Hungary and Romania
I can't say I'm familiar, but I have been to Bucharest (summer 2005 - also Brasov, Sinaia, and Galati). I'm sorry to say I cannot recall the names of any of the restaurants we went to. The food we had was quite good though at most places. They eat *a lot* of pork there. So be prepared. Sarmale (stuffed cabbage/grape leaves), mamaliga (similar to polenta), mititei/mici (grilled skinless sausages), ciorbas (sour soups) of all varieties, and pickled veggies of all kinds are common. Try pickled mushrooms. They are awesome. My mother-in-law's sarmale are the best; not sure any restaurant could match. I'm not a fan of the mamaliga. I think it has goat cheese in it which I'm not fond of. The mititei/mici (pronounced "mit-ee-tay" or "meech") are like a national dish, and are quite good.
We are going to Romania in a few weeks. I am told it will be cherry season. I plan to gorge on fresh cherries. Have fun!
Excellent wine. The two most noted Hungarian wines are the Bull's Blood and Tokaji Aszu. The former is a deep red found in the Eger wine region (a worthwhile day trip 1.5 hours east of Bp) and the later a white royal dessert wine made in eastern Hungary. To learn about the rest, go to the House of Hungarian Wines in the Castle District across from the Hilton's entrance where you can sample them all. If you want to purchase some for home, go to the Bortársaság, which are wine shops run by the Budapest Wine Society. The easiest one to locate is near St. Stephen's Basilica.
Sweets. Hungarians have quite the sweet tooth. They satisfy them in the cafes and cukrászdas. The most famous is Gerbeaud which is a tourist haven in Vorosmarty square. Another is Muvesz which is almost across from the State Opera House. Do try:
- Palacsinta - a crepe, the most famous being the Gundel palacsinta that has a walnut/rum filling and covered with chocolate sauce and possibly a rum flambe.
- Dobos torta - a sponge cake layered with chocolate creme and topped with a crunchy caramel
- Mák ice cream - poppy seed ice cream. Many Budapesters use ice cream to cool off while walking the streets.
- Túró Rudi - a snack found in the refrigerated sections of supermarkets that is chocolate-covered "cottage cheese" (túró) Those who like them, REALLY like them.
Restaurants. The English language food blog Chew.hu has a good list that covers what Budapest has to offer, not just the most expensive. (http://www.chew.hu/top33.html) If you peruse the rest of the site you find other reviews and Hungarian food info. However, many will say that you can't find traditional Hungarian food in the restaurants, but only in the home. You may consider signing up for a course which is taught by a Hungarian grandma in her downtown residence on weekends (http://www.hccweb.extra.hu)
Many people suggest going to Gundel, the most renowned restaurant in this region. Do a search in this forum or on a search engine for more information.
Budapest: I would say Gundel is not to be missed. A unique experience. In the more moderate range, Aranyszarvas (not sure of the spelling) at the foot of the castle hill has a great selection of game dishes, and Cafe Pierrot just up the street from the castle has wonderful contemporary Hungarian in a cozy, romantic atmosphere.
On Budapest: As aeroflotanc notes, it's hard to gainsay the chew.hu Top 33 as a source. I am less in agreement with his assessment of Egri Bikaver, and think one can find better wines with some ease in Budapest (and the search is a pleasure in itself).
As market halls go, the Central Market is surely worth a visit, but it is largely a tourist zone (though many locals shop there to be sure); most people miss the farmers' market section in the back room behind the main hall (open Fri-Sun primarily). And there are other market halls that are less kitschy and more food focused, including one near the American Embassy and one on Rakoczi ter.