No one prepared me for a typical late October morning in Budapest -- bright skies, but blustery and cold.
That, my friends, is a glass of Unicum, Hungary's traditional herbal amaro liquer. My first morning in Budapest was an especially frigid one and I was quickly informed by natives that I would be remiss if I didn't partake in a shot before I started my day.
Start my day it did, packing a wallop and warming the body, while it scorched my throat.
Needless to say, I didn't start scouring stores for little gift bottles for friends back home. (You can thank me later!)
Other tastes of Hungary were more to my liking, including some sampling of the wares at the city's bustling Central Market. Smokey paprika-crusted pork sausage was a particular favorite, as was a dry, mild "Gypsy" salami.
I also tried the classic Hungarian fried bread known as Langos, capped with chopped garlic, soft cheese and a slathering of sour cream. (Not light, but pretty darn addictive.)
A visit to the "pickle lady" in the market's basement led me to sample vinegary, spicy pickled peppers, along with orange nubbins of pickled carrot and mouth-puckering pieces of pickled cauliflower.
A short stroll over to the Jewish Quarter offered up a much sweeter treat, cake from Rachel Raj -- who is quite literally the Rachael Ray of Hungary.
The cake in question was Flodni, a layered confection made with squares of pastry crust alternating between generous helpings of honeyed poppy seeds, walnut paste, plum jam and a filling of slivered apples. Not too sugary, it almost ventured into savory territory.
Other great tastes around town included a luscious Duck Burger at a neighborhood Hungarian wine bar, made even richer by a topping of seared duck liver; a mammoth Pork Knuckle, the caramel-tinged skin blistered and crackling, at a hip city bistro; and a latte piled high with whipped cream at the grandest cafe I'd ever seen...
Not too shabby, eh? But do notice that I went for coffee, not Unicum -- not to say I didn't drink in Budapest.
More about that later...