You can find this 'fountain of meat' at an Upper Beach Hungarian restaurant
Budapest Restaurant is located at 1959 Gerrard St. E. in Toronto
Next time you're in a cab, put the phone down and start a conversation with your driver. Ask the driver about his or her background. Where are they from? What are some of their favourite foods to eat?
Okay, now, where can I go to get it?
That's usually me if I'm in a cab and when I'm not in a hurry. I've been introduced to many places throughout the GTA through the kindness of cab drivers. This is how I discovered a hidden gem in the Upper Beaches that serves traditional Hungarian food. It's called Budapest Restaurant.
A year and a half ago, I befriended a Hungarian cabbie who spoke about his move from Budapest to Toronto in the late 1980s. We quickly segued to food and I took the opportunity to ask him about Hungarian food options in the city.
"I will tell you after I finish our drive," he said.
I wasn't sure what to make of his answer; our conversation ceased.
A few minutes later we arrived at the destination. He turned around and said, "I want you to know. My mother passed away recently. I miss her a lot. There is a place I go to honour her memory. I will write it down for you."
Gabor, if you're reading this, thank you for introducing me to one of the most memorable Hungarian meals I have had.
A plate of beef stew was placed in front of me. On one half of the plate the meat stew, and on the other Hungarian dumplings, also known as nokedli.
The stew had a deep earthy characteristic with meat that was so tender. It had just the right amount of spicing, a sweet onion flavour, and a little bit of tannic quality from the red wine used in the cooking.
I will happily sit in the corner of the restaurant and order this dish anytime. It tasted like something your grandma would make.
Budapest Restaurant is located at a busy intersection, Gerrard Street East and Woodbine Avenue, but since it is a heavily trafficked area with locals commuting to and from downtown Toronto, I feel while driving you may miss a building that looks like a tiny apartment complex with a red sign at the front.
Inside, Budapest Restaurant transports you to some town or village outside of Budapest to a family restaurant. It is homey and quaint. From the moment you open the door, you can see straight into the kitchen. It feels like a place that has been around for generations, but it's only been open for three years.
Loriemhe Ditchon is most likely who you will meet first. Born in the Philippines, Ditchon moved to Canada.
"I was a teacher back home, in home economics and food. I was also known for my baking," Ditchon said.
While working in the hospitality industry here, she met Edit Csoma. She is the chef of the restaurant and co-owner.
"We worked together at restaurants in Toronto. We're partners in business but also in our personal lives," Ditchon said.
"We've been married 11 wonderful years," Csoma added.
Hungarian-born Csoma moved to Canada in 1998. "I was originally in landscaping, but I always knew I wanted to cook," she said. "Everything I have learned, I learned from my mother and grandmother."
Name a Hungarian restaurant in Toronto and chances are good that Csoma has worked there. Three years ago, they decided it was time to open a Hungarian restaurant in their Upper Beach neighbourhood.
"There was a lack of Hungarian food. I feel like it is disappearing across the city. I want to keep this tradition alive and show the cooking of my home kitchen," Csoma explained.
"We kept looking and the neighbourhood helped us," Ditchon added.
With the help of locals and a community Facebook group, Ditchon and Csoma stumbled upon a Chinese bakery that was closing. That's when Budapest Restaurant was born.
There are many great things to try at Budapest Restaurant and the veal stew is one of them. Also notable is the cabbage rolls. At most places, I find that the cabbage skin to be lackluster and watery. At Budapest, it's soaked up with pork and spice flavour.
The meat platter, an iconic Hungarian dish, which they refer to as the "fountain of meat," includes three schnitzels layered with sausage and is served with an assortment of vegetables.
Csoma uses traditional marinating methods to tenderize the meat.
The pork, for example, is marinated in mustard and oil for one full week. You rarely see this. The result may not be noticeable to the eye, the platter looks like most platters, but the taste says everything. The meat is tender, almost like that of wagyu beef, without the marbled fat content.
A word of caution: if you're ordering the meat platter, make sure you have three hungry mouths with you.