Budapest — China is offering Hungarians a change of diet. This month the first authentic Chinese restaurant is opening in central Budapest. The exotic ingredients come all the way from China and 10 native Chinese chefs are on hand.
The Hungarians will surely open a restaurant in Peking.
''A good exchange,'' remarks a friend who is partial to Chinese cuisine. ''We can have Peking duck for a change and the Chinese can try our paprika! It's all part of the pragmatism.''
In a small way the restaurant illustrates China's forceful bid to renew solid economic ties with the Soviet Union's European allies - a bid that is more in evidence here in Hungary than anywhere else in Eastern Europe.
Indeed China's recent move toward a more flexible economy is bringing top-level people from China into Eastern Europe for the first time since China's split from the Soviet bloc more than 20 years ago.
Though Hungary interests the Chinese most, they have been trading with Romania for a number of years - primarily for reasons of political expedience on both sides. So far as the Chinese were concerned, Romania's leaders were, in relation to the Russians, mavericks after their own hearts. Romania is China's biggest trading partner in the area, though their trade peaked in 1980.
The China of Deng Xiaoping is much more interested in hard-nosed economics than in its ideological differences with the Soviet bloc. Peking has apparently decided to let its political rift with Moscow take its own course.
Mr. Deng was recently quoted by China's theoretical journal, Red Flag, as saying that:
1. The introduction of a ''little capitalism'' under China's new open-door economic policy will benefit the development of ''socialist productive forces''; and
2. The small-scale domestic private entrepreneurism now being encouraged under China's reform program is a ''necessary and beneficial supplement'' to the national economy.
China, Deng said, won't be shaken by foreign investment even if it goes well beyond its present modest levels. The words might have been those of Hungary's leader, Janos Kadar, responding to critics who say foreign investment and the private sector are a Trojan horse devised to reintroduce capitalism.
Hungary is in fact well into the third decade of the Communist bloc's boldest and most successful departure from the Soviet economic model. But while small private enterprise has mushroomed in recent years, it still accounts for only 1 to 2 percent of Hungary's national income. The regime encourages it as an effective contribution to pressing popular aspirations that the state budget is too strained to fulfill.
Amid the East bloc's comments and greetings to China on its recent 35th anniversary, only the Soviets and Czechoslovakia criticized China for setting ''unacceptable preconditions'' to better Sino-Soviet relations.
Messages from Hungary, East Germany (itself a modest reformer), Poland, and Romania all took a friendly, positive, almost apolitical tone. Even Bulgaria, usually seen as the Soviet Union's most unequivocal supporter, had only nice things to say.
According to one top visitor here earlier this year - deputy head of China's state economic commission, Zhu Rongji - Chinese trade with Eastern Europe this year will reach $900 million. Later estimates have suggested the figure might be
In June, China's minister of foreign economic relations, Chen Muhua, visited Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. After five days of talks here on expanding cooperation into new areas between now and 1990, she said forthrightly that, beside agreements, China was deriving much from Hungary's experience in economic construction and would take practical lessons from it.
China and Hungary, she said in a Budapest radio interview, will develop according to their own characteristics and capabilities. But she said China was ''glad to learn'' from Hungary's New Economic Mechanism and from the more flexible management systems that it created for industry and agriculture.
For the Hungarians, agreements with China this year have brought valuable new outlets for some of its star industries. A big contract to build 1,000 buses with Hungarian chassis, gearboxes, frames, and technology is a key element in China's long-term planning for motor-vehicle production, for example.