As soon as I saw Belvárosi Disznótoros on Karolyi utca, on a breezy morning stroll through downtown Budapest with my parents this past May, I knew I’d be returning there to eat, that same day. This place, whose name translates literally to “Downtown Pig Feast,” is a kind of double-duty butcher shop and restaurants specializing in the very best of Hungary’s meaty mains. In fact, they offer quite a stunning array of foods to be enjoyed in a kind of nostalgic canteen ambience. You go up to the counter, point at what you want, tell them how much, add some pickles and they charge you by the dekagram. You ask for a beer too, a can of Arany Aszok or Dreher on tap. Or you opt for a deciliter of Olaszrizling (white), rosé or Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch, red) from the Balaton. A glass will cost you less than a dollar. You then take your tray with all your carefully chosen goodies and pick a table either inside or out. Belvárosi Disznótoros is standing room only, and in a lot of ways it’s right to be. The focus ain’t on service here, but on the food itself, which they can (in this way) afford to offer at very high quality and at a very low price. I think for those curious about Hungarian “hungry food,” this is one of the better places in Budapest to go. You get the same kind of selection as you would upstairs at the Vásárcsarnok (Budapest’s Central Market Hall, also deserving of a thorough review), but in a slightly more relaxed and less touristy format.
Having categorically rejected my mother’s suggestion that we might not, in fact, have time for a full-on pork feast in our day of wedding planning, family visits and sightseeing, we walked back to this place that had so fully captured my attention and entered nervously, worried that it would be closed. It wasn’t. In fact, we managed to arrive at the perfect time, with no line and a wide choice of tables. Behind the brightly lit counter, a wide assortment of ready-to-eat Hungarian classics were on display, a hodgepodge of proteins, a mishmash of side dishes, a jumble of delicious salads (well, salad in the way that “potato salad” is a salad). There’s crispy duck confit, pork roast and knuckle, a kind of schnitzel of chicken or pork, pork shoulder marinated in this and that, pepper and mustard tenderloin, roast beef and beef medallions. On the side there’s braised red cabbage (my favorite), a collection of grilled or fried cheeses, potato salad, coleslaw, beet salad and more… It all just looks real damn good…
The sausages were practically screaming to be tasted. We heard them and ordered one of each kind, the Hungarian trio of brat, liver and blood. Looking at these photos now makes my mouth water, as I remember just how intensely tactile this experience was. The soul-stirring snap of the tightly wound casing when slicing into the bratwurst, just recently pulled hissing angrily off a sizzling hot pan… The thick, delicious, mouth-coating gook oozing out of the other two… It was heaven. Everything was beautifully seasoned. The firey-red brat showed off the wonderful smokiness of the paprika, blended with a natural porcine sweetness. A quick dip in the white-hot, Russian-style mustard completes this tremendous harmony of flavors. The blood sausage was made with just the right amount of rice so that it wasn’t quite a pudding but nowhere near dry either. The natural sweetness of the blood was further enhanced by marjoram and (what I think was) a touch of nutmeg or cinnamon. The liver was also quite a masterpiece, its natural touch of iron-y metallic flavor balanced beautifully with the marjoram. The liver sausage went best with the freshly grated horseradish, also included. And the basketful of fresh sliced bread did wonders to soak up the grease oozing out, a precious nectar not to be wasted.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But Lili, what about the bikini body? These foods seem like they will block my arteries and give me heartburn for the rest of my trip.” And it’s true. Food fried in pork fat, sausages dripping bright red grease, these are not the healthiest of dishes. But Hungarians have created a magical antidote to all their heavy, lard-based classics: pickles. Hungarian pickles are simply the best. At markets you can buy a mind-numbing variety of them, many of them based on pickled cabbage from Vecsés, which is kind of like the pickle capital of Hungary. The selection at Belvárosi Disznótoros is quite vast as well, including all kinds of peppers, pickled, and stuffed or not stuffed with pickled cabbage, pickled beetroot, a kind of mixed pickle called csalamádé, gherkins pickled with fermented bread (kovászos) or without (csemege)… The acidic brine of these will make you salivate and target that excess grease in your belly. The fiber in the veg will help you digest it all. It’s no coincidence that you will almost always find a modest plate of pickled cucumber salad alongside any hearty Hungarian classic. A necessary ying to balance out the yang.
With a cold can of Hungarian beer, this meal went down quick and easy, leaving us fully satisfied and with energy to continue the day. Sure, right after I put my fork down and actually took a breath, I was quite full. But that weight did not stay with us very long. The magical acid in the pickles did their job and after only an hour or so, we felt as light as mother-daughter butterflies. I cherished deeply this experience at Belvárosi Disznótoros and I’ll be sure to heartily recommend it to all the meat-loving guests of my upcoming nuptuals. It was only after eating here that I connected the proverbial dots and realized this had been Anthony’s Bourdain’s favorite spot in Budapest when he visited in 2015. Put in his own words, because they always say it best: “A field of dreams, a landscape of braised, and fried, and cured delights.” Just go there. Just go.