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Drenched in culture, Budapest is a place with a keen sense of the exotic, reflecting Hungary's Magyar distinctiveness within Europe. This unique soul reveals itself in the dynamic parade of life that revolves around an important part of Budapest life – its markets. In the 1890s, Budapest replaced its 40 small open-air markets with five grand indoor market halls of brick, cast iron and glass. These grand markets were built along the lines of Paris' Les Halles and in a Hungarian take on the popular Eiffel style.
THE GREAT MARKET HALL
Budapest's oldest, largest indoor market – three floors and 10,000 square metres – opened in 1897. The gorgeous redbrick building on the Pest side of Liberty Bridge and at the end of the pedestrian shopping promenade, Vaci utca, is an art form in itself. Adorned with iridescent Zsolnay ceramic tiles, the market has a delicate cast-iron skeleton. It's full of meat, game, fish and pickles, strings of paprika and garlic, salami, palinka spirits, Unicum bitters and Tokaji wine. The top floor is for Zsolnay porcelain, lacework and embroidery. Dive into gigantic portions of toltott kaposzta (stuffed cabbage), goulash, Hortobagyi palacsinta (meat-filled pancakes), or langos, deep-fried flat bread served with cheese and sour cream. See visitbudapest.travel/
FENY STREET MARKET
This fashionable, local market has a large selection of small farm stalls offering organic and protected-origin produce. It's the most popular market in the Castle district on the Buda side. If you taste nothing else, seek out the Langos on the top floor, once voted best in Budapest. It's greasy, salty, heart-attack material, deliciously slathered in cheese, sour cream and garlic. Look out for the ham and cheese specialties upstairs – Szega cheese shop and A Sonkas for ham. If you need a heart-starter while you're up there, look out for a Hungarian Fekete (espresso). It's not a grand market but it has quality produce.
BUDAPEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS
For a few festive weeks from mid-November to December 31, the air turns fragrant in the city's heart around Vorosmarty Square. Scents of honey biscuits, mulled wine, cinnamon and fir trees will lead you to this annual Advent-style market of cottage-style wooden stalls groaning with goodies that represent Hungarian Christmas traditions. Authentic folk art abounds – glassblowing, knitting, woodcarving, candlemaking, pottery, embroidery and lace work. There's traditional street food like sour cabbage leaves stuffed with minced pork, spices and rice, chimney-shaped kurtoskalacs and beigli – a walnut, poppyseed cream or chestnut roll. Close by is the Budapest Basilica Christmas market, equally lovely, with an ice-skating rink. See budapestchristmas.com/
HUNYADI SQUARE MARKET
Tucked away in the quiet, residential District 6 just off Andrassy Boulevard is this gem of a market, with adjoining park for picnicking. It's Budapest's remaining open-air market where micro-producers sell delicacies like liver pate, fresh sausages, flowers, honey, seasonal fruit and vegetables, all served up by grannies in chin-knotted scarves handling ancient scales. The adjacent indoor market offers the salamis, pickled vegetables and, naturally, langos. See
KLAUZAL SQUARE MARKET HALL
Less touristy is the beautiful Klauzal Square Market Hall, another of the grand, cast-iron market halls built during the feverish market-hall era of the late 1890s. It was renovated recently and spreads over a bright 7000 square metres of street food stalls, Hungarian produce like honey, cheese and Mangalica pork (hog with a lot of lard) as well as artisan bakeries. It's in District 7, which houses the city's Jewish Quarter and where you'll find interesting architecture and the district's atmospheric "ruin" bars. See gotohungary.com/
RAKOCZI SQUARE MARKET HALL
Sunlight filters through the high glass windows of Budapest's second oldest market, the blue-and-yellow Rakoczi Square Market Hall in District 8, built in the same 19th-century style beside Metro line number four station. There's the usual seasonal produce as well as sausage varieties ranging from horse to mangalica. Sample these as well as paprika pork crackling and homemade Hungarian smoked garlic cheese. This once grand district has been reborn as an arty, foodie, hipster hub; so once you've looked at the market, go exploring. See
Alison Stewart was a guest of APT