Draft of citrus and cloves slapped my cold-numbed face; mulled wine and punch simmered in drum-like vats in one of the stalls at a Christmas market in Budapest. It was a week after the 25th, yet could there be a better break after a day’s walk in sub-zero temperatures?
Moments ago, we had been welcomed by a plump bronze policeman with belly and mustache polished by continual meddling hands of lens-happy tourists. From there, arcs of lights had led us to the St. Stephen’s Basilica Square that sparkled like jewels studded garish wonderland.
At the entry of Saint Stepen Square, a sign read ‘Langosh’ and my friend’s words repeated in my mind, ‘It is just like bhatura,’ she had said. But the bread’s similarity with deep fried Indian bread ended there, for sour cream and cheese were the recommended traditional Hungarian toppings. Being a nonconformist, I also had some chicken and bell peppers on top of it and paid thrice more than what it cost in a non-touristic area.
In the market, many stalls sold pork knuckles, stuffed cabbage, roast turkey, grilled chicken, goulash, chimney bread, roasted chestnuts and many more delicacies. Besides food stands, some bars offered mulled wine and other drinks. Many booths sold souvenirs like Christmas cribs, paintings, packs of paprika, pepper paste and other things.
Earlier in the day, I overheard a guide stating that the St. Stephen’s Basilica houses the right hand of the first ruler of Hungary called Stephen. And since the place of worship houses a relic, it has been deemed the title of basilica. Originally, the building was meant to revere St. Leopold, the patron saint of Hungary, but the plans were eventually changed to venerate King Stephen, who introduced Christianity in the country.
The next day, after a good night’s rest, I went to the Grand market Hall of Budapest that is the oldest indoor market in the city. Built in 1897 the market is built over 10,000 metres square and was designed by Samu Pecz. After being damaged in the world wars, the building fell into disrepair, but it was restored to its former self towards the end of the last century.
Sunlight filtered through the high painted glass panels at the east end of the 10,000 metres market hall lighting the central aisle of the market. Festive lights and chandeliers hung from the arcs of the building contrasting the stark metallic skeleton of the building. No wonder, in 1999, the market won FIABCI Prix d’Excellence by the International Real Estate Federation.
Fresh vegetables, bread, pastries, cheese meat, fish, and spices were sold on the ground floor of the market hall. It was from there I picked up my new soulmate, smoked paprika! A level below on the ground floor was the Aldi, a supermarket. I found it odd that a modern supermarket found a home in a traditional market.
On the 1st floor, not only there were stores selling fridge magnets and other knick-knacks but also there were stands offering food: potatoes, meatballs, roasts and goulash. Of course, some of the eateries had cauldrons of mulled wine. Guess, it was time to have another glass, for Christmas was just 12 months away.