For those unfamiliar with Hungarian cuisine, it can probably be best summed up with a story about Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, on a 1993 visit to Budapest. Upon meeting a fellow Brit in the city, he remarked on his countryman’s physique, observing, “You can’t have been here that long – you haven’t got a pot belly.”
That might be the best overview of Hungarian cuisine you’ll ever get. I would doubt any Hungarians were offended by that royal gaffe, as they happily admit Hungarian food is based on a holy trinity of lard, paprika, and onion. And while that combo may not make your cardiologist happy, it certainly tastes pretty good.
Where to find the best street food in Budapest
When we arrived in Budapest, we were actually surprised by how much street food is available, and how it’s taking over some of Budapest’s coolest neighborhoods. And since we’ve made a pretty big dent in exploring the city’s street food scene – with expanding waistlines to prove it – we are more than happy to share our discoveries.
Listed below are the most popular classic Hungarian street food choices, and where to eat them, along with Budapest’s coolest street food spots to visit. If stuffing your belly with some of the tastiest dishes you’ll ever try is on your Budapest to-do list, read on!
5 Classic Hungarian Street Foods and Where to Try Them
By Politikaner (Own work) (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
When we first moved to Budapest, a long-term resident gave us an education in lángos, announcing the best way to enjoy it is on a hot summer day, cold beer in hand, and after a long swim in Lake Balaton.
Thankfully, we’ve since had plenty of time to do our own research, and can happily report lángos taste pretty darn good when consumed in Budapest, as well.
The quintessential Hungarian street food, lángos, for the uninitiated, is the ultimate flatbread. Comprised of a doughy base made of flour, yeast, and salt, the dough is deep-fried and topped with garlic, sour cream, and plenty of cheese.
Not immune to the gourmand hipster street food trend, plenty of enterprising Budapesters also offer their own modern twist on lángos, such as the ruccola-topped version found at Street Food Karavan.
Regardless of what you choose to put on top of your Lángos, we suggest eating it fresh and warm.
Where to Get it
Tomi Lángos at Blaha Lujza tér is consistently mentioned as a favorite, but you can find it all over the city. The lángos on the top floor of Budapest’s Great Market Hall is also a top contender for the best, as is the version served up at the underpass at Flórián tér. If you happen to be in Budapest during a festival or during Christmas market season, you can be pretty confident lángos will be on offer.
Central and Eastern Europeans love to argue about which country invented which classic regional food, and what’s known as Kürtöskalács to the Hungarians (and Trdelník to the Czechs and Slovaks) is a favorite source of friendly argument.
Kürtöskalács is a sweet chimney cake served all over Budapest in tiny kiosks set up on street corners. Personally, I think kürtöskalács is best enjoyed in cool weather, but you can get it year round.
This sweet cakey-bread is wrapped around a cone-shaped baking spit, rolled in sugar, then roasted over charcoal until it reaches a beautiful golden-brown color. During baking, the chimney cake forms a crispy crust, while the interior maintains a spongy, melt-in-your-mouth quality. You can ask to have it rolled in cocoa, nuts, cinnamon, and more.
Where to Get it
Every Budapester has their favorite kürtöskalács spot, and a local guide once told us she swears by the one at Andrássy Avenue and Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Street. The stand just in front of Nyugati train station is always lined up, as is the one in the Deák Ferenc tér underground metro station. As with lángos, you’re sure to find loads of options if you’re here for Christmas market season…although the line-ups tend to be the longest in cool weather.
Photo credit at Paneer – deep fried cheese sandwich
Deep Fried Cheese Sandwich
Another popular street food is breaded and deep-fried cheese, served up as a sandwich. When we lived in Prague, deep-fried cheese was known as ‘drunk food’ best suited to late night snacking after a big night out, but Budapest has classed it up a bit. I’m happy to report it’s perfectly acceptable to make it a meal of it in this city, which is mostly thanks to Paneer, Budapest’s leader in deep-fried yet upscale cheesy goodness.
Where to Get it
You can try it at Paneer on Kiraly utca 53, or at their permanent street food truck at Street Food Karavan (Kazinczy u. 18). Paneer also has a roving street food truck; they announce locations on their Facebook page.
By Thaler Tamas (Own work) (9CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Although the name probably doesn’t ring a bell, rétes is actually the Hungarian version of strudel. While Austria and Germany seem to get all the glory for their strudel-making abilities, that shouldn’t stop you from trying rétes as well, which is not as sweet as the versions you may be used to. Choose from a range of fillings, from apples and sour cherry, to nuts, cheese, and poppy-seed.
Where to Get it
Rétesbolt on Lehel u. 38 is a good bet if you want to taste if for yourself, although it’s a bit out-of-the-way for the typical tourist route. Another option is to simply keep your eyes out when you’re in Budapest’s many cafés. You can often get a piece to go, along with a hot coffee or mulled wine (forralt bor): perfect for a cool autumn or winter walk around the city!
If you’re in Buda, Ruszwurm Cukrászda (Szentháromság u. 7) is a bit of an institution, and always a good bet.
Not a street food per se, fröccs is still worth mentioning, as you’ll see it all over the city in the summer.
The Hungarian word for wine spritzer, the word fröccs is onomatopoeic, referring to the splashing sound that’s made when you’re mixing the drink. What is particularly interesting about fröccs, however, is the variety of recipes you can ask including the sportfröccs (1 part wine, 4 parts soda water), for those who want to exercise AND drink wine.
Most commonly, you’ll just have to specify between a kisfröccs (small fröccs) and a nagyfröccs (big fröccs), which are made up of 1 part of wine to 1 part soda water and 2 parts wine to 1 part soda water, respectively.
Where to Get it
You can get a fröccs pretty much anywhere in Budapest that serves alcohol, but we’d suggest you find a nice terrace bar in the 7th district, such as Kőleves, in the summer. All summer long, you’ll find plenty of young Budapesters spilling out of cheap bars lining the outer ring road (the körút), rosé fröccs in hand. A word of warning: most of these körút bars use cheap wine, so don’t indulge too much, lest you end up with a next-day headache.
Exploring Budapest’s Street Food Pods and Culture
Beyond some of the classic Hungarian treats, Budapest is becoming a bit of a street food magnet, and it’s possible to get all sorts of delicious eats around the city, especially from late spring to early fall when the street food scene is busiest, and food festivals seem to occur every weekend. Here are a few places to check out if you’re in the city during warm weather:
Street Food Karaván Budapest
Karaván (Kazinczy utca 18) is Budapest’s first street food pod, and probably the most popular. Housed in a former parking lot next to Szimpla Kert (Budapest’s most famous ruin bar), each side of the parking lot is lined with food trucks, with picnic table seating in the middle and at the back. In addition to some Hungarian classics (you can get fried cheese, lángos, and kürtöskalács here, and can wash it down with a fröccs), there are plenty of international options, too. Burgers, pizza, pasta, and Japanese-style “rice bun” burgers are popular, as are sausages (another street food classic!).
Jónás Kézműves Sörház (Craft Beer Bar) at the Bálna (Whale) Building
A craft beer bar at the whale building, Jónás has a great terrace area in nice weather with a few street food trucks serving up basics, like burgers and fried cheese. In nice weather, this is a great place to spend an evening with friends, and the views and sunset over the Danube are gorgeous from here.
Food Truck Court at Üllői út 51
This one is a bit hit or miss, but worth checking out if you’re in Budapest for a longer stay, and aren’t crunched for time. What seems to be trying to recreate the success of Karaván, this place seems to suffer from a location that’s slightly more difficult to get to for pedestrians, and out of the main tourist districts. That said, it’s also much more local, and is far less busy than Karavan. We’ve been once, and would go back in a heartbeat, but if you only have time for one street food experience, go to Karavan.
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Guest Blogger Bio
Perpetually on the hunt for cheap flights, cold beers, and awesome terraces, Katie has been traveling the world since she was 16, when she somehow persuaded her parents to let her move abroad to learn the ways of hygge in Denmark. Picking up a Canadian husband and a Taiwanese street cat along the way, she’s now based in Budapest, where she makes a living blogging at wandertooth.com, and creating adult coloring books with her husband, Geoff.
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