Strudel (Rétes in Hungarian) is one of the most beloved traditional pastry of the Hungarians. Ask any local and they’ll tell you not only their favorite flavor, but most likely also a fond childhood memory with this Hungarian dessert. Strudel is a culinary delight you definitely need to taste while in Budapest. In this article, we’ve collected all that’s worth to know about the Hungarian strudel and where to try it.
The origins of strudel
Not many people know, but strudel actually originates from the Turkish times with its predecessor being the „baklava”, a popular sweet pastry in Turkey and the Balkans. The rolled-up stuffed strudel in its present form however dates back to the 19th century when this culinary delight became widely known in all countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The word „strudel” is borrowed from the German language as strudel is very popular not just in Hungary, but Austria and Germany as well. In Vienna and Bavaria the apple strudel is most common served with hot vanilla sauce.
The traditional strudel dough is very elastic and made from only a handful of ingredients: flour, water, oil and a pinch of salt, with no sugar added. The dough is worked rigorously, rested, and then rolled out and hand-stretched into a large, paper-thin sheet. Some say the dough should be so thin that one can read a newspaper through it. Since making the strudel dough takes much practice, housewives nowadays often use sheets of pre-purchased dough or puff pastry instead and only prepare the filling themselves. Once the dough is ready, the filling is spread on it evenly. Then the strudel is rolled up with the help of a clean tea towel, brushed with a little bit of melted butter, and put in the oven for about 40-50 minutes. The baked strudels are sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Hungarians love their strudels all-year-round. It is not connected to any festive occasions although strudel is often served during family get-togethers. The Hungarian version of strudels are popular not just in sweet but also in salty versions. Although sweet fillings are more common, the salty editions of strudels are just as delicious. Traditional sweet flavors are apple, cottage cheese, sour cherry, poppy seed and plum. Savory strudel fillings include pumpkin, cabbage or even mashed potatoes. Apart from the authentic fillings, you can meet several different flavors in pastries around Budapest as the best thing about strudel that it can be filled with just about anything.
The best places to eat strudel in Budapest
Első Pesti Rétesház (The first Strudel House of Pest)
Location: 1051 Budapest, Október 6. u. 22
The First Strudel House of Pest operates in a 19th century historical building in downtown Budapest. As it says in their name, they claim to be the first “strudel house” in the city, continuing the tradition of Hungarian strudel making and providing guests with a gastronomic experience that has history and value. No wonder they are local experts in this territory. They prepare each strudel with great care, using only the finest ingredients. Strudels however are not the only delicacy on their menu. In their elegant restaurant, you can also choose from a great variety of local dishes and wines. And if you want to indulge yourself in Hungarian traditions even more, they also offer a special program for tourists with a short movie about Hungary and a strudel stretching presentation.
Normafa Rétes Büfé (Normafa Strudel Buffet)
Location: 1121 Budapest, Eötvös út 50
If you go for a walk in the Buda hills and happen to be near Normafa, make sure you visit the small strudel buffet near the parking lot, not far from the Normafa ski house. For locals, it’s a tradition to finish one’s stroll at Normafa with strudels. Although the buffet is old-fashioned and small, it offers a good variety of this home-made delicacy. Some say the sour cherry and the plum strudels are the best. The buffet also offers drinks and some wooden benches to sit on. Lines on weekends tend to get long, but the strudels are worth the wait.
Location: 1073 Budapest, Kertész utca 22 (Entrance from Wesselényi street)
This little strudel place in the heart of the Jewish quarter is a hidden gem. A café tucked away down a side street, but offering great home-made, fresh strudels all day with a wide selection of sweet and savory flavors to choose from. They also have delicious cappuccino and latte. It’s a great place to grab a snack on your way home after a long day. Their strudels are so delicious that don’t be surprised if you find yourself going back for more. The owner is also very talkative and kind.
Budavári Rétesvár (Strudel Castle in the Buda Castle)
Location: Budapest 1014, Balta köz 4
Located in the Buda castle in a narrow street near Fisherman’s Bastion, this cute little bakery is slightly hard to find, but it’s definitely worth to look for it. They offer a great selection of pastry and pizza slices and of course strudels as well. Their prices are reasonable and their strudels are always fresh from the oven. You have the option of dusting the strudels with powdered sugar. Make sure you try all their flavors: apple, sour cherry, sweet cheese, poppy seed and cabbage. They also have a few benches to sit on outside the bakery.
Házi Rétesbolt (Home-made Strudel Shop)
Location: 1111 Budapest, Karinthy Frigyes út 4-6 and 1137 Budapest, Pozsonyi út 15
Házi Rétesbolt has two shops. The one on the Pest side is located in Pozsonyi Street in Újlipótváros, with a very welcoming, conversational atmosphere, while the one in Buda is close to a busy junction in Karinthy Frigyes Road with many regular customers dropping in for a strudel and coffee. Both shops have been open for years, offering about 16 different strudels to choose from. These include the usual variety (apple, sour cherry, plum, peach, cottage cheese, cabbage) but some of the fillings are the owners’ own invention and you may not find it anywhere else, such as raspberry-milk rice, cottage cheese-chocolate or even a broccoli.
Rétesbolt Anno 1926 (Strudel Shop since 1926)
Established in 1926, this little strudel shop in the 13th district has been selling fresh, home-made strudels in Budapest for almost a century. Although their recipe hasn’t changed since 1926, they recently transformed from a small, old-fashioned shop into a modern café, offering strudels in 17 different flavors including special ones such as walnut, apple-poppy seed, banana and even pineapple. They also sell delicious coffee and hot chocolate. To get there, take the yellow tram nr. 14 or nr. 1 and get off at the Róbert Károly körút stop. If you arrive by car, there’s a parking lot in front of the shop where you can park.