Ejo #68 – Drunk In….. Budapest

It’s been a few months since I popped my “Drunk In…..” series cherry in Tokyo and it’s about time to bring you the next edition.  This time we get tipsy in Budapest – an excellent city to continue the series.

If you have the means (and you do - it's extremely reasonably priced), I recommend you get your ass to the Danube Symphony Orchestra.

If you have the means (and you do – it’s extremely reasonably priced), I recommend you get your ass to the Danube Symphony Orchestra.

Budapest is a very old city bursting with youthful exuberance.  It is a most charming blend of classic (architecture, culture) and contemporary (street art, night life).  So whilst David and I most definitely delighted in a healthy dose of cultivated entertainment (Danube Symphony Orchestra, yo!), we also really enjoyed the more down to earth, rustic pleasures the city had to offer.  And those consisted mostly of something called ruin bars (or ruin pubs).

A ruin bar is what it says on the label.  It’s a bar set in a ruin (of which the city boasts many). Essentially, they are derelict buildings converted into watering holes.  It is the diametric opposite of the type of bar that blooms in Dubai, where everything has to be huge, shiny, new, glistening and glamorous.  These ruin bars revel in being as crude, rudimentary, homespun, makeshift and DIY as possible.  They are outfitted with various bric-a-brac, found objects and second hand stuff.  They are a tonic to my soul.

The very first ruin bar was Szimpla Kert (kert means garden in Hungarian).  Rather than allow the demolition of an abandoned building back in 2001, a group of entrepreneurial, young, free thinkers managed to convince the city to leave the vestige standing and allow them to open up a bar/open air cinema which they outfitted with whatever furniture they could find. It stands today, not only as a monument to the progressive and tolerant ways of this European city, but as an inspiration for an entire subculture of taverns that remain unique to Budapest. Why allow these abandoned buildings, relics of a painful past, to stand empty? Why spend money to demolish them, simply to build new, garish constructions?  And why not allow their historic bones to be fleshed out with the spirited liveliness of youth and enthusiasm.  Why not, indeed?

We tried several ruin bars and these are our favourites.

Mika Kert
This was the least well known but our very favourite kert.  It was ultra relaxed – an unkempt dive-bar in a back yard, strung with fairy lights and odd garden furniture (including a boat!!!). One of this place’s strong points is that they make VERY strong, cheap drinks. There is a nightclub attached to it but we just went to the beer garden, which was great. Very relaxed.

Amazing street out looks over this relaxed bar.

Amazing street art looks over this relaxed bar.

OK, so we got the strongest drink on the block (Long Island Ice Tea), but I have never seen it served like this.  That is pretty well just spirits (five of 'em) and a dash of coke for propriety.

OK, so we got the strongest drink on the block (Long Island Ice Tea), but I have never seen it served like this. It’s pretty well just spirits (five of ’em) and a dash of coke for propriety.

Anker’T
This place can apparently get super busy on weekends and late at night but we went in the afternoons and it was very chilled out.  It was another favourite because again, it was very easy going and laid back and it was literally a five minute walk from our house.  Always service with a smile (not something you get at all the ruin bars – I’m looking at you Szimpla!!!) and again, super cheap.

Anker'T

Anker’T

Look for the big A.

Look for the big A.

Inside the courtyard.

Inside the courtyard.  Notice the “ruin” setting.

Grandio Bar
This great ruin bar is part of a hostel complex – so there are always backpackers slouching around, but that’s cool.  The wonderful, thing about this bar is the gorgeous garden.  It feels like a real escape into a garden of Eden (where they just happen to serve cheap drinks).  It’s a wonderful place to spend a few hours reading a book and enjoying the chirping of the birds while drinking $2 beers.

Grandio's beautiful garden.

Grandio’s beautiful garden.

So, apart from ruin pubs there are also a few other types of drinking establishments.  Two of our favourites are both very nice, and very different.  The first is a craft beer bar and the second a high end cocktail mixology den.

Kandallo Artisinal Pub
Budapest is renowned for its cheap beer (and seriously, it’s fucking cheap) but this place serves not just cheap beer, but artisinally made craft beer, along with the kind of food that is perfect for soaking up an afternoon of being drunk in Budapest.  Wonderful chicken wings and an assortment of burgers.  If you’re feeling game, try the cherry beer (it’s a unique flavour, popular in Hungary).

List of craft beers (you may need someone to translate for you - or.... just point to one and hope you like it)

List of craft beers (you may need someone to translate for you – or…. do what we did and just point to one and hope you like it)

Yep!  Cherry beer is EXACTLY what we wanted.

Yep! Cherry beer is EXACTLY what we wanted.

Spicy chicken wings hit the spot (as did the accompanying, thick-cut roast potato).

Spicy chicken wings hit the spot (as did the accompanying, thick-cut roast potato).

Pulled pork burger with yummy coleslaw.  Perfect end to a night trawling the ruin bars of Budapest.

Pulled pork burger with yummy coleslaw. Perfect end to a night trawling the ruin bars of Budapest.

Bar Pharma
AMAZING cocktails. Very intricate recipes and exotic ingredients – high end mixology.  The first night we went, we managed to sneak in, just as they were preparing to close (the owner/manager was sweet talking a young lady who was sitting on a stool in the corner of the bar and I think we interrupted his smooth moves).  The second night, we were greeted like old friends.  This place is not for everyone, but for the travelling drinker that appreciates fine cocktails, you will find a home at Bar Pharma.

Bar Pharma is the place to go for precisely measured concoctions that will tickle your finer sensibilities.  Go at the start of the evening, rather than the end.  You'll appreciate the art of the drink better.

Bar Pharma is the place to go for precisely measured concoctions that will tickle your finer sensibilities. Go at the start of the evening, rather than the end. You’ll appreciate the art of the drink better.

Having studied chemistry at high school and university, there is something very appealing to me about a bar that takes it's ethos from the lab.

Having studied chemistry at high school and university, there is something very appealing to me about a bar that takes it’s ethos from the lab.

Cocktail 1

Cocktail 1

Cocktail 2

Cocktail 2

Cocktail 3 (yes, that is a popcorn rim)

Cocktail 3 (yes, that is a popcorn rim)

Cocktail 4

Cocktail 4

Cocktail 5

Cocktail 5

Eat & Meet
Not necessarily adjunct to the drinking experience of Budapest, but most certainly one that I would highly recommend anyway, is an interesting pop-up restaurant called Eat & Meet (which is a godawful name, but a really wonderful concept).  Suzie, a young Hungarian woman with a love of food, entrepreneurial spirit and pride for her city, hosts up to ten guests at a time for dinner in her parent’s apartment.  Suzie’s parents serve up delicious, home-made Hungarian food and local wines while Suzie sits at the table and entertains.  It’s a truly unique experience and one that I’d highly recommend.  If you are interested, Suzie also does foodie tours of the city.

The view from the apartment.

View of the Danube from Suzie’s parents’ apartment.

Dessert - chocolate cake with cherry filling.  Divine.

I was too busy enjoying the food and chatting with other guests to take photos of the three other courses.  Suffice to say I had seconds of the main dish.  Here is dessert – chocolate cake with cherry filling. Divine.

Retro Bufe Langos
Langos is a typical Hungarian snack of fried bread (oh yeah, baby, I said fried bread!!!!) topped with various ingredients. Hungarians eat it with just cream cheese and cheese, but other offerings are available too.  This is very, very naughty food – but soooooooooooo good.  I’d say this particular langos shop is the best one in Budapest (going from my research and how damn delicious it was!!!).

Menu

Menu

Hungarian style (plus fried, crispy onion - which I can never say not to if it's offered to me)

Hungarian style (plus fried, crispy onion – which I simply can’t refuse, if it’s on offer)

And, coz I like my onion, Hungarian style (cream cheese and cheese) but with a topping of fresh onion.

And, coz I like my onion, Hungarian sausage langos: cream cheese and cheese, fresh onion and Hungarian sausage.  Mmmmmm!  Wash it all down with a refreshing Hungarian brew.

My Little Melbourne
Anyone who’s ever been drunk anywhere knows how important coffee is the next day.  My regular readers will know how much I love coffee (and how I despair at the crap coffee found in Dubai). So whenever we travel I compile a list of the “best” places to get coffee and we make an effort to try all of them before settling on a favourite.  For me, My Little Melbourne was the best coffee in Budapest, hands down.  Espresso Embassy is supposedly ranked up there, but it tasted like they made the coffee with long life milk (which is unacceptable to me). The owners of My Little Melbourne aren’t actually Melburnians but a Hungarian couple who went to Melbourne on a vacation and loved the coffee so much, they brought the style and ethos back to Budapest.  They do perfect lattes and flat whites.

My Little Melbourne serving (what I think is) the best coffee in Budapest.

My Little Melbourne serving (what I think is) the best coffee in Budapest.

Look at that froth.  Cappuccino perfection.

Look at that froth. Cappuccino perfection.

Ejo #67 – And Together We Keep On Giving

It’s Ramadan.  The days are long, and they are hot (often over 40C/140F).  A lot of impoverished blue-collar workers are toiling in these inhospitable conditions, and a lot of those men are fasting for the holy month of Ramadan.  Fasting during this period doesn’t just mean going without food during daylight hours.  It also means going without water.

If you’re in the mood for a fun experiment, try not drinking any water for the next 16-17 hours.  For real.  Give it a red-hot go and see how you manage.  I’m not ashamed to say I can’t do it.  I get seriously irritable, light-headed and I can’t concentrate on the simplest of tasks. But let’s say you did OK.  Let’s up the ante.  Next, try it whilst sitting outside in the searing sun with no shade for relief.  Still no problem?  OK, let’s throw some manual labour into the equation.  It starts getting a bit tricky here.  Now do it for a whole month.

One of the wonderful aspects of the Ramadan fasting tradition is Iftar – the breaking of the fast.  Every night, throughout the city, restaurants put on lavish buffet Iftars to reward the fasters for their discipline during the day.  Table upon mountainously laden table, literally groans under the weight of all the food on offer (what they do with the copious amounts of left-overs is the topic of another rant).  It’s a pity that the labourers and street workers of Dubai (and neighbouring emirates) could never even dream of participating in such feasts. Usually the best they can hope for to break their fast is some plain rice and maybe some lentils.  Their usual fare.

So, when we raised a pretty large sum of money in April we decided to keep a fair amount of it so that we could arrange some pretty yummy meals for 450 of these hardworking, unfortunate men to help break their difficult Ramadan fast.  With Roshni’s help and with the help of the amazing Green Palace Restaurant in Karama we put together 450 meals comprising delicious chicken biryani, some dates, a samosa, water, a tub of yoghurt and a nice dessert.  Truly a feast.

The wonderful Green Palace Restaurant.  It is here that they make the large numbers of food packages that we order for the handouts.  Fabulous service, fabulous food, fabulous guys.

The wonderful Green Palace Restaurant. It is here that they make the large numbers of food packages that we order for the handouts. Fabulous service, fabulous food, fabulous guys.

One of the two large vehicles that were packed full of the 450 food packages.  Thanks again to Roshni's regular volunteers for helping make this handout happen.

One of the two large vehicles that were packed full of the 450 food packages. Thanks again to Roshni’s regular volunteers for helping make this handout happen.

One of the enormous pans of chicken biryani.  Looks so good, and smelled SO delicious on the drive.

One of the enormous pans of chicken biryani. Looks so good, and smelled SO delicious on the drive.

One of the best things about this particular handout, and what makes it different to all the others we’ve done before, is that when we arrived at the restaurant the food packages weren’t ready (there had been a misunderstanding about the time we needed them).  We usually just turn up, load the cars and take off to where we distribute the meals.  This time we got stuck in, we got involved in the process.  For about half an hour we crammed into the pretty small restaurant and we rolled up our sleeves and we helped the restaurant staff put the packages together. And, boy oh boy, was it HOT!  At one point I was sweating so much, one of the men silently handed me a box of tissues (which I took with much gratitude).  We shared a moment and it was one of mutual respect.  I’m pretty sure they’ve never had a western chick in there packing biryanis into plastic bags before.  And whilst I’ve always respected this restaurant for helping us with our vision of feeding men who need it, I gained an even higher, newfound, respect for the staff for all the hard work that goes into the packaging.  It was eye-opening, adrenalising and exciting to actually not just GIVE, but to DO.

Another difference was that we went to a labour camp area about half an hour drive from Dubai.  A lot of people like to contribute to the same camps in Dubai, because it’s convenient. So the ones that are further afield tend to miss out.  We weren’t afraid to make the trek, to ensure that some neglected folks got to share some of the spoils of people’s generosity.

I hope you all enjoy checking out the photos below.  For those of you who didn’t contribute, perhaps you’ll be inspired to throw a few bucks in this direction next time we do a large collection.  And for those of you who did give money, once more, thank you.

Leaving behind the bright lights and big city of Dubai.

Leaving behind the bright lights and big city of Dubai.

Arriving at Sajaa, an industrial area of Sharjah where many labourers and workers are stationed.  It's a dusty, desolate place with no streetlights and unpaved roads.  A glaring contrast to the city.

Arriving at Sajaa, an industrial area of Sharjah where many labourers and workers are stationed. It’s a dusty, desolate place with no streetlights and unpaved roads. People live here – a glaring contrast to the city.

Here we go!

And so it begins!

Each of these faces tells a story that we'll never know.  It's one of the things that drives me to keep doing these handouts.

Each of these faces tells a story that we’ll never know. It’s one of the things that drives me to keep doing these handouts. Each person we hand a meal to is a whole person, with a textured, detailed history.  Each of them is important.  

I love this photo - taken by the very talented Roshni.

I love this photo – taken by the very talented Roshni.

Smiles.

Smiles.

David and I took it in turns handing the food to the guys.

David and I took it in turns handing the food to the guys.

More smiles.

More smiles.

Another great portrait from Roshni.

Another great portrait from Roshni.

This guy will take the cardboard boxes that were used to transport some of the meals and recycle it, for pittance.  For some of the men, this is the only form of income they have here.

This guy will take the cardboard boxes that were used to transport some of the meals and recycle it, for pittance. For some of the men, this is the only form of income they have here.

Happy customer.

Happy customer.  We all helped make this one day of Ramadan just a little bit better for him.  He thanked David and me, but he was thanking you too.

And just like that, it's over.  We got to leave, but for some people this is their life.  I'll never get used to the injustice of it.

And just like that, it’s over. We got to leave, but for some people this is their life and their home. I’ll never get used to the injustice of it.

Note: 450 is about the maximum number of meals that can be made at once so we actually still have 194 meals left over from the collection that Roshni will distribute over the course of Ramadan, as she’s doing handouts every single day.  She’s truly an amazing woman.  

Ejo #66 – It Begins At Home (Thank You, Family)

The dictionary defines the word family as:  a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals.  Admittedly that definition was way down the large list of options, but in this instance it perfectly describes us.  Yes, us.  For when I put out the call asking for your generosity, you answered.  We shared, on this occasion, a common attitude of recognising those less fortunate than us, the common interest of wanting to make a positive change for those people and the common goal of putting some food on their plate.

So we, as a family, put some money together and on a warm Friday morning on the 24th April, at a labour camp near the airport, we handed out bags of rice, lentils and oil to 250 workers. We also gave them a bread roll each, as well as a delicious, hot samosa.

Lining up around the corner

Lining up around the corner

In Australia, this guy would be hanging with his friends, chatting up girls and having fun.  In Dubai, he toils for no minimum wage so he can send money back home to his family and he lives in a labour camp.  That isn't right, and yet he still dazzles us with that smile.

In Australia, this guy would be hanging with his friends, chatting up girls and having fun. In Dubai, he toils in the heat to send money back home to his family – and he lives in a labour camp.  A LABOUR CAMP!  It’s just wrong, yet he’s still capable of that smile.  I just had to smile back and wish greater things for him.  

Some guys are super happy when they get their food and give you huge smiles, others don't and that's OK too.

Some guys are super happy when they get their food and give you huge smiles, others don’t and that’s OK too.  The one thing they do all have in common is that they are grateful.

This guy couldn't stop smiling the whole time - despite his broken arm.

This guy couldn’t stop smiling the whole time – despite his broken arm.

There's really no feeling like giving someone something that they need.  The exchange is meaningful beyond the mere products that you are handing out.

There’s really no feeling like giving someone something that they need. The exchange is meaningful beyond the mere products that you are handing out.

This guy couldn't believe his luck.  Free groceries and a samosa!!!!

This guy couldn’t believe his luck. Free groceries and a delicious samosa!!!!

Another happy customer.

Another happy customer.

Even a bread bun wrapped in plastic is sometimes beyond what they can afford to buy themselves.  It doesn't seem like much, and it probably isn't, but it's something and that's what we are working towards.

Even a bread bun wrapped in plastic is sometimes beyond what they can afford to buy themselves. It doesn’t seem like much, and it probably isn’t, but it has to be better than nothing – right?

Acting as honorary Project Manager for Care2Share (a corporate social responsibility initiative) Roshni is the heart and soul (as well as the brains) behind these handouts. Honestly, we could never do anything like this without her.  On the 26th and 27th June* we’ll take the rest of the funds and, with Roshni’s help, we’ll buy warm meals consisting of chicken biryani, dates, samosa, water, yoghurt and something sweet.  Over those two days, thanks to you, 643 men will be able to break their dry, hot, long Ramadan day of fasting with an Iftar meal that isn’t just sustaining, but actually delicious.

Though it’ll be hot as hell out there, I’m really looking forward to the Iftar handout.  Ramadan is a complex time and the Iftar meal is usually considered a great reward to make up for the difficulties faced, and sacrifices made, during the day.  Most of these guys can’t afford the luxury of a hot meal, and certainly not something as delicious as we will give them.  The gift goes far beyond the food though, something that those of you who have visited and helped with a handout know from experience.  The food is a great gift, yes, but it takes a back seat to the gift of humanity, kindness and compassion (a gift that rewards the giver as well as the recipient).

Thank you all for giving that gift.

It's faces like this that make this more than a worthwhile cause - they make it a personal high.

It’s expressions like this that elevate the effort from worthwhile cause to personal high. 

* David and I will be there on Saturday, 27th June handing out the Iftar meals. The handout on Friday, 26th June will be done by Roshni’s crack-team of regular volunteers – shout out to the men and women who regularly donate their time to help the cause. Not only are they lovely, kind people donating their time to others, they’re actually a hell of a lot of fun to be around.