Hungry in Hungary: Your 2023 Guide to Veg-Friendly Hungarian Cuisine
Let me help you avoid going hungry in Hungary with this guide for vegetarian and vegan travellers! And these recommendations might even suit some omnivores too.
Let’s face it, travelling as a vegetarian or vegan can be really damn hard. Not only do you have language barriers to contend with, but in some countries even the concept of a diet without animal products is incomprehensible.
And unfortunately, many cuisines are difficult to navigate for us plant-based people.
I’ve lost count of how many holidays have had me surviving on bread, fries and salad whilst those around me oooh and aaahh over the local delicacies. Occasionally, I’ll be saved by a native who’ll offer to speak to the chef and see if they can rustle up something special for me.
But more often than not, I don’t have an awful lot of choice. So let me help you avoid going hungry in Hungary with this guide for vegetarian and vegan travellers.
Hungarian cuisine is distinct in its use of a multitude of spices, specifically hot and mild paprika. However, like its Central European neighbours, these flavours can only usually be enjoyed in dishes heavy on dairy, cheese and meats. And although vegetarianism and veganism are growing, these are still very new dietary choices for Hungarians.
As usual, you’ll have an easier time finding yummy local food if you’re vegetarian. But fellow vegans, don’t let that put you off! If I can do it, you can too.
Traditional Vegetarian & Vegan Dishes to Try
Hungary’s national dish, gulyás [goo-lash], is usually a beef stew (or soup) with a rich paprika seasoned broth. Excitingly, this delicious dish is normally served in a hollowed-out loaf of round bread. Gulyás is delicious and hearty, finding a veg-friendly version will definitely keep you from going hungry in Hungary, but you might have to look around.
Deep fried dough, smothered with toppings, Lángos [lan-gosh] is a popular Hungarian street food and can be found almost everywhere. Sour cream and cheese are some of the most popular combinations but hummus may also be available. To make it vegan, order without toppings and bring your own spread!
Zöldségleves [Zold-shey-glav-esh] is a clear vegetable soup made with celery, carrots, turnips, and spices. This is usually vegetarian. You can order without noodles to make this vegan. Double-check to make sure that the broth does not contain meat.
Rizi bizi is made with rice and peas and usually served as a side dish, but can be ordered alone. Although it is much loved in Hungary, this dish actually originates from Italy. For a vegan option, make sure it doesn’t come with butter.
Ecetes uborkasaláta & Ecetes káposzta saláta
Salads! Ecetes uborkasaláta [E-ze-tesh Oo-berka-shey-la-ta] is a salad of sliced cucumber seasoned with garlic, sugar and vinegar. Ecetes káposzta saláta [E-ze-tesh KA-poz-ta shey-la-ta], a cabbage salad with the same dressing. For something more filling, order Ecetes burgonyasaláta [E-ze-tesh Bur-gon-ya shey-la-ta], a potato salad.
Palacsinta [pah-lah-cheen-ta] are a type of crepe typically filled with cottage cheese and raisins. A national dessert, and one that Hungarian people are very proud of! Vegetarian, not vegan.
The beloved chimney cake! Kürtőskalács [Kuer-tus-kalash] is a ribbon of sweet dough wrapped around a cylinder and turned over coals until cooked then finished off with your choice of flavour (my favourite is cinnamon and sugar!). Everyone loves chimney cake. Almost all are vegetarian, vegan options available by request at this specific vendor.
My favourite restaurants
I expect that there’ll be far more options to choose from than there were in 2015 when I visited. To avoid going hungry in Hungary, I recommend downloading Happy Cow, my go-to app when trying to find veg-based food! To start you off, here are some of my favourite eateries in the capital – tried and tested.
Although not traditional Hungarian cuisine, Hummus Bar may well save your stomach, as it did mine. This Hungarian chain serves up falafel, wraps, salads and couscous. There was one right across from my hotel when I interned at Budapest’s Science Park and I chowed down on falafel multiple times a week. Yum!
This Israeli fusion restaurant is absolutely to die for and has many vegetarian and vegan options. With its gorgeous interior and lively vibe, it’s extremely popular among locals and tourists. I have fond memories of sitting outside in the evening warmth surrounded by twinkling fairy lights and the laughter of my family. We loved it so much that we ate there twice on that trip, and I have returned every trip after. Once I got lost in a summer thunderstorm trying to find the place alone, but that’s another story!
This food court is hard to find and even harder to leave. Located near one of the most popular ruin pubs, Szimpla Kert, Karaván has plenty of veggie options to choose from and even a whole stall dedicated to plant-based and vegan cuisine. If you’re in Budapest you won’t want to miss Szimpla Kert and Karaván makes a great stop-off to fill your stomach before ordering a round of evening cocktails.
The Vintage Garden
A quaint and charming vintage-inspired restaurant, The Vintage Garden serves up French and Italian-inspired cuisine. They have vegetarian and sometimes vegan options although their menu changes with the seasons and fresh produce available. An English menu is available, so you know what you’re ordering at least!
Although food is relatively cheap in Hungary, being a budget traveller means that I can’t eat out 24/7. And as a plant-based traveller, I always end up stopping at a supermarket or farmers market to get my groceries.
A trip to the supermarket in a foreign country is always interesting and a sure way to make sure you’re getting essential nutrients in your diet without compromising on your values.
Stock up on fresh fruit and veggies, bread, hummus, olives, and anything else that takes your fancy! Then take it back to cook in your hostel or apartment, or buy raw food for a picnic. Another tip to stop veg-eaters going hungry in Hungary is to stock up on snacks, just in case you can’t find anywhere to eat immediately.
If you’re travelling with omnivorous friends or family, you could also try rescuing food with Too Good to Go. This is a great way to eat on a budget and helps in the fight against food waste. The only problem is that you can’t always choose and may end up with food that doesn’t fit your dietary requirements.
As usual, you’ll have a far easier time if you take a moment to learn some of the local language.
Many Hungarians, particularly those of older generations, do not speak English. They’ll appreciate your attempts at trying to make their lives easier and you might even get bigger portions (trust me, it works).
So here’s my list of essential vocabulary to stop you going hungry in Hungary, along with a handy pronunciation guide!
I’m vegetarian – Vegetáriánus vagyok [veh-geh-TAI-ree-ai-noos vah-yok]
I’m vegan – Vegán vagyok [veh-GINE vah-yok]
I do not eat meat or fish – Nem eszek húst és halat [nehm eh-sek hoosht ish hah-luht]
Do you have any meals without meat? – Van húsmentes ételetek? [Vahn hoosh-mehn-tesh ee-tell-eh-tek]
Can I have this without meat? – Kaphatok ebből hús nélkül? [kah-POH-tek eh-bool hoosh nee-el-KOOL]
I eat eggs and cheese – Eszek tojást és sajtot [EH-sek toy-yasht ish shoy-tut]
I don’t eat eggs or cheese – Nem eszek tojást és sajtot [Nem EH-sek toy-yasht ish shoy-tut]
Please – Kérem [KEE-rem]
Thank you – Köszönöm [KOO-sah-noom]
Veg-friendly Hungarian cuisine is out there! No longer do vegetarians and vegans have to go hungry in Hungary whilst those around us enjoy delicious local foods. So what are you waiting for?
To make the most of your trip and for more detailed information, we recommend grabbing a Lonely Planet. It makes great plane or train reading too and when you’re done, you can pass it on or leave it in your guesthouse/hostel. The best bit? This one’s free with Kindle Unlimited!
Fancy a chat? Want more restaurant recommendations? Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. You can leave a comment below or drop me an email here.
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Yummy! I really want to go to the Hummus bar 😍 I love falafels!
Hummus bar saved my life! I was 18, first solo trip abroad interning and didn’t speak any Hungarian… my German was rusty too which is the common second language there. I swear I went to hummus bar daily haha!
This is SO informative! We went to Budapest many years ago, but survived on bread, chips and cold cherry soup. We need to return!