Vegan Travel: Budapest

From goulash to stew to stroganoff, traditional Hungarian fare is typically meat and dairy-centric, but vegan travelers visiting Budapest will find a surprising number of satisfying and affordable meals.

Budapest, often called the Paris of the East, is a city rich in culture, history and nightlife. The majestic Danube River splits the city into two parts: Buda to the west and Pest to the east. Green hills tree-lined with cobblestone streets are filled with old castles; hotels and grand homes fill the Buda side. Pest is the flat, commercial tourist-filled bustling heart of the city with nightlife, a grandiose McDonalds, and rows upon rows of street vendors and shopkeepers.

Budapest has a timeless genuine atmosphere bursting with awe-inspiring museums, grand bridges, baroque architecture ancient thermal baths, and a captivating old-world feel.

This charmingly beautiful historic city is dotted with vegan-friendly restaurants and cafes, and if you know where to look, vegan options can be found almost anywhere.

Eating Vegan in Budapest

Markets

Local stalls and markets have an abundance of fresh seasonal fruit, vegetables, herbs and bread. Baskets of bread are fresh-baked every morning and cost less than thirty cents. Any local market will have a quick snack for the peckish traveling vegan. If you’re looking for a more specialized vegan-friendly shopping experience, the Bio ABC market is a good option. While not all vegan–it carries items like local yogurt and dairy cheeses– you’ll find bulk grains, spices and herbs and beans, vegan cheese, European nut and dessert butters and spreads, local produce and more. You may have to ask the staff for help translating the ingredients of some of the products to ensure they’re vegan.

Most indoor markets like Spar and Tesco sell the splendor that is Mexicorn. These delightful packets of flavored crunchy corn will satiate the strongest hunger; the most addictive and wonderful flavor is the spicy Mexican variety.  These little nuggets are crunchy, salty and slightly spicy. I stock up whenever I can, and am considering a trip back just to buy a case (only partly joking). The ingredients aren’t in English, but I’m pretty these contain MSG and are not healthy or good for you in the slightest. They are my favorite snack when traveling in Eastern and Central Europe.

Restaurants and Cafes

The Hummus Bar is a chain of Lebanese-inspired food cafes. Each one offers a complimentary amuse-bouche of fresh lemonade when the temperature is soaring, and hot mint leaf tea when it’s chilly. The Hummus Bar is not exclusively vegan, but it is mostly vegetarian. Warm and fresh pita with hummus & falafel arrive at your table within minutes. With multiple locations, this is an affordable spot with great service, big portions and filling food.

Man Natural is an ideal spot for people who enjoy eating a raw diet. This all raw vegan cafe is a casual deli with bowls of various vegetal goo on display in a cooler. Point to what you’d like to try and your meal will be served to you minutes later. Served with raw crackers and fresh juice options are available. There are no signs or indication what items are and the staff when I visited spoke no English; to enjoy eating here, you must be a brave tourist.

Edeni Vegan Etterem (Etterem means restaurant) is a cafe on the Buda side of the Danube. With walk up counter service, the staff when I visited didn’t speak much English, so this is another point-and-order spot. While possible to end up paying more than necessary, the food here is more traditional Hungarian, and very filling: potatoes, vegan sausage and sauerkraut make up a filling plate. Yum! Edeni Vegan Etterem a little out of the way from the bustling Pest center, though if you purchase a Budapest travel card (a great idea for your first time in the city), the thermal baths location visit included with the card is a 15 minute walk away.

Napfenyes Etterem is an all-vegan full-service restaurant in a partly underground (you have to step downstairs to enter) dark narrow hall. It looks like it could have been an old wine cellar. The menu is extensive: it’s over six pages, including appetizers, salads, babgulyás (hearty bean soup), entrees, pizzas, salad bar, ice cream bar, rotating dessert showcase and daily & weekly specials.  

The prices are a little spendy for Budapest, though would be considered a steal in most other cities. And you’ll quickly forgive the price–the portions are enormous and easily split. Classic Hungarian fare is served here–potatoes, savory pancakes, cabbage and soup are all available. The baked desserts are perfectly sweet and balanced, when fresh. I’ve eaten at Napfenyes Etterem a few times and find it depends on when you get them–one time the vanilla custard was out of this world the-best-dessert-I’ve ever-eaten, and the following time it tasted a bit stale. I’ve heard that Hungarian desserts can sometimes taste stale even when fresh, so maybe that’s just the way it’s meant to be served. The ice cream varieties are fun and unusual–one that particularly stands out is a green apple flavor that tastes exactly like a creamy cold apple jolly rancher. One of my favorite aspects of Napfenyes Etterem is the small retail section available in the front of the restaurant: vegan meats, cheeses and milks sold retail-style to go.

Drinking in Budapest

The drinking scene in Budapest is one that is made for travelers like me: lovers of wine spritzers, mini drinks, and corn-syrup free bottled mixers.

Hungary is a region made for wine, and the plethora and price of wine bottles testify to that fact. White wines are perhaps more common, and especially refreshing on hot Hungarian days. Wine spritzers, known as fröccs (pronounced “fru-ch”) are a popular drink in Budapest and can be ordered to your preference in many bars–just specify the amount of wine to seltzer water. One trick I learned from a newly-made Hungarian friend: most bars can add homemade flavored syrups to your spritzers. When given this choice: take it. The elderflower syrup, of particular sweet and floral note, is my favorite.

If you like gin and tonic, the ones here are made with local tonic served in glass bottles and if possible, more crisp and clean tasting than anywhere else in the world.

Ruin Bars are specific to Budapest: after the regime change occurred in the 1990’s, locals slowly began taking over old decrepit spaces and making them into weird adorable bars, usually lit up with globe lights and having a particular atmosphere. Most I’ve visited don’t serve food, but the drinks are very special, and like most everything else, very affordable for tourists.  

In A Pinch

There’s no need for smashed backpack granola bars while traveling in Budapest: even in a pinch you can be served well. The myriad of stalls, markets and cafes that serve bread, vegan snacks, and pizza are on almost every block, especially in the Pest districts. The pizza joints I’ve visited have been very accommodating when veganizing pizza–one thing to remember about Hungarian–and other Central/Eastern European countries– pizza is that fresh corn is a common vegetable pizza topper. And it’s really good.

Budapest is filled with easy-to-find vegan options; from fresh fruit in street stalls to fresh-baked bread and Alpro banana soymilk in the city Tesco, from vegan sausage and cabbage rolls (the word for cabbage is káposzta) to a huge dish of vegetable pancake rolled with potatoes, vegan cream and tomato-paprika sauce, the vegan meals and snacks found here are simple, filling and memorable.

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Have you been to Budapest recently? Share in the comments any of your favorites!


Note: While information was current when this article was written, please note business operations and hours change frequently; I recommend calling ahead to ensure hours are up-to-date.

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