Conventions

All you need to know about Hungarian cuisine



Hungary is a country of hospitable people who take great pride in their food and wine to which they feel a strong cultural attachment. This promises you the kind of culinary experience which is best enjoyed in the authentic environment of the country itself. Gastronomy has always played an important role in Hungarian culture. It is characterised by both tradition and innovation, as well as creative ideas and solutions inspired by a heritage of many centuries.

THE PANTRY OF EUROPE

From time to time throughout the centuries, Hungary has acted as a kind of pantry of Europe. Embraced by the Carpathian Basin and blessed with a favourable climate, it is a land that can produce a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Perhaps the most characteristic types of fruit are the Szatmár plum, Szabolcs apple, Gönc apricot, Káli almond and Őrség pumpkin seed. Hungarian woodlands and meadows are particularly rich in edible mushrooms, which are frequently used in Hungarian dishes, either as ingredients or for seasoning, and there are no fewer than 250 kinds of edible mushrooms to be found in the Carpathian Basin.

GULYÁS (GOULASH) SOUP AND FISH SOUP: SIMPLY THE CREAM OF HUNGARIAN SOUPS

Hungarians say that they are a “nation of soup eaters”. While in many countries, soups are relegated to mere starters, traditionally for Hungarians, if you haven’t had a bowl of soup, then you haven’t had a meal. That said, we differentiate between light vegetable soups and more substantial soups with meat and pasta. The iconic goulash and fish soups belong to the latter category and are prepared in myriad variations, both in restaurants and at home. There are two main schools of Hungarian fish soup: named after the towns of Baja and Szeged. While the Baja fish soup is traditionally made from carp and with a simpler method, the Szeged fish soup is made from various kinds of fish and passed through a sieve. Yet another Hungarian speciality is sweet fruit soup, served cold. But in any case, soups often reflect the season; they will be made of seasonal vegetables, fruits, or from the game or fish from the current hunting or fishing seasons.

Lángos

THE MAGIC OF CAULDRON STEWS

“Pörkölt” — a dish of stewed meat — is an archetypical Hungarian dish. Its precise preparation is the subject of passionate debate: ask a handful of Hungarians and you’ll get at least a dozen opinions. Traditionally, you begin by frying chopped onions in lard, then this is cooked with the cubed meat and showered with paprika. Apart from conventional cuts of beef, mutton, pork or chicken, it is often prepared with offal, such as tripe or gizzards, or game. In restaurants, it is often served with a hot side dish, but homestyle it is eaten with bread and pickles.

Dobos cake

THE OLD-FASHIONED DISH AHEAD OF ITS TIME

“Főzelék” is a vegetable-based main course, which is not only a light, healthy dish, but one fit for vegetarians, or depending on how it is thickened, even as part of a vegan diet. “Főzelék” is a truly seasonal dish, best when prepared using fresh produce such as green or yellow peas, spinach, green beans, potato, lentils or even Savoy cabbage.

 

 

FROM HOME FAVOURITE TO HAUTE CUISINE

For non-vegetarians, other great favourites of home-style cooking are casserole-type dishes containing meat, such as “rakott burgonya” (layered potato), “rakott káposzta” (layered cabbage) or even layered cauliflower. Hungarians firmly believe that no dish, no matter how delicious, would not be improved by adding lashings of sour cream. Tart yet creamy, it is one of the best-loved Hungarian dairy products. Hungarian cuisine would be unthinkable without it. Nowadays, Hungarian casserole-type dishes, cooked in a single pan and combining vegetables and meat, are found on menus at top restaurants. This is a milestone on the journey taking classic, home-cooked flavours to their rightful place in high-end gastronomy.

FOR THOSE WITH A SWEET TOOTH

On the sweeter side, Hungary excels in desserts. Hearty Gundel pancakes are filled with a walnut/rum mixture smothered in dark-chocolate sauce, Somlói sponge cake is vanilla-flavoured with chocolate sauce, rum and raisins, while túrógombóc is sweet cottage cheese dumplings with a sweet sour cream sauce. The most iconic cakes are the classic Dobos and Esterházy, while Hungary also invented the walnut-apricot zserbó slice and the apricot-cottage-cheese Rákóczi túrós.

 

 

WELL-TRAVELLED STREET FOOD

For Hungarians, there are foods which are a little-noticed part of their streetscapes, markets and everyday life; while abroad they are considered real delicacies. “Lángos” sell like the proverbial hotcakes in Japan, as does “kürtőskalács” (chimney cake) — a kind of cake baked over charcoal on a special cone-shaped baking spit — in the USA. Although, admittedly, many Central European nations claim the latter as their own. Making it is a ceremony in itself: the dough is wrapped around a cylinder and rolled in sugar which caramelises to crispness as it bakes. Traditionally, it is dusted with cinnamon or ground walnuts. It is a great favourite with Hungarians and tourists alike. Another classic Hungarian street food is “lángos”, which is made from a soft, yeast-based dough, formed into flat rounds and deep fried. Traditionally, it is topped with garlic, sour cream and cheese, but nowadays Hungarians take it in their stride when tourists enjoy it with ham or as an alternative casing for a hotdog.

Move around like a hungarian