on May 24, 2009
The Great Market Hall next to the Szabadsag Bridge in Budapest’s 9th district is the city’s largest indoor market. Opened at the end of the 19th century and renovated in the 1990s, the hall manages to keep a foot in the past but is a treasure trove to tourists and Budapest residents today. The hall was designed by Samu Pecz, who also had a hand in the renovations of the Matthias Church and gained a reputation for his striking diamond-patterned Zsolnay tilework, which are displayed to great effect on the roofs of both buildings. We saw locals strolling out with armfuls of fresh bread while inside others pored over the fruit and vegetable selections. I was personally impressed by the sausage displays at the meat counters, arranged to look like an epic intestinal jungle. For gift hunters, stalls on the ground floor offer spicy and sweet paprika in cute red tins topped with miniature wooden scoops. Pale Hungarian honey and sweet Tokaji wines line glass shelves and jet black Unicum can be bought in large, medium, small, or very small bottles. The first floor of the market is dedicated to native handicrafts such as lace, dolls, clothing, glassware and some slightly less traditional t-shirts. It’s also a great vantage point for snapping a photograph of the market hall. From here you can appreciate the beauty of this immense structure, especially on a clear day when shafts of dusty sunlight light up the market’s sea-green skeleton. It was here that we stopped into Fakanal Etterem, a canteen-style cafeteria serving up trays of goulash and other Hungarian delights. Despite having the appearance of a countryside kindergarten, meal prices at Fakanal Etterem aren’t subsidized. Daylight spilled in through the glass ceiling as we shuffled along with our grey tray, collecting plates of goulash and vegetables followed by a choice of soft or alcohol drinks. Overhead, paper poppies with oversized flower heads and clutches of straw dangled down from the window frame. The meat was on the gristly side and I suspected the veggies of coming from the deep freeze but given the jolly location I would still recommend stopping in for lunch. It seemed especially ideal for large groups as wooden picnic tables are pushed together in long rows. Also paying before you’re seated eliminates the need to divide up a large bill at the end of the meal. In spite of the regular turnover of customers there were plenty of free tables and in such a relaxed atmosphere you felt comfortable enjoying a long lunch. They also serve alcohol, much to the joy of a group of grey-haired tourists one table up from us. The one place we didn’t linger was the basement floor where the pickles are sold. The number of pickled items on offer rivaled the upstairs sausage collections but the smell was undoubtedly more distressing.
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