Overview of Hungarian Cuisine
The location, along with influences from the neighbors, has had a great impact on Hungarian cuisine. Hungary's most flavorful dishes represent a perfect balance of not just Germanic and Slavic characteristics but also include Italian and Asiatic influences. It is a true melting pot of flavors, tastes, and spices that make tasting Hungarian dishes a truly unique experience. The prominent use of meat together with so many dishes cooked over open fire in Hungarian dishes reflects the nomadic past of Hungary.
Generally speaking, Hungarian dishes are mainly based on vegetables, meat, cheeses, and dairy products. Spiciness and richness are the words that best describe Hungarian dishes. The spice that Hungarian meals are best known for is definitely hot paprika. It gives dishes that characteristic smoky flavor. Although we all know paprika as the spice that gives that heat and fiery color to Hungarian dishes, mild or sweet paprika is more preferred in Hungarian gastronomy.
Hungarians are fond of meat, and although poultry and beef are found in their meals, pork seems to be on top of the list. The prominence of pork can be traced back to the Ottoman era. Namely, when the Turks took everything except pigs, Hungarians had to make it one of their staple foods. Moreover, dried and cured meat are a common ingredient of Hungarian meals.
What makes Hungarian cuisine burst with flavors are the different spices mastered during centuries of traditional preparation. Almost all of those Hungarian delicacies include the combination of yellow onions, lard, and of course paprika. Besides the almighty paprika, garlic and onions are to be found almost everywhere. Other common spices that you can find perfectly balanced in Hungarian dishes include black pepper, nutmeg, caraway seeds, and coriander seeds. Common use of herbs such as sweet basil, bay leaves, and marjoram leaves.
Worth a mention is Vegeta. A condiment/spice mix of dehydrated vegetables, salt and msg that gives a distinctive aroma to meals. Vageta is sold in 40 countries worldwide but may not be that easy to find everywhere. if you aren't lucky enough to find Vegeta, you can try beef, chicken, or vegetable bouillon cubes as a substitute.
Once you start preparing Hungarian meals, you’ll see how passionate they are about their stews, roasted pork, casseroles, lamb, and wild game. A distinctive feature of Hungarian cuisine is mixing different varieties of meat in dishes like goulash, cabbage rolls, and stuffed peppers. Typically, pork and beef meat and even mutton can be combined in these dishes for a more rich flavor. As for vegetables, potatoes, peppers, and cabbage have found their place in almost every of Hungarian traditional dishes.
Hungarians are true soup-lovers, they especially enjoy their vegetable soups or stews on daily basis and can’t even imagine their lunch without a rich-flavored soup. Főzelék is a unique dish and holds a special place in Hungarian cuisine . Made with cooked vegetables thickened with a roux. Creamier than a soup but thinner than a stew főzelék is best described as a comfort food. Visitors to Hungary are usually fascinated with are cold fruit soups. The most famous of these are apricot and sour-cherry soup, which are usually served as a starter.
Hungarians are know to have a sweet-tooth, it’s no wonder why they have so many sugary delicacies. Let’s start with the well-known Chimney cake or kürtőskalács. These traditional cakes are favorite among the locals especially during Christmas time.
Other cakes worth trying are somlói galuska and the fabled Dobos cake. Both are types of sponge cake flooded with rich chocolate with different layers. Somlói galuska is topped with whipped cream and the Dobos cake has a special caramel cracking on top. And finally, the most loved of those everyday desserts is the Hungarian pancake, but it is not just any pancake. As opposed to its American counterpart, this Hungarian version has chocolate cream, marmalade, or vanilla sauce. Wrapped in a thin and super fluffy pancake, they are simply delicious.
Another significant element of Hungarian cuisine are the different varieties of cheeses. You’ll probably hear about the so-called túró. This is a type of quark that you can use to make sweet dumpling that is incredibly tasty. If you want a light dinner, this is the way to go. Other types of cheeses that you will find frequently in Hungarian cuisine are Edam, Emmentaler, ewe-cheese, cream cheeses, as well as Pálpusztai, Trappista, and Pannonia cheese. Moreover, this diverse cuisine is also known for the use of tejföl, thick sour cream used for adding that distinctive creaminess to Hungarian meals.
Situated on the Danube river with a population of about 1.8 million people, the capital city of Budapest is considered one of the most exciting cities in the world. Not surprising when you think of its majestic river, lavish spas, lively centre, and many hidden spots waiting to be explored. Major urban areas include Debrecen, Szeged, Miskolc, Pécs and Győr.
Planning your Meal
Hungarian Appetizers: Cold Plate & Cheese Spreads
Although Hungarians would usually start their meals with a soup rather than an appetizer, Hungarian cuisine has its authentic salty treats that your guests can enjoy as you work on the rest of the meal. Typically, Hungarian appetizers consist of veggies, homemade sausages, and cheese. As Hungarian cuisine is famous for its variety of homemade sausage delicacies, it may be difficult to find all of their products, but still, you’ll be able to find the most famous ones and thus recreate some of the most delicious Hungarian appetizers.
Cold Plate: Hungarian Cuisine On A Plate
One of the options you have for a typical Hungarian starter is the so-called cold plate. It’s also good as a breakfast or light meal. If you serve it on a wooden chopping board, you’ll add that rustic note to the appetizer, which your guests will love. But what is this cold plate? Basically, Hungarians use anything they have in their kitchens, and the truth is that their kitchen pantries are brimming with home-grown vegetables, smoked bacon, rustic sausages, dried meat, pickles, etc. It already sounds irresistibly delicious.
Now, let’s see how you can arrange one such cold plate and surprise your guests with a perfect balance of flavors and spices. For a simple appetizer of this kind, you can start with slices of crusty bread, some fresh veggies, such as tomato wedges, sweet or hot peppers, or onion slices. Of course, do not forget Hungarian cheese. A good choice for a cold plate is a spread made from curd cheese. And the main ingredients are a variety of Hungarian meat products. It should be easy to find these at your deli. For truly Hungarian rustic flavors, choose slices of dry smoked boneless pork loin, Hungarian pork salami, smoked bacon, and of course Hungarian country-style sausage. Hungarians are proud of their charcuterie skills, so you may find a variety of these sausages. And since there are no rules to how and what to serve for a cold plate, if your deli has a couple of these, you won’t regret if you try them all.
Hungarian Cheese Spreads
Yet another appetizer worth mentioning is Hungarian cheese spread. Körözött is a famous one, originally made from sheep’s milk cheese. Nowadays, for this recipe, Hungarians like to use cottage cheese as well. As for the spices, ground paprika will give spiciness, nice orange color, and that smoky flavor whereas caraway seeds give the unique taste to this flavorful spread. Here is how to make it.
As your guests are enjoying your flavor-bursting appetizers, you can go on to prepare the main course. But where to start? Stews, casseroles, stuffed cabbage, chicken paprikash… It’s hard to choose, but when we think of Hungarian cuisine, goulash is that first thing that comes to our minds, right? It is super delicious and flavorful on its own, but you can also pair it with another popular Hungarian dish - layered potatoes. Let’s start with this rich and hearty goulash!
You can enjoy this explosion of flavors by preparing another famous dish - Hungarian-style potato casserole called Rakott Krumpli. Basically, it is a dish of super tasty potatoes, eggs, and sour cream. For that typical Hungarian taste, you can also add slices of Hungarian sausages. Take a look at the recipe below.
Desserts: Pastries & Fluffy Crepes
When it comes to desserts, Hungarian cuisine has an abundance of sugary delicacies. Uniquely Hungarian desserts are sweet pastries with chocolate, walnut, or fruit fillings, but Hungarians are also proud of their cakes with puffy layers and creamy fillings. One of those you must try are definitely Hungarian crepes and pastries like strudels as well as poppy seed and walnut rolls. And here are the recipes to enjoy these treats.
If you would like to try some of their famous pastries, then make sure to prepare Hungarian fabled strudels or poppy seed and walnut rolls. Here are the recipes.
Drinks: Pálinka & Unicum
Beverages are an inseparable part of Hungarian cuisine. Hungarians are so proud of their pálinka, a type of a powerful fruit brandy, that they even have a saying that in small amounts, pálinka is a medicine, in large amounts, it is a remedy.
Today, there are many varieties of this beverage, and typically only those with a minimum alcohol content of 37.5% are considered to be authentic Hungarian pálinka. True pálinka is made only from fruits grown in Hungary and some parts of Austria. One of the oldest type of this drink is the one made from grape pomace. Usually, Hungarians like to take a shot of this drink after meals because it helps digestion. Pálinka is best to consume at room temperature, and if you can detect only a fruity aroma, you will know that’s the true pálinka. Besides the one made from grapes, famous varieties include pálinka made from apricots (barack), cherries (cseresznye), pears (pears), apples (alma), and plums (szilva).
Also, make sure you try Unicum, another beverage that Hungarians swear can aid in digestion. It is a bitter, alcoholic drink made with spices and herbs. The story has it that more than 40 herbs are used. Typically, Hungarians drink unicum as an aperitif and a digestif.