Many countries put their own twists on the fish soup, reflecting locally available fish species and ingredients. The fisherman’s soup (halászlé) is Hungary’s take on the bouillabaisse. It has a myriad of permutations across the country, but its most classic version uses carp fillets, and a generous portion of spicy paprika seasoning, which lends it the famed deep-red hue. Oddly, few Budapest restaurants serve fisherman’s soup at all. And of the ones that do, few seem to care to get it right.
The first time I visited Horgásztanya Restaurant, I had an uncanny premonition of having been baited into a tourist trap. It was the confluence of the cash-only policy, the brusque waitstaff that evoked Budapest’s shady restaurant practices of the 1990s, and the overdone interior design decked out in fishing paraphernalia. High prices and the lack of local patrons didn’t help either. But the halászlé, which should be the reason for your visit, is excellent.
The fried bits of carp appetizer paired with red onion and sliced bread is a good way to set the mood (€8). Although carp (ponty) is the traditional order for the fisherman's soup (€8), by all means get it with catfish fillet (harcsa), if you’d prefer not to fiddle with bones (€11). They use the same broth. Horgásztanya's default spice-level is easily manageable, and you can always jazz it up with the paprika spread they bring out on the side. If you’re still feeling hungry, finish your meal with túrós csusza (€5), a cottage cheese-based noodle dish traditionally serves as a foil for the fisherman’s soup.