It goes without saying, Hungarian food is hearty, indulgent and oh so tasty. We had just come from our month in Albania where we really focused on getting back in shape so, I was admittedly a little nervous I would negate all my hard work with the abundance of Hungarian cuisine. During our weeklong stay in Budapest, we managed to taste a lot of the local specialties so I wanted to share a few of our favorites.
Hungarian Cuisine Basics
Traditional Hungarian cuisine is heavy on the meat, potatoes, dairy, and bread. This is similar to that of neighboring West-Slavic cuisines: Czech, Polish, and Slovak. Bread is the most important and basic part of the Hungarian diet and is eaten as a side dish at all meals. This is not just a small dinner roll that us North Americans are used to, this is a huge slice of fresh bread that is about an inch thick. I am guilty of devouring my entire piece of bread everytime I ordered a goulash soup, not good for the figure but good for the soul.
If there is one ingredient that Hungary is undeniably associated with, it is, of course, paprika. The intense peppery spice is an essential component of some of the best known Hungarian dishes, including goulash, paprika chicken, and fisherman’s soup. The deep orange spice adds an intense peppery flavor and aroma so characteristic of Hungarian cuisine. On every dining table in Hungary, you will always find a paprika shaker next to the salt and pepper. This is just in case your paprika dish didn’t have enough already, and you needed an extra dose.
Roasting and Stewing
The most popular method of cooking in Hungary is roasting and stewing, typically all in a single pot. This pot originally was a bogracs, a cast iron kettle, hung on an iron stick over the fire. This method of outdoor cooking is still utilized today by chefs across Hungary but since it takes a lot of practice and preparation, is not as widely used. The technique, however, is the basis for a lot of the one-pot dishes common in today’s gastronomy.
Hungarian Sour Cream – Tejföl
Another staple in Hungarian cuisine is tejföl, what we would consider sour cream. Tejföl is found in appetizers, salads, entrees, and even desserts. It can also be the base for dough, so there is no shortage of ways in which Hungarian chefs utilize their beloved tejföl.
If you are watching your figure, this is not the Hungarian delicacy for you! Lángos is essentially a deep-fried disk of dough typically smothered in sour cream (tejföl) and cheese. This is comfort food at its finest, warm, savory and cooked fresh to order, you cannot go wrong grabbing this Hungarian street food.
Chicken Paprikash (csirke paprikás)
Every ingredient in this widely-available entreê is as Hungarian as they come, paprika, chicken, onion, peppers, garlic, and of course sour cream. The chicken is simmered in the sauce of over an hour and is usually served on egg dumplings called nokedli. Devin enjoyed a couple variations of this infamous dish and loved it every time!
Since I have Czech roots, I am very familiar with the European classic goulash that my Deda prepares so well. Typically I am used to it being prepared in a stew form, thick and hearty but both times I had goulash in Budapest, it was a soup. While not as filling as the stew, it always came served with a giant piece of fresh bread (as mentioned above) so there were no complaints from me. Most often goulash is made with beef, vegetables, and paprika broth and can be ordered at almost every restaurant in Budapest. It is served in a piping hot clay bowl and although it may not be the most visually pleasing dish, it sure is full of flavor.
Mushroom Goulash with Noodles
This dish is exactly as it sounds and was my favorite meal in Budapest! We ended up finding this amazing local restaurant that only had about ten tables so we were lucky to get a spot. Kisherang Étkezde was the name of the restaurant and it was just a few minutes away from our apartment. This vegetarian alternative to the classic beef goulash was delicious!
Beef Stew with Barley
Devin enjoyed his very traditional beef with barley at the same restaurant, Kisherang Étkezde. Since a lot of dishes are served with noodles, dumplings, or potatoes, the barley was a very good alternative. This authentic “hole in the wall” spot gave us all the feelings of a homecooked meal, affordable prices and served with a smile.
So much food, such little time
With no shortage of traditional Hungarian bistros, hip fusion restaurants, friendly cafes or takeaway food stalls, you will be sure to satisfy all your Hungarian cravings. With only one week in the city, we were able to try a variety of traditional specialties and already can’t wait to go back! Although our time in Hungary was brief, we most certainly felt the love put into the cooking and appreciated the homemade touch.
I would say “cheers” but it is considered rude to cheers beer glasses in Hungary so instead, I will say “jó étvágyat!” which means “bon appétit!”