A Guide to Budapest's Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall or "Nagyvásárcsarnok" is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest. Despite the dozens and dozens of tourists with their cameras out, this place is a favourite with locals and the best place to come to get fresh produce, Hungarian specialities, a quick meal or a sweet treat.
The building was constructed in 1897 by Samu Pecz and funded by the then current mayor of Budapest, Károly Kamermayer, who wanted to give his city a first class marketplace like the ones in Paris and London.
One of the most distinguishing features of the exterior is the roof which is made up of colourful Zsolnay tiling from Pécs. These tiles were iconic due to their red iridescence or other colours and can be seen on many of the most famous roofs in Budapest.
The market is located next to the Danube river. When it first opened, ship were able to sail right into the harbour, next to the market to unload their good at the docks. The building which once housed the customs house is now the Corvinus University.
When entering the Great Market, notice the elaborate neo-gothic gates which adorn the entry. Let your eyes turn upwards and study the different designs created through the various hues of red bricks. The large triptych of arched windows allows light to pour in through the front of the entrance.
The market is enormous! There are over 10,000 square meters of space inside the building. The entirety of the space is covered in steel and glass so farmers and artisans can sell their goods any day of the year. The intricate, wrought iron ribbing creates an artistic spider web design against the bright orange roof and large windows.
In the early days, of the market, huge wagons carrying goods ran down the centre of the market with producer's stalls off to the sides. Today you can see the residue of bygone days as the centre aisle is much wider than the rest of the market.
The entire structure was destroyed during WWII and restoration took a long time. Delays were inevitable, but the constant problems they ran into meant that the restored market wasn't finished until 1990. But, great works take a long time, and the results were a stunning and faithful reconstruction of the original building's architecture and ornamentation.
The market's open and airy main floor makes the entire space feel so grandiose. The natural light pours in and reflects playfully off the colourful goods within.
There are three floors which make up the marketplace. The first floor is the most interesting and contains the bulk of the content brought in the market daily. You'll see seasonal produce, fresh meat, pastries, olives, exotic spices, and most importantly - Hungarian specialities.
Hungarian paprika is sold throughout the market. You can find it in the most lovely packages with intricate embroidery or inside sleek glass bottles. Paprika is considered to be the national spice of Hungary, so it's not just a souvenir but a mainstay of Hungarian cuisine. Hungarian paprika is made from peppers which are toasted and blended into a fine consistency. Some are hotter mixes than others, but most of them have a little bit of heat. Hungarian paprika is also slightly on the sweet side and very dark red.
Another Hungarian staple which is found hanging throughout the market is Hungarian salamis and sausages. Hungarian salami is sought after all over the world. The cured meat contains spices like garlic, peppers, caraway seeds and, of course, paprika. These cured sausages are ideal for picnics, just remember to bring or buy a knife so you can slice it over cheese, crackers or bread.
A sweet treat found throughout the market are "Rétes". Rétes are a strudel-like pastry log, filled with fresh fruits such as apple, cherry, or poppy seed and topped with powdered sugar. We sampled the assorted berry variety, and it was delicious!
Saffron is abundant throughout the market is can be found at reasonable prices too so stock up! Another item, favourited by the locals, are fresh and dried mushrooms found at the north end of the hall. These mushrooms are from all over the world and you can rarely find such a great selection.
Upstairs, overlooking the market below, are various eateries and souvenir stalls. Many of the souvenirs here are Chinese made knock offs so be sure to check the labels before you buy but there are some gems in there. The embroidered items are the best thing to look for as many of these are hand made and a beautiful keepsake of Budapest.
The food stalls up here are unpretentious, cheap and tasty. Many of the stalls have been serving residents for years so if you want to eat like a local; this is the place to go! You can find black pudding, fried sausages, stuffed cabbage, lángos (deep fried dough with garlic, sour cream and cheese) as well as sweet pancakes. Give "Kolbice" a try - a whole wheat bread cone filled with mini sausages, cheddar cheese sauce and fresh sauerkraut.
If you feel like a drink, hop into the borozós (cheap bars) where you can have a glass of inexpensive Hungarian wine, beer or the popular, Unicum (a Hungarian herbal liqueur).
The basement is where you'll find a supermarket as well as the stinkier items which make up all European marketplaces. Fishmongers, butchers and pickle barrels line the basement, and you can certainly smell it as you descend. Hungarian pickles are incredible - the paprika stuffed cabbage is worth a try!
The Ázsia Shop is Budapest's first international food store and can also be found downstairs. Although you're more than likely visiting the market for Hungarian foods, it is an interesting place to explore or buy some exotic spices from all over the world
If you're on a budget, the Great Market is the best place to get authentic Hungarian food. It's also a reliable place to collect ingredients for the perfect picnic and head out to the Danube to watch boats cruise up and down the river and enjoy your tasty treasures.