The mayor of Budapest, one of Europe’s most exciting cities — Budapest’s free transit zone has become a haven for European political leaders, as well as students of philosophy, politics and journalism — believes that the international culinary scene can be much more than a tourist attraction.
During a visit to New York last month, visiting Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orbán, made the announcement that Budapest — which will be showcased as one of four cities with “first world status” during the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games — would be renaming its “road to food culture” as a four-block “cultural pathway.”
With its Mayan temple ruins in the background, a man markets produce near Kossuth Square, on Budapest’s Danube River (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
The mayor, Monika Haralampi, made her announcement during a ceremony that included a performance by violinist, Péter Skok, but she insisted that the change of name would be followed up by more change — in urban planning, in social and environmental development, in how young people get out of bed in the morning. “[To let] the city of tomorrow be more like the city of today, we now need to reinvent that city, we need to transform the city and the culture within it.”
A sign is erected to welcome British Prime Minister Theresa May to Budapest during the EU Summit in Bratislava, Slovakia, on July 13, 2018 (Reuters/Michal Cizek)
Budapest will see its status as a “world gastronomic capital” reduced to a “world cultural capital”, but in practical terms the only change will be the addition of restaurants and shops in the food and drink section of Budapest’s metro that will occupy the space left behind by the shutdown of Budapest’s then famous Victor Krol Theater — which played to more than a million people a year.
By nightfall, a row of wooden shipping containers in the Pilsudski Avenue section of south Budapest’s old town are being transformed into a collection of restaurants. A branch of the new-style Austrian “pop-up restaurant” spot Gaffa serves its signature British Chumphocks. Inside the container and under a ceiling made of brightly colored lights, a crew of mostly Hungarian waiters serve cocktails in toshás (Italian-styled Czech Republic tableware), served in small aluminum bowls. It is a world away from the price-gouging, kiosk-owning, dodgy bar-owning hellhole that Hungarian politics has been known to be over the last number of years.
Hungary’s President, Janos Ader, and Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, wear their costumes for “Der Kottze Gláthní”, a play where Donald Trump and his family take part in the Grandfather’s Funeral, at the Georgios Behrakis theatre in Budapest, Hungary, on November 13, 2017 (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh)
Has Budapest, with its abundance of authentic restaurants and lack of chains and tourist plazas, proved itself capable of fixing its economic woes? This event-filled city may hold the answer.