With over 30,000 people, Budapest has the largest Chinese community in Central Europe. Most of them came to Hungary between 1989 and 1992, when economic opportunities were widespread in post-communist Hungary and they were admitted to the country visa-free. They were unskilled but hard-working people from villages and small towns in Eastern China - mainly Zhejiang and Fujian provinces - looking for a better life in Europe.
Initially, Chinese people established markets on the outskirts of Budapest and were selling cheap, imported Chinese goods, mostly clothing. Over time, some of them have become spectacularly wealthy, but the majority is still toiling away from dawn to dusk. At the peak in the 1990s, the Hungarian Chinese community amounted to almost 50,000 people, but many have since moved on to Western Europe, or returned to their hometowns in China, which had been drastically transformed in the meantime.
Recently, a new wave of Chinese immigration took place in Budapest. Between 2013 and 2017, thousands of Chinese citizens purchased Hungarian residency bonds through an immigration-by-investment program run by the Hungarian government. Unlike the first-wave of Chinese immigrants, these newcomers are well-off and cosmopolitan (the cost of a residency bond ranged between €250,000 and €300,000). Many of them have purchased homes in the Buda hills and other upscale parts of the city, instead of settling in the working class neighborhoods in District 10 where most Chinese people live. The recently-opened Chinese restaurants in Budapest, particularly the pricier ones, cater to these well-heeled newcomers.
Monori Center, aka Chinatown Budapest
Budapest's Chinatown, also known as Monori Center, is situated in Kőbánya, a bit outside the city center. Hundreds of wholesale businesses spread across an area of 80,000 sqm here. While most stores specialize in exporting clothes to other Central European countries, many places cater to the local Chinese community. There's everything from Chinese grocery stores to traditional Chinese medical centers, churches, massage and hair salons, pastry shops, and even two Chinese-language newspapers that feature both Chinese and local Hungarian news stories. And there are many restaurants of course.
Monori Center is where Budapest's best and most authentic Chinese restaurants congregate. Be it fancy Sichuan-food, a no-frills dumpling shop, seafood, a neighborhood restaurant, or a classic Chinese breakfast spot, you will find them all here. Given that over 90% of customers at these restaurants are Chinese people, the dishes are very comparable to those found in China - there's even a local Chinese farmer outside of Budapest who grows Chinese vegetables in a greenhouse.
Monori Center, however, isn't your typical Chinatown. It's not teeming with lively street food vendors nor is it packed with pagoda-shaped buildings. Instead, it's a quiet commercial town; if it weren't for the Chinese signs above the storefronts you could mistaken it for a sleepy outlet mall. But while it offers less of a spectacle, Monori Center's diversity and depth of food options could rival most Chinatowns around the world.
A popular event every summer at Monori Center is the outdoor street food market. From May to August, a dozen or so food stalls serve excellent Chinese food ranging from dim sums to freshly grilled meats, seafood, and dumplings. For the best experience, go with a large group to be able to try many things. The summer market is open from 5 p.m. every day of the week.
To get to Monori Center by public transport from downtown, you can either take a bus from Kálvin Square (#9 to Kőbánya alsó vasútállomás) or a tram from Blaha Lujza Square (#28 to Mázsa utca). Brace yourself for a ride that will offer a glimpse into the less glamorous side of Budapest that few tourists normally see. Alternatively, you can take a taxi, which will take about 15 minutes and cost HUF3,000 (€10) or so.
There is another area, not too far from Monori Center, where many Chinese business operate: Józsefvárosi Piac/Euro Square. Here, a seemingly endless row of abandoned, pre-war industrial buildings are now home to Chinese and Vietnamese vendors. This chaotic space feels like a bustling Asian marketplace, with plenty of excellent hole-in-the-wall eateries buried deep inside (sit-down restaurants are mainly in Monori Center). Few people speak English or Hungarian here, so follow your nose and good things will come your way. Józsefvárosi Piac/Euro Square is somewhat closer to the city center and along the same tram (#28) and bus (#9) lines as Monori Center.
I highly recommend visiting Budapest’s Chinatowns. In addition to the excellent Chinese food options, you will appreciate Budapest’s cultural and ethnic diversity that even most locals are unaware of.
Where To Eat, What To Eat?
Budapest's downtown is swarming with low-priced Chinese takeouts that serve toned-down flavors adjusted to meet local preferences. For the best Chinese restaurants, however, head out to Monori Center.
China has a refined, complex, and diverse cuisine, with major regional differences. The leading Chinese restaurants in Budapest don’t usually specialize in a particular region, and instead serve pan-Chinese fare with a selection of signature dishes from the main provinces. At most places, you will be able to order yuxiang shredded pork, lazi ji chicken, and dan dan noodles (Sichuan), a few types of dim sum, Dongpo pork and whole steamed fish (Zhejiang), black pepper beef (Guangdong), and Peking duck.
Nonetheless, the international popularity of Sichuanese food has rippled out to Budapest too, and the recently-opened restaurants feature plenty of chili heat and Sichuan peppercorns (Spicy Fish, Daohuaxiang, and Hange). The milder and more nuanced dishes of Zhejiang and Fujian are also prevalent, as most of the local Chinese community hails from those southeastern coastal provinces of China.
Although a landlocked country like Hungary isn’t exactly a seafood chef’s dream, Budapest currently has two outstanding Chinese restaurants specializing in steamed lobsters, crabs, and other treasures of the ocean (Milky Way and Yanjiang Nan Restaurant). Both of them are owned by families from Wenzhou, the coastal Chinese city in Zheijiang province. The only downside is the prices, which make these native flavors out of reach for much of the Chinese community (Hungarian patrons are few and far between).
Hot potting is a huge trend in China and it’s becoming popular in Budapest, too. Like fondue, it’s a communal activity, where a group of people sit around an oversized table and cook together. Here, they dunk a variety of raw ingredients into the boiling broth, just to fish’em out a few minutes later, cooked to perfection. Budapest boasts three hot pot joints already: a northern Chinese with milder flavors (Wang Fu), a spicy Chongqing-style (Daohuaxiang), and one that's in-between, using hot charcoal for cooking (San Guo Zhi).
Monori Center Hong Kong Büfé and HeHe serve classic Chinese breakfast foods including deep-fried dough sticks (youtiao), a type of rice porridge (congee), steamed buns (baozi), scallion pancakes (cong you bing), and the popular sweetened soybean milk.