A Day in Budapest Part 1 – a breakfast of porn; food porn and yep, the other porn

We stood in the rain outside a brown wooden door in Budapest’s District VII, scrambling to put on our waterproof jackets. I hadn’t wanted a day traipsing round tourist spots, ticking off monuments, palaces and bath houses. I wanted cooler than that. A cursory glance at Julia’s Facebook friends (that’s with a Y sound, like in eulogy, not a J, like in Roberts), mostly arty-farty twenty-something’s, and I knew Budapest had an alternative side. So far so good.

But I’d neglected to check the weather. I blamed this on the fact that Julia had been bragging about how lovely it had been for the past couple of weeks in Budapest and how she was was developing a suntan in May, not my own laziness and/or stupidity. So Julia had brought me her brother’s rain jacket for the day. It was going to be very hard to be cool when I was dressed as a dorky tourist, but as Julia said, at least I was now a dry, dorky tourist. I would have told me that I was never cool in the first place too, but unlike Australians, Hungarians’ first instincts are not to insult their friends as a form of bonding.

The door we stood next to, and the windows on either side of it, was boarded up with paper. Julia looked at the sign above our heads and translated for me.

‘Second Hand Sex Shop.”

I’m not sure what the international sign for ‘Ewww’ is, but I’m pretty sure our faces were making it. Even with the promise of commercial grade cleaning, neither of us would ever dream of buying someone’s used sex toys. So who would? Lulled by equal parts adventure, curiosity and disgust, we went in.

I guess I could have figured out the translation all by myself if I'd tried, couldn't I?

I guess I could have figured out the translation all by myself if I’d tried, couldn’t I?

Julia was perhaps the perfect guide for me that day. I’d been promised an insider’s guide to Budapest, the grungy, dirty, secret side. But when she said dirty, I honestly thought she meant the kind of dirt that goes with grunge, not the (some would say) filthy type one might find behind this door.

My first impression of the sex shop was that it was tiny, no bigger than what’s called a single room you can charge £500 a month for in London. In Australia we call that the shed. There were wooden bookshelves crammed with DVD’s lining every wall, a smaller room going off to the right and a grandmotherly lady who stood behind a counter opposite us. Looking at the shelves, the penny dropped and we both let out a long “Ohhhh” (Julia and I, not the granny and I). Second hand DVD’s. Well, that’s a whole lot less disgusting then, isn’t it?

My second impression was of the granny. Now, shoot me for the horrible cultural stereotype, but to me she looked like she should have been out in the country, in a little village, with a patterned scarf on her head keeping the sun off her weather-beaten face while she toiled in her veggie patch. I was surprised as much by the fact that she was elderly as I was that she didn’t seem like she even belonged in the city, let alone in charge of a sex shop. I wondered if this was her son’s shop and he’d gone off to scour Europe’s X-rated fairs for more stock, having to pull in his Mum to look after things while he was gone. Then I saw what looked like Grandpa to my right, in the smaller annexe, struggling to dress a mannequin that was only a female torso and a head into some kind of latex maid’s outfit. This theory was growing more weight by the second.

Despite ourselves, Julia and I giggled. Grandma looked at us more closely and asked Julia for ID. Ah yes, only youngsters would giggle in a sex shop wouldn’t they? We felt it would somehow be rude not to look around, so we pretended to be very interested in some 80’s porn photographs on the wall behind us. We walked into the room where Grandpa was still struggling with the dummy, but he acted like we weren’t even there, which was difficult (and weird) because the dimensions of the room meant that three of us in there at once was quite a squeeze.

Ah well. Having learnt only my fifth Hungarian word that morning – after yes, no, hello and cat – I muttered a polite “koszonom” to Granny as we left.

Earlier, we had gone to the Frohlich Bakery on Dob Street because I wanted to try some Hungarian cake. In Budapest, when tourists want cake they go to Gerbaud or Central or The New York Café. They sit in opulent surroundings, with enough mirrors and chandeliers and gold leaf to remind us how wealthy Budapest once was. They’re served by waiters in stiff shirts, ties and waste coats, while classical music reminds them how posh they’re pretending to be and maybe calms them for when the bill arrives.

In a city full of famous cafes, I’d rather visit something like Frohlich, Budapest’s only remaining kosher bakery. It’s a place with its own more humble history, where generations of families have worked at the same shop, in the same neighbourhood. The fact it’s a family run place is obvious. It’s small, modest, has a few tables down the back and old bakery utensils hang on the walls. While we ate, a young girl worked the counter and a lady I thought was acting suspiciously like her mother flitted back and forth from the kitchen to arrange newly baked trays of cakes behind the glass. They exchanged a few words, and Julia laughed, then whispered to me that the young girl had been told to fix her top because her bra strap was showing. Suspicion confirmed.

The outside of Frohlich Bakery. Not the most understated signage, but you definitely won’t miss it, right?

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Wardrobe malfunction sorted, some customers peruse the selections.

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Old baking tools decorate the small dining area

I chose Dobos Torta, a multi layered sponge and chocolate butter cream cake topped with caramel. Did I mention this was breakfast? It was underwhelming, dry and bland, but having Googled it earlier I was expecting as much, but for me this was more about seeking out tradition. Dobos was named after its inventor, Jozsef Dobos. He invented buttercream as an alternative to whipped cream while searching for a way to keep cakes fresher longer. In 1885, after presenting this cake to Emperor Franz Joseph, he toured with it all around Europe and a legend was born. You’ve got to love a country that treats its cakes like rock stars and sends them on European tours.

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Dobos – you can kind of see how dry it is can’t you? Maybe order a glass of something to wash it down with too.

Julia on the other hand went for the Flodni, a traditional Hungarian Jewish pastry made with layers of apple, poppy seeds and walnuts. And of course, Frohlich is considered to make the best in all the city. Let’s just say as far as taste went, Julia won the cake war. Surprisingly, she’d never tried Flodni before, but said it was the best cake she’d ever eaten. Coming from a Hungarian, that’s like, well, like an Italian saying something’s the best pizza or pasta they’ve ever eaten. But if you happen to be on your way to Budapest any time soon, let me warn you, one slice of Flodni is said to have 1000 calories. Oi vey!

All I can say is, with that much to burn, it was a good thing our day had barely begun.

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Flodni – look how innocent that looks, how could that be 1000 calories? It also doesn’t look delicious, but trust me, it’s all kinds of heaven.

Frohlich Koser Cukraszda
Address: Budapest, Dob utca 22, 1072
www.frohlich.hu

Retro Szexturkalo
Address: Budapest, Dob utca 17, 1072

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