Shopping habits change. Once upon a time there were proper shops: grocers, greengrocers, butchers, bakers and fishmongers. Even a dairy where each week the milk bill, for those delivered pints, would be paid. And on at least one weekday there would be the excitement of the outside or covered market piled high with fruit and vegetables, fresh free range eggs, home cured hams, honey, cakes and jams, all brought into the town from the surrounding countryside. Now, sadly, with the growth of the out of town superstore and, most recently, on line shopping, so much of this has disappeared.
|the exterior of the market house in Hunyadi tér, Budapest [click to enlarge]|
Here in Budapest old customs do, indeed, die hard, if they die at all. For since the close of the nineteenth century, when five large markets were opened, all coincidentally on the same day, very little has changed. Today they operate much as they have for the past hundred years, spilling over now, as then, into and onto the surrounding streets and pavements and catering for a population which continues to shop daily.
|view of the interior, recently refurbished, of the Hunyadi tér market|
Our local market, one of the original five, is in Hunyadi tér. Unrestored outside, it is a cavern of a place, icy in winter and overwhelmingly hot in summer, but hugely popular, and busy, at all times. In addition to several greengrocers, and like everyone we have our favourite, there is a bread stall, a fish counter, complete with murky watered fish tanks, crowded and heaving, a kind of marine Death Row, as well as two or more butchers.
|the stall from which our meat is bought with, as always, a queue|
For meat we favour a particular stall, manned by one Gyula and his merry men. The quality is excellent, and others think so too, for it is seldom possible to get away without queuing for at least twenty minutes, considerably longer at weekends. For fruit and vegetables we turn to Blondy where the stall holder, a Manchester United supporter, is endlessly cheerful and never without his somewhat cheeky grin.
|the cheeky grin of the stall holder glimpsed over the fruit and vegetables|
Tucked away in a rather dark corner is the cabbage woman, essential if you are to make, which most Hungarians do much of the time, stuffed cabbage. With an outsize smile, she will serve you with near translucent leaves torn from a giant pickled cabbage. To this must be added the shredded strips, also pickled and sold separately by weight, which are cooked alongside the cabbage-wrapped meat and rice balls together with a generously sized piece of smoked ham. Apart from a few jars of pickled red cabbage, and the odd egg lurking in liquid, she has little in the way of other stock. Amazingly she appears to make a living.
|the cabbage stall showing the shredded cabbage to the extreme right|
North of Nyugati pályaudvar, the western railway terminus, is the most modern of all the markets, Lehel. In atmosphere it is very different from its older counterparts, slicker, more streamlined. But in essence it remains the same. Country people, with garden produce, man their stalls here as elsewhere, the honey man comes regularly, fish swim a little more freely, bread is baked and Brussels, with all its European Union regulations, is a long way off.