When people are asked about the typical dishes or ingredients of Hungarian food, most say “goulash” and or “paprika”. And they are right; these two are probably the best known representatives of the Hungarian gastronomy worldwide.†But they are not the only ones. Alongside them there are a variety of sweet and savory dishes that make Hungarian cuisine a very varied one… and also sometimes not very light (and precisely because of that, delicious!).
How about doing together a little Hungarian gastronomic tour?
Hungarian food is rich in spicy flavors and aromas, especially because of the frequent and plentiful use of paprika. But let’s go little by little and let’s start with the goulash. As we said earlier, it is probably the most popular gastronomic representative of the country. We must make an important clarification though: thegoulash can be gulyas leves or simply marha gulyas (the latter refers to the type of meat you’re using which is beef). The first concerns the goulash soup (soup is leves in Hungarian) and the second to the stew. Both are prepared more or less with the same ingredients, that is beef, pork fat (a very important ingredient in Hungarian cuisine, almost as much as paprika), onions, potatoes, tomatoes and, of course, paprika but the soup is obviously more liquid. I emphasise thr difference because I’ve seen people who are very disappointed when they ask for gulyas leves expecting the stew not knowing that there are two types, and get the soup. They also have another terrific dish: the pörkölt. The pörkölt is closely related to the goulash and is usually made of beef or pork (but it could be done with other types of meat) and various vegetables, including, once again, paprika in abundant quantity.
It’s served hot with some kind of pasta (teszta), with galuska or nokedli (which are actually variants of Hungarian pasta) .
The most commonly used meat among Hungarians is pork – though others are also used such as beef, chicken, duck or goose
– and especially a particular species that is well known and appreciated: mangalica pork, a hairy domestic pig whose main feature is the leanness of its meat.
Other typical dishes are the csirke paprikas or chicken with paprika and the töltött paprika or stuffed paprika. The Hungarians also use a lot of cabbage which is found in many recipes and is often fermented (savany kaposzta). Perhaps one of the most popular recipes is the töltött káposzta or stuffed cabbage.
There are also the palacsinta, which are very thin pancakes with sweet or savoury filling. The most typical and simple versions have jam or cottage cheese filling but there is also the gundel palacsinta, which is the most commonly offered to tourists and is filled with walnut cream and chocolate sauce.
The pogacsa also deserve a special mention for its simplicity and delicious taste. They are usually small rounds of bread made with various ingredients such as cheese, potatoes, paprika, onion, garlic and or various seeds such as sesame seeds, sunflower and poppy. They are everywhere and are a terrific snack, a favorite with foreigners.
Another of my favorite Hungarian foods is the lángos – it is probably one of my favorites because it is one of the two that I can do! It is dough made from flour, yeast, water and potatoes (although there are also those who do not use potatoes), fried in oil and eaten with garlic, sour cream and Trappist .
The Bundas kenyer is another that follows the same style of the lángos and is just as good (and is the other dish that I do). It is made of slices of bread (kenyer) dipped in egg and fried in oil. It also is eaten with sour cream and cheese.
At this point you may have noticed that Hungarians eat a lot of sour cream or tejföl (you would be surprised to see the varieties of sour cream that can be found in supermarkets, for me it still remains amazing). They use it for everything, use it in pasta, in salads, everything.Since I mention the salads, I must say that the star of this type of dish is the uborka or cucumber, which is in many salads and is very appreciated for its freshness.
The Hungarian salami téliszalami is also well known and comes from Szeged. It is prepared by hand and has some features that differentiate it from Italian salami. There are some varieties of cold meats such as salami with paprika (páprikas szalámi) or one which is prepared with a mixture of pork and beef (csemege szalámi) and also smoked sausages.
Those of you who are sweet toothed do not despair, for it is now the turn of the sweets! The best known are the dobostorta, a mocha and caramel cake (with LOTS of butter!), the somlói galuska, a cake with nuts and raisins soaked in rum and served with melted chocolate and whipped cream, the beigli, a rolled cake filled with poppy seeds (typical at Christmas) and the rétes, which is the Hungarian equivalent to the Austrian strudel consisting of a set of thin layers of pastry with different types of stuffing inside (typical of all countries of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire), one of the best known the túrós Retes, which is filled with cottage cheese.
Hungarian alcoholic beverages are not bad either. On the one hand, the wines are quite good (though not as well known as they deserve), the most internationally popular being the Tokaj. Another is the Pálinka, which is a brandy typical of Hungary and is also very famous. They do it with different fruit flavors, as the Hungarians say that everything that can be made into jam can be made into pálinka. It is characterized by its high alcohol content, about 37.5! So if you decide to try it, take care! Finally there is the Unicum which is a very popular herbal liqueur served as a digestive or aperitif. The taste is very bitter and reminiscent of the original Jagermeister, but much earthier and less sweet.
So you see, the Hungarian cuisine has much to offer and if I were to mention all of it, I would never end! Now, another important thing is: where are all these delights, where we can go to enjoy these wonderful dishes? In the city there are many restaurants offering local food at decent prices, even offering daily menus or napi menu for a few euros. One of the restaurants to which I usually take my visitors is the Kék Rosza restaurant (http://www.kekrozsaetterem.hu/), offering homemade Hungarian food at very reasonable prices. Markets are also a good place to sample local food at good prices, especially the Nagycsarnok which is the Central Market in Budapest (which is also a very pretty building worth visiting for its architecture and the souvenir shops that are found inside).
I’ve been living in Budapest a little over a year and a half and I must say though I am not even remotely an expert on the local cuisine nor do I know how to cook it, I cannot resist the temptation to eat a delicious lángos every time I pass near the Central Market (fortunately it does not happen very often because my diet would not appreciate it!) or a pogácsa from time to time on my return home from the tram station. Bon appetit – Jó étvágyat!!