The air is filled with the scent of freshly baked cakes and the sound of klezmer music. Crowds of pedestrians eagerly taste delicious looking treats on offer, from sholet, a slow-cooked stew of goose and beans to flodni, a calorie bomb layered cake of poppy seeds, apple and walnuts.
I am standing in Kazinczy utca, the heart of Budapest’s old Jewish quarter in District VII and the site of Judafest, the city’s Jewish food festival. The culinary celebration is the latest in a growing number of Jewish cultural events in the Hungarian capital. It’s open to all and the organisers hope that locals, of any faith, will come and taste the specialities.
Budapest is home to around 100,000 Jews, whose numbers were almost wiped out during the Holocaust and withered under Communism. But now a new generation of community activists are confidently putting Jewish Budapest back on the map. District VII is now the hippest part of town. The atmospheric, dilapidated old apartment buildings, narrow streets and secret courtyards are an essential stop on the tourist itinerary.
The area around Kazinczy Street is home to the city’s rom-kerts, or ruin pubs. The rom-kerts are a unique Budapest phenomenon: a whole apartment block is turned into a nightlife complex of bars, dance floors and performance stages. They are a magnet for the city’s clubbers and visitors from abroad. Somehow the run-down buildings, the bohemian atmosphere and period décor – which can include anything from a Trabant (Communist East Germany’s most ridiculed car) sawn in half to old soda syphons and school desks – makes a magical and laid back atmosphere.
The old Jewish quarter is increasingly out and proud about its heritage. This month sees the start of the Quarter Six Quarter Seven Hannukah festival to mark the Jewish festival of lights. The district’s clubs, bars and bookshops have come together to the host eight days worth of events from 20-28 December. From the public lighting of the Menorah, the seven-branched candelabra, to film, theatre and cultural performances. In a city that has seen so much loss, events such as Judafest and the Hannukah festival are a powerful, moving affirmation of Jewish life.