It may sound hyperbolical, but in my heart, I know it’s true: Szeráj saved me from certain death while at university. Bewildered by the local cuisine, I had spent about a fortnight eating nothing but bland spaghetti bolognese at the campus cafeteria and felt the end was near when a kindly colleague told me she knew this Turkish place with great salads, everything at affordable prices. An orgy of slightly gaudy greens and yellows, brimming with life from early morning till late at night, Szeráj hasn’t changed a bit since then.
It’s a fast-food restaurant, with all the advantages and trappings of the genre. It’s Turkish, so you’ll get the compulsory döners, chicken and beef, some more exotic kebabs such as Adana or Iskender, lentil soup and meat dishes smothered in vegetables, but their longevity has taught them to cater to the Hungarian palate as well, with breaded fish or cheese landing among the aubergine salads. It’s honest and unfussy, a conveyor belt of quickly dispatched but tasty meals- good food, quickly, as they say.
But Szeráj is also a bit more than just a fast food place. It’s the great leveler of Budapest’s people. In Szeráj you can meet anyone, the hungry student queues along the TV star, the workers from nearby sites mingle with elegantly turned out people coming to the theatre across the road, tipsy revelers share tables with covered ladies and their rambunctious children. An egalitarian utopia with great baklava. Try to beat that.