It seems like just yesterday when Anthony Bourdain was here in Budapest, filming a segment for his much-loved CNN show Part Unknown. A lot has happened since then. Budapest gained a few Michelin stars, and even lost one. New restaurants have opened across the city featuring so many the cuisines of the world, from Laotian to Georgian, and no shortage of Barbecue. And of course, Bourdain passed tragically away.
But for a weekend, two culinary wonders: Budapest and Bourdain came together. At that point, Bourdain was perhaps the most recognizable television personality covering international locations. If we look back, we see the two were a match. Bourdain – who is known for his adventurous eating habits (cobra heart, anybody?) played it somewhat safe in Budapest, keeping to the gilded confines of the tourist favorite New York Café for Hungarian goose liver. There he discussed the Golden Era of Hungarian literature, when writers were catered to by waiters who would fetch them both coffee and paper and ink. It’s a nostalgic look at days long past.
Later, he did venture out for a more local experience at an étkezde (lunch canteen), for a chicken liver crepe with bone marrow gravy, followed by a schnitzel big enough to swaddle a baby in. Along the way, has samples venison stew, in what is actually a working class eatery for locals, not a high-end restaurant. He came away with an understanding of why Budapest is so special: sumptuous, decadent things can be quite commonplace here.
A stop to a butcher’s for sausage, which the personality got his mouth around more capably than the difficult Hungarian-language pronunciation, and it was off for a relaxing with a dip in fabled Gellért Baths with Academy Award winning legend of cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond (who has also, sadly now passed). Bourdain came away from Budapest proclaiming his experience ‘deeply delicious’.
The kind of adventure food tourism Bourdain pioneered now seems commonplace. With culinary tours abounding in Budapest and pretty much every major city, and many minor ones, it’s easy to forget how resistant previous generations were to new — foreign — cuisine. But now, thanks to people like Bourdain, the world knows what the inside of a Hungarian butcher shop looks like. And the real message there is actually, not how different people are in their tastes, but how surprisingly alike.
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