I remember the thought that flashed through my mind when I walked into my first ruin pub in Budapest.
This is an OH&S disaster, you would never see this in Sydney, or London, or possibly anywhere else for that matter!
That’s because ruin pubs, as the name suggests, lie within dilapidated shells of abandoned buildings. They predominantly sit in the old Jewish quarter which was left to decay after WWII. In any other city there would be a wrecking ball around the corner, but in Budapest some inspired drinkers decided they might be good for something and slowly they have turned into drinking and party meccas.
This neighbourhood now includes dozens of ruin pubs, all characterised by flea market furniture, psychedelic interiors and an intense feeling you’ve just fallen down the rabbit hole.
I had two favourites, the first was Instant (pronounced Inshtant by Hungarians) which takes up an entire former tenement apartment . Within its 23 rooms it offers themed dancer floors, furniture pinned to the ceiling and giant flying owls overlooking the floor. They are fake but you’ll have to look twice.
The second was Szimpla, which happened to be the very first ruin pub, kicking off the trend in 2001. It has a fabulous courtyard where you can sit in an old communist Trabant car, order from the vitamin bar, check out the graffiti art, catch films and theatre or rent a bike.
My favourite part of Szimpla relates to food, of course, and was the farmer’s market that takes place every Sunday. Their mission is to connect the city crowd with local farmers and judging by the crowds, it’s certainly working.
The giant courtyard is dotted with stalls laden with farm-fresh produce including cheese, fruit and vegetables, honey, cured meats, fruit cordials and homemade pastries. Vendors are friendly and they offer generous samples.
I spent a good twenty minutes hovering by the truffle stand, if only because I couldn’t believe how many there were, how big they were and how cheap!
I loved the truffle butter but seeing as I was not going to be near a fridge all day I opted for the truffle salt which had chunks of fresh truffle dotted throughout and proffered the most intense truffle scent I’d ever encountered. A good sized jar was 1800HUF or €4.50 – bargain!
My favourite Hungarian cheese, Parenyica, not only tastes delicious but is always the best looking cheese in any dairy lineup.
Made from cow’s milk and smoked, the cheese is produced in strips which are woven into spirals and occasionally more quirky shapes like crescents, where they become a dead ringer for a croissant.
The red wine cheese also caught my eye due to its brilliant mauve colour. I regret not buying some as it looked so luscious.
Another stall was piled with cult Hungarian dish zsiros kenyér, literally ‘fatty bread’. A hunky slice of rustic bread is smothered in homemade lard and sprinkled with paprika and slices of red onion. It’s much tastier than it sounds!
Another curious item was the vándor szelet, a thick slab made up of nuts, dried fruit and seeds packed together like a giant muesli bar.
Like any good farmer’s market, the trick is to get in early and arrive hungry so you can sample a little of everything.
Ruin pubs are a must see in Budapest so make sure you scope out at least a few while you’re there.