Budapest has a teeny-tiny Japanese community of about 1,000 people, mainly comprising families of Japanese senior managers who work at one of the 156 Japanese-owned companies with Hungarian operations like Suzuki, Denso, and Bridgestone. Most of these people come to Hungary for specific projects and return to Japan within three to five years to remain covered under the Japanese social security system, which is normally capped at five years of foreign employment.
But not all Japanese people are businessmen. There are Japanese classical-music students at the Liszt Academy, ballet dancers at the Hungarian State Opera House, medical students at Semmelweis University, and even professional fencers who came to train in Budapest.
Most Japanese people live in Budapest's Districts 2 and 12, the most exclusive neighborhoods of the city. Part of the reason is to be near The Budapest Japanese School, which opened in 2005 and provides elementary and middle school education under the Japanese curriculum. Currently, they have 80 or so Japanese students.
What To Eat, Where To Eat?
As in many European cities, locals in Budapest mainly associate sushi and matcha tea with Japanese food and drinks, and, accordingly, few restaurants specialize in lesser-known everyday Japanese dishes like donburi, tempura, curry, karaage, and tonkatsu. At the few restaurants that do—Komachi, Biwako, and DON DOKO DON—the patrons consist of Japanese and other Asian expatriates.
Budapest's sushi and sashimi restaurants aren’t setting the world on fire, but this shouldn’t surprise anyone: fish consumption in Hungary is the lowest in the EU, and Hungary being a landlocked country makes procuring fresh ingredients a challenge, logistics expensive. Nevertheless, there are some fine sushi restaurants including Okuyama No Sushi and Ennmann, two bare-bones, below-ground places that serve excellent raw fish nonetheless. For a more upscale setting, you can either splurge at Nobu, or try Fuji or Sushi Sei, two fancy, but slightly less expensive restaurants on the Buda side.
According to Japanese people who live in Budapest, for real, Japanese-style ramen, one still needs to head to Western Europe. Barring that, Komachi and Biwako are the best options locally, offering the classic salt (shio), soy sauce (shoyu), and fermented soybean paste (miso) flavorings. (The meticulous attention to detail that can goes into making this seemingly simple noodle soup is amusingly portrayed in the 1985 Japanese movie, Tampopo.)
These are the best overall Japanese restaurants in Budapest.
Good To Know
If you're looking to cook Japanese food while in Budapest, head to TokyoPlaza, a Japanese-Korean grocery store in the Rózsadomb Center shopping mall selling everything from Japanese rice to tofu, dashi powder, soy sauce, miso spread, seaweed, and noodles.
For Japan-related news and events in Budapest, The Japan Foundation is an excellent resource. With dozens of magazine subscriptions and over 10,000 books—half of them in Japanese, the others in English and Hungarian—it’s a great forum to learn about Japanese culture and to meet local Japanese people. They also offer language courses.