The Chinese Market


Disused Railway Sidings [map]
Pest VIII, Kőbányai út 21 (T28/62), 1 min

Hungary is not the most multicultural nation on the planet. 95% Magyar, 2% Roma (derided by 95% of the population), and 3% strays and waifs. Also in amongst this is a Chinese population, many of whom make a living in the ubiquitous and universally underwhelming „Gyors Bufés.“ But, believe it or not, Budapest does have its own Chinatown! Well, China-shanty-town, at least.

Blaha Lujza tér is not the prettiest part of Budapest but if you walk in four out of five directions, you’re still in town: cosmopolitan enough to find tourists looking at upside-down maps. The fifth direction, however, along Népszinház utca, is as well-known as the fifth dimension and you can take a tram straight into it. English voices here raise eyebrows, or at least the temper of the drunken tramp standing two feet away from me. He got quite angry but stopped short of lunging at me. (It seems I’m something of a disgruntled tramp magnet.)

You know when you’re at the market because the tram takes a sharp left in front of an enormous brick spacecraft-of-a-building, before stopping a hundred metres later, next to some disused railway sidings. The latter announce your arrival. It’s at this point that you’re wondering what the Hell you’re doing here.

The market has scaled down a little in recent months, making the collection of makeshift stalls negotiable without a compass, although walking from one end to the other is still a distance event. On sale: counterfeit brands, fake perfumes, genuine radio alarm clocks from the 1980s. I’m told it’s the only place you can buy Vichy skincare products without going to a chemist. I’ve also heard rumours that you can buy guns, although that’s not exactly advertised. Personally, I think the atmosphere is the best value, although socks come a close second.

The market also serves as a gambling den: poker games go on in full view, particularly during the week, when business is slower. Little piles of notes are not so much as hidden, although furtive glances are de rigeur. Photos are restricted to what you can capture discreetly on your phone, unless you want to be yelled at or lynched.

So many Chinese people in one place need feeding, and consequently the food here is a big improvement on the city’s Bufés, at a decent price too. (More on what’s on offer here.) But don’t believe that price board that looks like it’s been there for a decade: it has, and protesting that your rice is twice the marked price is unlikely to count for much.

The Chinese Market is a real oddity, and if it’s not the most immediate of Budapest’s attractions, it is a side of the city that’s bafflingly interesting, in a grimy kind of way. The down-sizing, however, could be a sign that the authorities are starting to tighten the noose, so get your sneaky snapshots of Budapest’s underbelly while you can. If they ever do succeed in shutting it down, I hope provision is being made for those of us who want socks, Chinese food and fake perfume in the same place. And what on Earth will they do with all those Chinese people?

Four trams run along Népszinház utca from Blaha, but only two, the #28 and #62 take you to the Chinese market. All are equipped with drunken tramps.

Andy Sz.

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