaván food court, where Las Vegans offers their array of vegan food.
Vegan Love is a fully vegan restaurant where you’ll find the most amazing and inventive array of burgers, hotdogs, gyros kebabs, donuts, smoothies and colas. Located at the foot of the Citadella, we enjoyed a delicious vegan junk food style lunch after hiking to the top and taking lots of #candid photos. From Shiitake Quinoa Burgers with peanut sauce to Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches and Gluten free Mac ‘n’ Cheese, you will not go hungry. Between us we tried the Gyros Pitta Sandwich with a DIY salad bar, BBQ tofu burger with melted cheese and homemade sauces, sweet potato and normal fries. The dish that called my name? The Gyros Platter. Whole wheat pitta with Gyros spiced seitan (unnervingly very ‘meaty’) with salad (including broccoli! 😊 ), cooling garlic sauce and a spicy chilli sauce. Needless to say, we were all very content with our vegan offerings and had only spent about £6 for the pleasure.
This recommendation comes with a warning: you will waddle out of this vegan gem. You’ll find Édeni Vegán across the river in the Buda side of the city, so after walking through the castle district we’d really worked up an appetite. This eatery or Etterem offers cakes, coffees and meals as well as a daily buffet and when a full plate from the buffet along with a side salad comes in at about £11, the decision was a no brainer. It was great to get some fresh salad – though it was far from dull. Loaded with tofu cubes, carrot dip, tofu crème sauce and crunchy veggies, it was a refreshing side to the main attraction. There were at least 15 dishes to choose from, and usually you’ll get a little bit of everything, though I opted for my favourites. The tofu vegetable scramble was a definite highlight for me as it was packed with flavour, as were the paprika tomato soy chunks and grilled vegetables. The roasted sweet potatoes were so tender and I chose the beetroot burger as my ‘special’ – there was a choice of seitan steaks, courgette patties, falafels, tofu vegetable patties and an onion cheese slice. Hungarian food is known for being meat heavy and hearty, so it’s no surprise that their vegan imitations focus heavily on soya, tofu, seitan and other processed meat alternatives. This meal was very filling and if I had a take-out box I would have done so, but instead we sat there until we’d finished. And then we vegetated in the baths all afternoon! Great value for money and it was interesting to see traditional Hungarian dishes and flavours re-created.
100% plant-based. Really. Is the slogan behind a vegan mother and daughter business called Kozmosz , founded in Spring 2014. Since then it has grown to boast quite a reputation for showing Hungarians and the world how delicious vegan food can be with an extra serving of ‘clear conscience’. What is a trip to Hungary if you don’t sample their paprika-based Goulash? On our last night we enjoyed bowlfuls of warming-ly spiced goulash bean and tofu soup, while we also sampled an original take on tofu-based cottage cheese pasta topped with crunchy tofu bacon cubes – delicious. There was also a daily special of carrot and peanut nut roast served with rice and vegetable ratatouille. After all those vegetables we treated ourselves to dessert – their insta-famous pancake cake smothered in warm chocolate fudge sauce and a peanut butter chocolate cake. As an underground restaurant, the lighting was awful, but the food was great. The cake was interesting – a fairly dry cake/biscuit base topped with a peanut buttery jelly-like layer and chocolate with extra peanuts.
With the immense heat over the weekend, we constantly craved ice cream, although I sadly only enjoyed one cup. It was delicious enough to have me dreaming for days, though. Unbeknown to us, FittNass Patisserie was located only a few doors down from our Air BnB – what a pleasant surprise it was after a long day on our feet. They are a sugar free patisserie located in Pest, and while they’re not fully vegan, they offer great alternatives for food allergies and most ice cream flavours were vegan. I went for a different one: chocolate cherry and vanilla and it was delicious! Between us we tried a scoop of dark chocolate ice cream (indulgent), mango and an un-translatable Hungarian specialty of vanilla, chocolate and apricot which (after some research) I think it based on the traditional chocolate sponge cake Rigó Jancsi. Another bonus? It was about £1 per scoop!
Dotted around the city are numerous Napfényes Étterem – they also have a stall at the Vegan Garden outdoor market. One such café provided us with a quick pitstop before catching the bus and tram to Margret Island. A vegan and vegetarian eatery, they have quite an expansive food menu although we were there for one thing only: ice cream. The array of cakes was tempting but we couldn’t fit one in – Hungary is famous for it’s beautifully layered cakes and on the day we drooled over Peanut Layered Cake, Tofu Cream Cake and Carrot cake. They stocked a great selection of ice cream and we sampled the Cookies and Cream and the Pistachio.
We all know that brunch is the best meal of the day, so we planned a leisurely and delicious way to spend our last few hours in the vibrant capital. After a sun drenched run across Chain Bridge and along the River Danube, we made our way to Szimply Good Food, where breakfast is served all day! What more could a girl want? Set in a little courtyard off a busy street, the café is small with a limited menu but boasts a lovely outside seating area and its own coffee shop where you can enjoy some caffeine while waiting for a table. If you like your tea milky with sugar you’ll be disappointed as they don’t do sugar, nor black tea, I’m assured the coffees were great with oat milk. Szimply is quite inflexible on changing the dishes and when we went there were only two vegan options – one sweet and one savoury. The avocado toast came with quail egg and they were unable to swap this for their tofu, although we compromised on extra avocado. What a work of art it was. It took about 5 minutes just to decorate: sourdough on a roasted pear cream topped with smashed avocado, a ginger-bean salad, black and red currants, a roasted tomato, strawberry pieces, micro greens, nut sprinkle and an extra fan of avocado. It was beautiful – if only the lighting inside wasn’t quite so yellow! It is not the cheapest eat by far (about £8 for the avocado toast) and the portion was not huge but it was a lovely spot. We also sampled the Ankara – baked banana rice pudding with fresh fruits, kiwi and mint dressing which was lovely, and also very pleasing on the eye.
We had intended to go to Slow Foodiez, a fully vegetarian restaurant which boasted delicious sounding vegan cooked breakfasts, smoothie bowls and vegan omelettes but sadly they are closed on Mondays. It’s definitely on my list to go to next time, though.
My oh my did we cram in an awful lot into the 3 days we were in Budapest. I need a holiday to get over it! That said, because there are only 24 hours in one day, there are things we didn’t have time to do. From free walking tours around the Jewish Quarter, to bathing in more thermal baths and seeing inside the Basilica. There are also vegan delights we didn’t get to taste. So, if you’re even in Budapest please let me know what they are like: Vega City, Veggie Raw Vegan Bistro, Great Bistro, and Zen Vegan Etterem.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my (rather long) review of being vegan in Budapest. Have you been, or perhaps you’re planning to go? I would love to hear your thoughts on the city and its’ food scene, so please do leave a comment below or get in touch via my contact page!