Monday, 29 October 2007
Budapest market hall history
©LucyMallows2007 digital photos of Hunyadi tér market hall, taken in June 2007
FIVE 110-YEAR-OLD MARKETS IN BUDAPEST
As Budapest's outer limits become swamped with ever more American style shopping malls, the traditional market halls of the city's heart modestly celebrated their 110th birthday this year.
In 1897, the Nagycsarnok (Big Market) No I, as the Vásárcsarnok was then called, opened its portals onto Fôvám tér the same day as four smaller roofed markets: No. II Rákóczci tér, No. III Klauzál tér, No. IV Hunyadi tér and No.V Hold utca.
These five markets are numbered I-V, and you can see if you look up at the beautiful facades above the 'csarnok' (market hall) sign and the Bejárás-Kijárás (entrance-exit) carved into stone or forged in metalwork.
In 1897, the Royal Health Ministry of the Austro-Hungarian Empire decreed that five markets should be built because until then food was sold from horse wagons along Andrássy út and the banks of the Danube. 'The health authority said food should not be sold on the street and so five markets were built,' said István Horváth, the market supervisor at Hold utca market.
Market No.1 is the showpiece, the Vásárcsarnok where Margaret Thatcher haggled for paprikas and lectured bemused shoppers on the rights and wrongs of a centralized economy in 1984.
When it opened in 1897, Emperor Franz Jozef paid a visit.
Samu Pecz designed the huge iron framework and its 10,000 square meter was originally built as the city's main wholesale market. After war damage and disrepair, Budapest City Council decided to renovate.
The market reopened in 1994 after three years of renovations costing Ft4 billion, and some 30,000 shoppers a day now come to visit 180 different stalls. The roof has tiles by ceramist Vilmos Zsolnay, which beckon local shoppers and tourists alike.
To celebrate the centenary year, stall holders whose stalls had been in the family for many generations were presented with a special diploma. Some were also entered into a competition, judged by experts and local shoppers.
The winner was Attila Tóth for his beautiful presentation.
In an Aladdin's cave of pickles, Tóth's shelves are lined with bottles and jars, filled with peppers, cucumbers, baby melons and green tomatoes in vinegar.
'I like the market better now after the renovation, it is more orderly. I understand how old people liked the previous jungle where they could rummage for bargains,' he said.
Tóth's stall can be found in the basement which was previously a warehouse for the traders upstairs. Tóth's stall is just past the Ázsia oriental food shop which has proved so popular it tripled its floorspace in April 1997.
On the ground floor, the stunning Minôségért Bt. came second in the competition with its displays of dried peppers and corn cobs festooned from the roof. Pensioner Chaim Pucz came back to work after previously working twenty years in the market selling confectionery.
She preferred the market in its pre-renovation state. 'I can't put my finger on it, but it just had a better atmosphere then, now many stallholders have left or died, it's not the same,' said Pucz and complained the new slippery floor tiles were a hazard in winter.
In 1924 Anna Bocsi started the cheese, túró and milk products shop. It has stayed in the family for three generations and is now tended by Ági and Zsuzsa Király.
No II Rákóczi tér.
The Józsefvárosi market hall was designed by the city engineering department and opened in 1897.
After reconstruction following severe fire damage, it reopened in 1992 as a traditional yet modernized market hall.
Rákóczi tér has always traditionally been the center of prostitution in Budapest and although brothels were officially closed down in 1948, the square continues to be the center of a down-market red light district.
This reputation diverts attention from the market which is a shame as it has some great bargains.
The market offers meat, fruit and vegetables. Fish open and close their mouths, jostling in black water. Many of the stall holders are in their teens and stand listlessly smoking behind the butchers' counters. There is also a section at the back for 'ôstermelôk' - the individual farmers who bring in their own produce.
A large eating area is the heart of the market. Shoppers stand at chest-high marble circles, devouring huge plates of blood sausage, fried chicken and fish, all washed down with a refreshing 'nagy fröccs' (white wine and soda spritzer) costing only Ft37.
Imre Farkas has run a fruit and vegetable stall here for twenty years. 'It was good then and it still is now. We are better and more beautiful than the Vásárcsarnok and we have parking space,' he said.
No III Klauzál tér market has now been almost entirely taken over by the Skála supermarket.
Only a few pickled vegetables stall linger on around the back
Katalin Hír is 80 years old and has seen the changes, in the 40 years she has worked here.
She is one of only two individual traders who offer bottled vegetables, 'deadly poisonous hot' chili peppers and apricot preserve at only Ft40 a jar.
'It used to be a gold mine for people shopping here. You could find anything you want here, now people have no money, if they do have money they buy they own land and grow their own,' she says.
Hiding behind the McFridayKing circus at Oktogon is a gem, the last surviving market hall, still in its original, fading condition.
Market Hall No IV on the dilapidated Hunyadi tér was designed by Gyôzô Csigler, and although the outer stone work is crumbling, traces of the unusual masonry work of animal heads remain.
The vegetables are laid out in beautiful colorful designs, corn, grapes and paprikas all jostle for space.
The smells of pickles, smoked meats and the hum of voices bargaining make the market a tantalizing, sensual experience. On Hunyadi tér itself is an open air trading area.
The dusty square has been transformed into a lively flea market full of vegetables at cheaper prices, knick-knacks and odd treasures.
Katalin Kovácsik has been tending the 'savanyúság' (sourness = pickles) stall in the corner for 14 years and her mother worked for 17 years before that. She and her husband run the business which follows the cucumbers, pumpkins and baby melons through from seed to pickle stage.
'We have a piece of land where we grow the vegetables, then we process them at home on the kitchen table, then I sell them here,' she said, ladling huge handfuls of white cabbage from a bucket for a lady who wanted to make Székely káposzta (Transylvanian cabbage).
No. V Hold utca 13 still has the old signs revealing that the street using to be called Rozenberg házaspár utca (Rozenberg married couple executed for spying in USA)
The market was recently renovated and is now very smart.
The packed büfe selling sausage and 'csalamádé' (mixed pickles) and the cupboard-sized early morning wine bar is packed and sits next to an empty upmarket fish stall, offering paella and salmon.
The Hold utca market is good for fish and there is an excellent cheese stall, but upstairs on the new balcony, created in the 1994-96 renovations, are the real treasures.
For anyone working in the Bank center or around Szabadság tér, lunchtimes are now a culinary expedition around the world. The Mexikoi Sarok offers gaspacho, burritos, fajitas and taco salads, next door is the Spagettigyár with all kinds of Italian delicacies, after that comes the Chinese büfe where a chef can been seen chopping a mountain of fresh carrots, cabbage, onions, peppers and mushrooms from the stalls below.
There is also a salad bar in the corner, a 'rétes' (strudel) bar offering something sweet to follow.
For the health conscious, you can buy an ishler biscuit covered with carob rather than chocolate in the Biocentrum Biobolt and Teaház opposite.
On the ground floor amongst all the gleaming metalwork and polished floors, you can still find the traditional Hungarian foods. Huge buckets of white lard, slabs of 'szalonna' -bacon fat, fish and reconstituted chicken in breadcrumbs and mountains of goose crackling.
The stalls were passed down from generation to generation, an old lady recently retired but was working here since 1914 selling 'savanyúság' (pickles).
One stallholder said the new market looked lovely but old stallholders had been squeezed out by the high rent, no place was made for them when renovated, and the whole atmosphere of the traditional market could be lost forever.
She complained that the mall culture was taking over Budapest with another mall going up soon on Csepel island and more along the entire length of Váci út.
'They should build housing instead,' said supervisor András Vámos.
However István Horváth, market supervisor at Hold utca market said he did not fear competition from the malls. 'Fortunately, we still don't have that American tradition of shopping only once a week, we like to buy fresh products every day.'