Tuesday, November 10, 2009

island of fall and the surprise liver

Thursday we walked to Margit Island in the middle of the Danube. Margit Island was full of churches, monasteries and nunneries from the 12th century until the Ottomans came in and destroyed it all in the 16th century. Today, the island is a peaceful recreational park with lots of trees and running paths. There's a hotel with a spa at the Northern end, a swimming pool and a theatre. It reminded me a bit of Golden Gate Park in places, except for the yellow and oranges of fall leaves.

We took the bridge on the Northern end, and wound up in the middle of massive Soviet-style apartment blocks— quite the contrast from what we had seen the rest of the week. The buildings were enormous, grey and rectangular, with no sense of individualism whatsoever. A few apartments had painted their balcony walls a bright red or orange, but most of what we saw was bleak and monotonous. It was quite fascinating, I wonder what living in a space like that feels like.

All that walking around in the cold air was making me hungry, and it seemed as though the area we had wandered into had nothing edible anywhere. Suddenly out of nowhere, a giant, ugly steel and glass structure popped out between the Soviet-style buildings. It was either a market or a bizarre spaceship from the early 80s. Excited, I dragged Mirco across the street, convinced there was food inside the ugliness. We were amazed by the amount of pickles and produce, meats and clothing made in China. It was awesome— and we started to search for a cheap solution to our hunger. We soon found on the upper floor, a red fast-food stall that offered plenty of csibe, which I had learnt meant chicken. Chicken sandwiches seemed ok, and the backlit pictures on the menu didn't offer any clues as to what the difference between the sandwiches was. I settled on the Süper Csibe Szendvics— because, well, it was super with an umlaut.

We paid, and got a red plastic tray with very plain looking breaded chicken sandwiches in paper sleeves, and a paper plate of fries. I spied a couple of tomatoes and a mushroom in mine, and figured they were what made a Csibe Szendvics süper, since Mirco got a regular szendvics and was without produce. At first bite, I ran into some pickles that added to the süperness, and discovered there was no sauce of any kind at all— which was odd to me— I had expected a mustard of some sort at least. It was alright, and I was hungry, so I ate it happily until Mirco discovered something odd on the receipt.

The women behind the counter decided to charge us for an extra sandwich— a problem we pretty much ran into everywhere we ate. I had read that this sort of thing is a common occurrence in Budapest affecting tourists, but figured it was an exaggeration. Sadly, if you are a tourist, you absolutely must check every receipt and bill you get before you pay. Mirco bravely went back to the counter, where the woman was beginning to look nervous. I sat back and took another bite of chicken and suddenly, my mouth was filled with a horrific taste. At first, I didn't know what had happened— it was dreadful! I dissected what was left of the sandwich to discover that what I had believed was a mushroom, was no mushroom. I began to recognise the wretched flavour— it was liver. The süper in a Süper Csibe Szendvics is a big ole hunk of beef liver! I began to look around at the other customers— livers were poking out between buns everywhere! Apparently I was the only one disturbed by this.

Mirco strode back in victory, and I had missed the entire exchange between the brawny lady and my friend, thanks to the liver surprise. It was good of her to give the money back, she knew she was doing something wrong, the guilt was all over her face. I think in most places, you'd never see that money again. I'll be happy to never see this sandwich again.

Later that evening we met some fun new hostel guests, Molly and Nancy from Washington— Nancy is in the midst of taking her daughter Molly on a tour of Europe. They had been through England, The Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Spain, and were passing through Hungary on their way to the Czech Republic. Nancy was determined to find a delicious local restaurant for dinner, and asked us along. Desperate to wipe away the memory of that liver nightmare, I happily joined them in finding Café Csiga, an artsy café with hearty divine dishes. We got a little lost, and I'm still not sure how we found it, especially since the café had no sign, but before we knew it, we were seated in a smoky, sultry space bursting with conversation and music. This is the kind of place where you imagine everyone is a writer or painter, and they've come for beer, cigarettes, and words like "existentialism."

I tried to get a picture of my delicious beef in black beer, but it was so dark and my little camera just can't handle low light situations. It was a fantastic liverless meal, accompanied by a lovely Hungarian red. We stayed on into the night for beer and conversation, enjoying the ambiance.


Tschöppy said...

Dear Szaza,

As a Budapester I'm reading your words about my city gladly. It's always a pleasure and happyness if a foreigner find this city interesting and beautiful.

I'd like to apologize instead of that counter you met in Lehel piac (the ugly place you were eaten - it was rebuilt in the early years of this decade, not in the 80's). It's a shame for every avarage people live here how clubs, restaurants and places like you've been eating treating their foreign customers. I'm sorry for that.

About the bloc of flats: it's nothing special to live a flat in like this. I spent more than 26 years in one, and I loved it :)

szaza said...

Thank you, Tschöppy!

You know, every city will have someone who will try to take advantage of tourists— it's just the way it is. But I have to say, the people I ran into were so kind and friendly overall. I loved my experience in Budapest.

Lehel piac— so that's the name! Thank you! I will have to do some research on it. I was curious about the architecture... it's quite unusual :)

Tschöppy said...

I'm going there quite often because I'm living just a few minutes away from this market.

I found some infos about Lehel piac in English here for you:


And here is the history of it (in Hungarian), but there are some photos from the early days... It was founded about a hundred years ago, and that strange building was built in the year of 2001. Probably google translate could help a litte :)


szaza said...

Wow! Thank you so much, Tschöppy! Those photographs are incredible. I kind of loved the strangeness of that building— it makes no sense. Red, pale blue and yellow metal! But I loved all the vegetables and salamis and pickles. I wish I had known about the Lehel íze étterem, I would have much preferred it to the funny sandwich :)

I will try Google Translate on that page and see what happens. Thanks again!