15 Food To Try While in Hungary
Hungarian food is best described as simple, hearty and comforting. With its origins from the nomadic Magyar tribes, Hungarian food as evolved through the centuries with influences from the Romans and the Ottomans and Austria. Today Hungarian food has its own identity, and it is not hard to see that the Hungarians have immense love and pride for their food.
The classic lángos with the topping of sour cream and grated cheese
1. Lángos (Deep fried flat bread):
No trip to Hungary is complete without biting into this deep fried, crispy street food. Often referred as the Hungarian pizza, lángos are flat bread made from a dough of flour, yeast, water, salt, and sugar. These are then shaped into round flatbread and deep fired. The frying gives it a crispy golden outside and a soft and moist inside. The classic version of lángos is served warm with a rub of garlic, a thick layer of sour cream and topped with a generous helping of grated cheese. These days, lots of variations in toppings are available, such as grilled pepper, ham, sausages, mushrooms, and even as langos burgers!
The national dish of Hungary - Goulash
2. Gulyás (Goulash):
Considered as the signature dish of Hungary, this national dish is a visual treat with its rich dark red colour. Extremely popular among tourists and deeply loved by the Hungarians, Gulyas and can be found in menu of every Hungarian restaurant. With a consistency somewhere between soup and stew, it gets its name after the herdsmen (gulyás) back from 9th century. The herdsmen used to cook chunks of beef with onions, potatoes, spices and paprika in large cast iron cauldrons on open fire. Therefore even today, goulash made in cauldrons are considered ‘authentic’. Different regions of Hungary have added their own tweaks to includes additional ingredients such as tomato, carrots and other rooted vegetables, though the basic ingredients remain same. Served as the main course, this hearty and comforting stew is accompanied with white bread and freshly chopped paprika – perfect meal for a cold day!
3. Paprikás Csirke (Chicken Paprikash):
This quintessential and popular Hungarian dish is part of every restaurant menu. As suggested by the name Paprikás Csirke or Chicken Paprikash is a chicken dish laced with paprika, heavy dish and traditionally cooked with leg and thigh pieces of chicken. Traditionally leg and thigh pieces of chicken are stewed with onions and paprika in large cauldrons over an open fire until the meat almost falls of the bone. The sauce is delightfully rich and creamy because of the sour cream and flour. It’s typically served with Hungarian egg dumplings called nokedli; though pasta, rice or potatoes are also commonly used.
Fisherman's soup or Halászlé
4. Halászlé (Fisherman’s soup):
Freshwater fishes from Hungary’s major rivers and lakes have given birth to another staple yet delicious dish called Halászlé or fisherman's soup which has enriched the culinary repertoire of this landlocked nation. This popular Hungarian soup is prepared by cooking thick slices of freshwater fishes such as carp, catfish, perch or pike in a hot paprika spiced fish broth. Traditionally, this fish soup is prepared in a cauldron over an open fire in a similar way as gulyas. The broth is prepared by stewing the fish head, bones and other trimmings along with onion and hot paprika for a long period and strained. This gives the broth the characteristic red colour and the deep rich flavour. This is why though the dish appears simple the flavours are complex. The dish varies regionally based on the use of ingredients. Szeged, which is made from using four different types of fish and la Baja, made with carp and pasta are the two most popular ones.
Hungarian meat stew - Pörkölts
5. Pörkölts (Meat Stew):
Another popular Hungarian national dish, this derives its name from the word pörkölni which means ‘to roast’. Traditionally Pörkölts is prepared in a cast-iron pot called bogrács on open fire. Like Goulash the origin of Pörkölts goes back to herdsmen and though both appears very similar there are differences between the two. Pörkölts is a much thicker stew (almost similar consistency of ragù) and includes only boneless pieces of meat. Pörkölts is prepared by stewing the meat (beef, lamb, pork, or chicken) in a sauce made from generous use of onion, garlic and paprika power and served with either nokedli (Hungarian egg dumpling), rice or potatoes. With time this dish has evolved into many verities based on the region and ingredients used, among all variations marhapölkört (beef), borjupörkölt (veal) and pacalpörkölt (tripe) are most popular.
Hungarian susages - kolbász and Hurka
6. Kolbász and Hurka (Sausage):
Pork as a source of meet is deeply rooted into Hungarian cuisine and pork sausages from Hungary are well known around the world. Culturally, the preparation of sausages can be linked back to the age-old village family tradition of pig slaughtering during the winter months where almost every part of the pig is used! Hurka is the best example of this where pork liver, lungs, head meat and blood are used. Variations are based on the breed of pig, ingredients used and the preparation process (smoked or boiled). During our trip to Hungary, we tried 2 different types – Debreceni Kolbász and Májas Hurka.
Debreceni kolbász are unsmoked or lightly smoked sausages which are made from pork meat, onions, garlic, pepper and paprika. The deep red colour of the sausage indicates the generous use of paprika in it. Debreceni kolbász are best enjoyed boiled, fried or baked with mustard and pickled vegetables.
Májas Hurka are boiled sausages made from ground pork liver, lungs and head meat along with rice and onion, seasoned with salt and pepper. In many regions the rice is replaced with corn flour and seasoned with dill. Májas Hurka are best enjoyed as pan fried or grilled with a piece of fresh bread.
Stuffed cabbage or Töltött káposzta
7. Töltött káposzta (Stuffed Cabbage):
Stuffed cabbage is a popular and staple food throughout Eastern Europe including Hungary. With the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in eastern Europe, recipes of meat stuffed in vegetables started to develop, and stuffed cabbage is one such recipe. The Hungarian version of stuffed cabbage or Töltött káposzta is made from minced pork, onions, rice and seasoning stuffed inside a blanched, fresh or pickled cabbage leaf. The tightly packed/rolled cabbage leaves are then baked, boiled or steamed in a tomato and paprika infused sauce. Often a layer sauerkraut is placed in between cabbage rolls while cooking for enhanced flavour. Traditionally associated with Easter, Christmas or special events such as wedding, Töltött káposzta are served with a layer of sauerkraut and dollop of sour cream.
Hungarian creamed catfish paprika stew - Harcsapaprikás
8. Harcsapaprikás (Hungarian creamed catfish paprika stew):
Closely resembling Chicken Paprikash, Harcsapaprikás is a traditional Hungarian fish stew made from catfish. The creamy, smooth and thick consistency of Harcsapaprikás comes from the use of flour and sour cream in the sauce. The sauce is made from onions or shallots, tomato, pepper, hop of paprika and seasoning and the small chunks of catfish. Harcsapaprikás or catfish paprikash is often served on a bed of túrós csusza, which is a Hungarian cottage cheese noodles made from egg noodles mixed with sour cream and túró (a Hungarian cheese).
Hungarian bean soup - Jókai bableves
9. Jókai bableves (Jókai bean soup):
Named after the famous Hungarian writer Mór Jókai, Jókai bableves or Jókai bean soup is a hearty winter soup. Made from smoked meat and sausages (pork), pinto beans, tomatoes, onions and root vegetables such as carrot, parsnip and celery root, small egg noodles (csipetke) and a generous portion of paprika, Jókai bableves is served with a dollop of sour cream like other Hungarian soups. The use of pinto beans gives the soup a buttery flavour which blends nicely with the smoky flavour of meat and the earthly flavour of the root vegetables.
Deep fried cheese - Rántott Sajt
10. Rántott Sajt (Deep Fired Cheese):
Deep frying cheese and serving it as main course is quite traditional in Hungary. This simple yet mouth-watering dish is prepared by deep frying breadcrumb coated cheese until its crispy and golden brown. Mainly semi-hard cow’s milk cheese like trappiest is used for preparing Rántott Sajt. Rectangular or triangular shaped cheese are coated several times with egg and breadcrumb to ensure a thick crusty coating and a soft, melting and gooey centre. Rántott Sajt are served hot with salad and rice or fries and dipping sauce like mayonnaise or sour cream.
Hungarian delicacy - Dobos torte
11. Dobos Torte (Cake):
Created by confectioner József C. Dobos in 1980s, Dobos torte is probably the most prominent and famous Hungarian dessert. It was seen first during the National General Exhibition of Budapest in 1885, Dobos torte instantly became famous and desirable due to its presentation, combination of flavours and the use of buttercream which was unheard of at the time. Traditionally it is made from six thin layers of sponge cake and 5 layers of buttercream and topped with a layer of caramel glaze to keep the cake moist. The side of the cake is mostly coated with ground nuts. The caramel glaze layer is cut into pieces with a special Dobos knife while it’s still moist and placed back on the top of the cake so that each slice of the cake has the crunchy caramel top. Dobos kept the recipe of Dobos torte a secret during his time as confectioner and was only made is available to others after his retirement.
Hungarian creamy cake Krémes
12. Krémes (Vanilla Slice):
Krémes which translate to ‘creamy’ in English is the Hungarian version of the famous Austro-Hungarian dessert cremeschnitte. It is made by sandwiching the vanilla flavoured soft and rich cream pastry in between two very light and crunchy layer of puff pastry and sprinkled with powdered sugar on top. Though Krémes is a very popular dessert in Hungary, similar version of this dessert is well consumed in other European countries by different name like ‘franciakrémes’ in France or ‘kremowkas’ in Poland.
Kürtőskalács (Chimney Cake)
13. Kürtőskalács (Chimney Cake):
The origin of this popular street snack can be traced back to the medieval era. It was once confined to society’s upper-class, before becoming a beloved and popular everyday food readily available on the streets of Hungary. Also referred as ‘Chimney Cake’ due to its shape, this spiral cylindrical shaped dessert is made from wrapping a long strip of sweet dough around a wooden spit, coated with melted butter and sprinkled with sugar which then rotated over charcoal. The sugar on the surface gets caramelised to give a crunchy crust and the yeast in the dough gives a chewy, soft interior. Once baked Kürtőskalács are covered with an additional layer of flavour such as cinnamon, coconut, cocoa or walnut and served hot. Due to its popularity, Kürtőskalács are also served with a filling of ice cream.
Poppy seed and Walnut Roll - Bejgli
14. Bejgli (Poppy Seed and Walnut Roll):
Bejgli is a traditional Hungarian pastry which is made in most households during the Christmas festivities. Bejgli is prepared by filling finely ground poppy seeds and walnuts in between layers of dough in a way that when Bejgli is cut into pieces the layer of dough and poppy seeds or walnuts should wind around each other in a spiral shape to give the characteristic look. Often the flavour of this sweet roll is enhanced by adding raisins, honey or orange peel. When served, pieces of Bejgli are placed side by side to honour the age-old belief that poppy seeds bring prosperity and the walnuts keep trouble away. Bejgli is best enjoyed with a cup of tea or coffee.
Hungarian pan cake - Gundel Palacsinta
15. Gundel Palacsinta (Hungarian Pan Cake):
This crêpe-like Hungarian dessert is named after the owner of the Gundel restaurant in Budapest, Károly Gundel. As the story goes, Károly Gundel got the recipe of this dessert from Ilona Matzner, wife of famous Hungarian writer Sándor Márai. Gundel modified and fine-tuned the recipe and started serving at his restaurant which gave birth to Gundel Palacsinta. The pancake is of similar thickness to crêpe, but stuffed with a filling of sweet crushed walnuts and other ingredients such as rum, raisin, cinnamon and lemon zest. Gundel Palacsinta is not half folded like a crepe but rolled or quarter folded and served with a dusting of sugar on top and smothered in hot chocolate sauce. In many restaurants this dessert is served flambéed.