The Great Market Hall in Budapest

By: Philip Hunt

Some 15 years ago, I was invited by a colleague, to work on a project in Hungary, staying in Budapest; it was delayed and eventually I was unable to go. However, somewhat jealous of his visit to this fascinating and then strangely remote destination, I enquired on his return, as to how it had all gone and was very surprised by his reply. Brian was, at this time, regularly traveling around Europe, courtesy of his son who was involved in the fledgling mass tourist market. We had over the years, developed a friendship based on a shared passion for food, and had spent many tea breaks swapping recipes and discussing where best to source various ingredients and hand tools, much to the amusement and bewilderment of work chums. His answer to my query had been that out of all of the places he had visited, he had tasted in Hungary the best, most varied and enjoyable cuisine, ever.
So, scarcely could I contain my joy, when some 10 years later, I too found myself in Budapest, starting an accommodation business having purchased a property, fortuitously close to a large market.
Opened in 1897, The Great Hall was one of five new markets in the Capital, built to supply all classes of Hungarians in this newly developing city, the importance of which can be seen in the grandeur of its Cathedral-like design. With huge steel spans, vast areas of glass, and its front having been modeled in the Hungarian Gothic Style, the building is topped by a beautifully ornate and very colourful, decoratively tiled, yellow and green roof.

It is this last feature that makes this building easily recognizable and it is located close to the Danube, on the Pest side opposite the Gellert Hotel and Buda Castle on the Buda side.
The market was connected to the areas of production by both railway and a channel directed to its basement, from the arterial Danube itself. Both trains and boats were dispatched early enough to reach the market and discharge their goods before each morning came.
New technology provided clocks and numerous telephones, whilst older ideas created
huge basins full of filtered, fresh water for fish, sourced from the Great Halls' own well. Not all of the fish were immediately sold, some being allowed to mature further in the basins. This plentiful supply of water also facilitated the washing and cleaning of the market, allowing it rapidly to develop a reputation for cleanliness. Vast underground ducts and tunnels provided for the removal of rubbish that would have otherwise accumulated on a daily basis.
Such was the magnificence of the Great Market Hall, that liveried Door Keepers manned each of the 10 ornate entrance gates. As in the Metro stations, large poster-like information boards illustrate the Halls' building and subsequent refurbishment.
Not only does the market house all manner of vegetables, not all immediately recognizable to us from more western parts, but fruit from apples, through kiwi-fruit to zucchini. Frogs legs, bolete and propolis can be sourced and also a complete collection of meats and poultry, reassuringly offered with the fat removed, so that quality money is only paid for quality provisions. Grandly displayed on marble packed with ice, fresh fish (including strangely, various sea fish) are readily available, as are live fish now kept in aquarium style tanks on ground level and a vast selection of sausage, hams, smoked or not, along with many varieties of cheese.
In the galleried upstairs, a unique collection of utensils are on offer including marrow shredders, tomato squeezers or a special goose feather with which to apply goose grease, but to where we do not know. Tourists similarly are catered for with stalls displaying varied Hungarian folk ephemera along side some equitably priced, imaginatively designed leather ware. Cafes and some bars are to be found here, supplying authentic Hungarian snacks and meals, sourced from the market below - all accompanied by the most wonderful Hungarian bread. The Hungarian beer offered is also recommended, especially the Brown beers, usually bottled - an excellent accompaniment to the typical Hungarian coarse fish soup.
The Great Market Hall is testament to the largesse, success and confidence of the Old Empire, as it still remains the largest covered market in Europe. It has been a place of interest for years, for people choosing to stay in Budapest, where tourists can see and purchase things that are unfamiliar to them, or typical of the country, its cuisine, folklore taste or traditions.

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