In Budapest, the main market hall overflows with fruits, vegetables, meat, paprika, and tourists. This historic building should be on everyone’s list of things to see. It is a mix of Hungarian farmers mingled amongst paprika retailers selling the ubiquitous spice in hand sewn calico pouches. There’s something for everyone.
My Saturday market is on the other side of town, the Lehel market. It is in a modern building which resembles a ship (invariably, a Hungarian will say “Go to Lehel, it’s in that ugly building behind Nyugati.”) While the exterior may be modern, inside is the patina of days gone by. Farmers bring their fare from the country. Spices are in buckets. Vats of pickled food are everywhere. This is where Hungarians shop.
Last weekend, I visited the Lehel market for the first time. I found everything I needed for the week. At first, it was a bit overwhelming. So I made a reconnaissance swoop to get my bearings before returning for my purchases. When in doubt where to buy the best quality at the fairest price, I queued behind the old Hungarian women.
My first purchase was a wicker basket. I have coveted these baskets as they dangle from the arms of fellow shoppers waiting for a freshly baked baguette at the boulangerie. By that time, their baskets are overflowing with produce, and they tuck the crunchy loaf safely on top before returning home with their purchases. I have wanted to be one of those women.
With my basket dandling off my arm, I set off for a second round – this time stopping to buy. Last Sunday, I planned to make chicken soup. I have always considered pre chopped vegetables an extravagance or a reflection of laziness. But at 80 cents for a large package of chopped soup vegetables, I relented. The women who chopped these must need the few extra cents they charged for their labor.
Strawberries, pears, tomatoes, oranges (not from the hills of Hungary), soup noodles, eggs (I love buying eggs by the piece), herbs, flowers, and on and on. The chicken man proudly held up a full bird. The intact head flopped left, the feet stuck out of the body cavity. I choose a simple breast. I wasn’t ready to go “full bird” local.
By the time I finished, my basket was heavy so I jumped on the tram to head towards home. There, I visited Raymond, the cheese man, for a bottle of Chablis; bar of dark chocolate; and slice of hard, sharp cheese. Two pieces of strudel later, and I was done. When I came through the apartment door, my husband snapped more photos of my food basket than we have of our three kids on the day they arrived home from the hospital. (And I’m gonna hear about this).
Few people in the market speak English. But pointing and miming is easy. Five fingers got me five pears. Shaping my hands like a bowl, a bowl sized bunch of tomatoes. I’m pretty sure next week, when I swipe my hand across my throat in a Mafiosi gesture, the chicken head will stay behind.
At home, I shopped at the Boulder farmers market – a Rastafarian organic grocery paradise. I paid an arm and a leg for my produce, and I did so happily. Here, I shop with Hungarians. I didn’t pay an arm and a leg for anything. And I had a blast.
PS: You may have figured out, I love to grocery shop. Next week, I swear, I’ll write about something else!
Categories: Insiders Budapest