We first visited the Budapest Christmas Market in 2009. First impressions are important. Here are my first impressions from the family letter for Nov 28, 2009.
The Budapest Christmas fair is supposed to be about handicrafts, but to me it was bells and smells. Church bells punctuated Sunday morning as we strolled through the fair. We left the smell of diesel on the street and transitioned into smells of baking bread, cinnamon, spices, frying onions, grilling sausages, wood smoke and candle wax that pervaded the whole fair. (All the cooking was done over wood, with a collection of old cast iron stoves.) As we walked past booths we could catch the smell of freshly cut wood at a toy booth, leather at the hand bag stand, coal at the blacksmith’s shop and, as we picked up a cup, mulled wine. While we scored our share of handicrafts, for me this was a festival of great street food, no need for restaurants on this trip. The potato pancakes were my favorite although I was fascinated by the long lines in front of a booth labeled “Kiralyi Kurtoskalacs,” which in English is either “sugar dough volcano” or perhaps “Chimney Bread.” A lady in white rolls dough onto a smooth wooden “log” attached to a spit, which is set on a rotisserie over wood coals. After it is “baked” the vendor rolls it in your choice of sugary topping. It is like eating “whale’s tails,” “elephant ears” or “fry bread” at home but it is not deep fried so it is healthy, right? You get this tube of smoking bread that tastes pretty good but the main appeal is the anticipation as you stand on line, watch the lady roll the dough, try to guess which “roll” of bread cooking over the fire will be yours and finally watching the vendor roll your very own volcano into your choice walnut, cinnamon or coconut.
Two years later the Budapest fair had changed some. Here are two paragraphs from a November 2011 letter.
The Budapest Christmas Fair has both exploded beyond its boundaries and given birth. The fair traditionally fits into Vorosmatry Ter (square), in front of the Gerbeaud Café, a compact area that makes this fair a bit less intimidating than the huge Christmas Market up river in Vienna. But this year the square has a one row fewer booths, with more room to walk and more seats and tables for all the food the fair offers. It feels more comfortable. But the roomier layout doesn’t mean fewer booths. They spill out of the square down the walking street to Deak Ter where the fair turns left and runs toward St. Istvan Ter (St Steven’s Square) in front of the Basilica. Somewhere along the way the Budapest Christmas Fair morphs into St. Steven’s Advent market (which I describe in another post.)
The Budapest fair has taken on more glitz this year, with more lights, bright but tastefully done, and a light show projected onto the façade of the Gerbeaud Café. The Budapest fair can’t yet compete with the Vienna fair, with its over the top lighting on the Rathaus, but the projections on the Gerbeaud move it into the premier league.