Just off Andrássy út, and steps from the core of the tourist area of Budapest, is the Hunyadi Market. The market is old school – a movie set with all the stereotypes I associate with rural Hungarian life. Good stereotypes – women wearing
floral patterned dresses and triangular scarves tied in a knot under their chin. They are round, substantial women with crinkled, brown faces and quick smiles; grandmotherly. It’s a Hungary I don’t see in the city center. The Budapest Main Market feels like a stage created for tourists but not Hunyadi. This is the real deal.
Many of the old markets have been torn down and new markets sprouted in their space, like the ultra modern Lehel. I guess it is human nature to want everything to be new and shiny. A small group of community activists banned together to save the feel of Hunyadi by providing discounted rental rates to the very small, local – “micro” – farmers. Consequently, rural farmers from just outside Budapest can afford to sell their produce at Hunyadi. Until I learned this story, I honestly thought these people were props, old Hungarian women imported to staff the booths and fleece the tourists.
The outdoor market stretches along a side street. Under a row of green and gold awnings, tables are covered with fruits and vegetables, flowers, meats and cheeses. At the end of the outdoor market, women queue for milk pumped fresh from the back of the milk truck. Most bring their own bottles, but as I peek into the truck, the vendor offers to pull me a liter into an empty plastic bottle. “No thanks.”
Somehow this truck reminds me of a story a friend told of a tour she led in Romania. An American woman insisted on a big coffee with a matching amount of milk. My friend stepped into the kitchen to check with the hostess – realizing this may be an impossible request to accommodate. Just then, a small boy burst through the back door carrying a pitcher of fresh and still warm milk straight from the cow. The American thought they heated the milk in the microwave. She was satisfied, but as I recall the story, I pass on the liter of milk.
Across from the outdoor market is the old, brick indoor hall. The building overflows with people and vendors, mostly selling the foods I avoid. Here you can buy lard flecked with meat, vats of pickled vegetables, bread, noodles, or a langos piping hot from the deep fry. I peek in all the stalls purely to soak in the ambiance, but I never buy anything in the hall. I remember the look on my doctor’s face when she saw my cholesterol score on her computer monitor. I have sworn off fat and salt and most any food which can be purchased inside a traditional market (I’m forbidden to look at langos, much less eat one.)
Yet, these small farm markets are an advertisement for local eating. I consume freely from all the produce on sale outdoors. I can name the month based on the selection. Piles of cherries and strawberries announce the start of summer eventually making way for plums and apricots. Melons – watermelon and cantaloupe are just past their peak now. I anticipate the next harvest while mourning the passing of the current selection – something I never learned in the United States where everything was always available. After a cold, dark winter, I will celebrate the first baby greens and fresh garlic. As I write this, the leaves are turning and the hard squashes and apples are starting to take center stage.
We discovered Hunyadi Ter market only recently, so I have no idea what to expect this winter. I assume at some point, the outside vendors will close and all the action will be inside. The women will pack away their scales until next year. These misshapen metal buckets look as though a horse crunched them under an ironshod hoof. The buckets are balanced against a set of well worn counterweights in a variety of sizes. For generations, these same scales have trekked to Hunyadi and home again. The vendors never seem to understand our fascination with their scales.
As much as I love the summer produce, I am starting to anticipate a roasted chicken or perhaps a goose feast – hearty meals not tolerated during the smoldering summer months in our hot apartment kitchen. Before I know it, the calendar will turn to spring. We will be living in the US, and I will be closing down my career. The next time the cherries grace the market, who knows exactly where we will be – maybe back at Hunyadi. But probably not. Wherever we are, when June arrives, I will look for piles and piles of deep red cherries – sold by a vendor who resembles a Hungarian grandmother.
Directions: You will find Hunyadi market between Vörösmarty and Csengery utca just off Andrássy towards Király (southeast). This is one block from the Vörösmarty Utca M1 metro stop (do not confuse with the Vörösmarty Ter metro stop!). The market opens early every day of the week – and is best in the morning.
Grab a coffee, relax and watch the kids play on the square. This is a very local neighborhood in spite of its very central location.
Categories: Insiders Budapest