Fine dining in Budapest
I have always believed that I eat to live rather than live to eat. Also, I am not in the habit of photographing my food before I eat it. Well, a recent trip to Budapest was a revelation.
In the Hungarian capital, over the course of four days, I indulged in fine dining two times a day and consumed dessert three times every day (well, if you count the rich cakes with the afternoon tea). I know it's not nice to complain about good food but someone obviously forgot to tell my stomach as my tummy was showing clear signs of distress by the end of it all. Anyway, I wisely decided to follow Mark Twain's advice: "Eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside."
In most parts of the world, when it comes to water, the waiter usually asks if you want the big bottle or the small one and then plonks the one you requested in the middle of the table. So it was mildly surprising to see the waiter go around to each diner and offer "still or sparkling water?" It was refreshing to see that he was pouring the water out of glass bottles. I was told it's hard to find plastic bottles in Budapest unless you go to the supermarket.
Not quite a connoisseur of fine food, I only know two types of cuisines — Indian and non-Indian. So when we entered the only Nobu restaurant in the city, I thought, "Ah, sushi, this I know." Wrong. "There's more to Nobu than sushi," corrected the restaurant manager. It seems Nobu-san likes to incorporate Southern American ingredients into Japanese dishes as he spent a few years of his life in Peru. It's obvious his fusion techniques are working as the food was delicious. Deciding to have or not have the dessert — Matsuhisa Passion Brulee — seemed like a difficult life decision.
Another day, another lunch. At the Costes restaurant, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the Ráday Utca district, I requested half portion of the main course as I didn't want to waste any food. See, I am not a horrible person. The thought did cross my mind that there are people in this world who don't manage even two square meals in a day while I was over-indulging.
Works of art
The maître d'hôtel's uncomfortable expression made it clear that such entreaties are unusual. My request was politely declined and it was clear to me why when the food by Portuguese chef Miguel Rocha Vieira was presented. The tiny portions of food were presented so flawlessly that our plates looked like mini pieces of art that could be framed and put up on the wall!
Oh by the way, famous Hungarian restaurant Gundel which was established in 1894 is the name to drop when you get back home. So yes, I dined there as well.
Apart from the food, the highlight of every meal was the live music playing at most restaurants. Hungarians are probably so used to seeing the musicians perform while they eat that they weren't paying any attention to the band playing in the room. The performers, mainly the gypsy, or the Roma, play traditional gypsy tunes and Hungarian folk songs on the violin, contra-bass and cimbalom.
Despite the animated conversation, my dinner companions (three from Australia and three from the Middle East) found it tough to ignore the wonderful music. We often broke up our conversation to applaud the performers.
In the end, I realised that good food and good company nourishes the body as well as the soul.
By Rajwant Sandhu
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