Torte for the day
STICK to my healthy eating plan of no sugar, little dairy and a smidgin of alcohol for medicinal purposes only? Sorry, just not possible. Here I am in Budapest surrounded by whopping great cakes, buttery pastries, poppyseed strudels and cream-crowned drinks, and there seems no alternative but to turn into a tart and let loose.
Instant sweet treats stalk my every step in this lovely city of cafes and, in summer, leisurely outdoor dining when patrons idle over ‘‘light meals’’ such as ‘‘small’’ schnitzels that turn out to be the comfy size of hot water bottles. Beverages? There are martinis dusted with paprika and doses of fortifying palinka spirit in flavours such as pear, quince or black cherry. Palinka apparently is known as ‘‘Hungarian penicillin’’.
In the cushioned bar at the fabulously restored Four Seasons Gresham Palace, drinkers are presented with little badges that mark them as survivors of the signature cocktail, which comes with its own mixologist, stylish serving tray, coloured glassware and swizzle stick.
At the famous old Cafe Gerbeaud on Vorosmarty Square on the Pest side of the Danube, founded in 1858 and as appropriately decorative as a wedding cake, the chocolate tortes come with at least six layers.
Two matrons at the next table snap their fingers for more whipped cream to pop on top. I spy a mojito being served with a scoop of ice cream. I ask for something that’s not too sweet.
‘‘Cottage cheese cake,’’ says the waitress with brisk efficiency. ‘‘For you, I put the cream on the side.’’
On my way back to my hotel, I am waylaid by a van selling chimney cake. It’s impossible not to pause and watch the rosy-cheeked vendor as he twirls a doughy mixture around a dowel-like spit until it crisps; then he rolls the hollow confection in cinnamon sugar and crushed almonds and wraps it with a stiff twist of paper. It looks like a crunchy Cornetto cone, without the filling.
My hotel minibar features one of each of the following, lined up in a row like plump little soldiers about to burst their buttons: Kit Kat, Snickers, Mars Bar, brown pack of M&Ms, yellow pack of M&Ms and a sack of Haribo lollies that includes enough gummy bears to cause a stir at Yellowstone National Park.
That is the front row; behind, between the salted nuts, crisps and pretzels, is an elaborate cake in a pink box and a little note from management reminding recalcitrant guests like me of its imminent expiry date.
The latest craze in Budapest is the ‘‘ruin pub’’ concept. These lively pop-up drinking spots are housed in abandoned tenements, disused factory buildings, retro cinemas, parking lots or roof gardens, mostly in Pest’s seventh district near the Great Synagogue.
The decor is thrift shop, the vibe casual, the artwork often psychedelic, the food reasonably priced and the drinks encouragingly large.
I must admit I haven’t tried one of these fun places yet, the word ruin being rather too personal for a traveller who must now invest in trousers with gussets after just three days on the loose in Budapest.