Cherchez la paprika? That’s one way to describe Hungarian cuisine. Although we often think we know it well (can anyone say goulash?) there is a lot more to be tasted in Budapest!
The bell pepper was first brought to Hungary by the Turks, starting a small gastronomic revolution. It would gradually surpass pepper, and not just due to its rising price. Inspiring neighboring states as well, the Hungarians have built an amazing cuisine based on this vegetable. Yet today’s Hungarian cuisine has already been quite affected by international influences, and the resulting gastronomic scene has something for everyone.
Locals put peppers on the table alongside the salt and pepper. They‘re usually very mild and are used in combination with sour cream or rántás, which is a thick sauce made from lard and flour and is added to cooked vegetables. Hot paprika is also added to meals, but often at the end, according to the taste of the diner.
What foods to try?
Traditional Hungarian dishes are primarily based on meats, seasonal vegetables, fruits, fresh bread, dairy products and cheese. Hungarians often eat white bread (they’re said to love bread so much that they could eat bread with bread). In their dishes you usually find meat like pork or beef, and by Lake Balaton and other lakes fish get their turn too!
Goulash, of course, needs no introduction. True Hungarian Gulyás is, however, a thick beef soup with onions and potatoes sliced into cubes and is eaten mostly as a main course. This is THE Hungarian national dish.
Pörkölt and Paprikash
Beef Stew, on the other hand, which other Central and Eastern European countries call goulash, is actually pörkölt in Hungarian. To make it, the Hungarians add sour cream, remove the peppers, replace beef with chicken and voilà, paprikash.
Sauerkraut & Other Goulash
Most dishes are linked though. Sauerkraut goulash, for example, is basically pork paprikash with sour cream and cabbage. At least that’s how it’s served today. Earlier versions, the true original Székely Gulyás, were thinner and looked more like a soup.
Goulash has countless variations. Just in Hungary alone there are several kinds, depending on what‘s replacing the original ingredients. For example, instead of beef, add beans and you‘ve got bean goulash. Smoked pork or beef turns it into something like Betyár Gulyás. Birkagulyás is mutton with red wine added to it.
If at any point on your trip to Budapest you bump into some goulash, try it, even if it‘s right after lunch! The true authentic taste can’t often be compared to the goulash we know from other trips around Europe.
Salami & Sausages
Maybe you’ve already put it together, but Hungary is also a land of meat lovers. Salami’s here are made to perfection, likely due to the numerous festivals and competitions. This also includes tons of different kinds of sausages, which are seasoned with various herbs and paprika – naturally.
Fortunately, vegetarians are also catered for. Hungarian lecsó, is an excellent vegetable ragout, consisting mainly of peppers (who would have guessed!), tomatoes and onions. Hungarians love their lecsó so much we’ve even heard of cases where their choice of partner is affected by how well they can make home-made lecsó
Perhaps, you’ve also heard of lángos? This is a simple dough made of flour, water and yeast. However, it’s what you sprinkle on the fried dough that is important! The classic is made of garlic butter, sour cream and grated cheese.
Having said that, the imagination really has no limits, and you can come across versions on the street and in restaurants with mushrooms, eggplant, or even shrimp!
A sweet finish at the end
Hungarians love their sweets as well. Not only do they prepare their favorite lángos as a sweet version with sugar or sugared cinnamon and other sweet toppings, but they also like to munch on a wide variety of cakes and pies.
Things like Dobos, a simple layer cake with chocolate buttercream and caramel on the surface. Named after its inventor Hungarian confectioner József C. Dobos this cake was to last longer than others in the old times without fridges and coolers. The Emperror Franz Joseph I himself was one of the first ones to taste it. And yes, he liked it! And so will you.
Rétes is actually just a strudel with several different kinds of filling, most often pickled cherries. Other types you might come across are poppy seed, walnut, and even good old apple. The Hungarians, however, still don’t call it strudel, to them it is still ‘their’ rétes
You’ll also encounter Flódni in more than one market. Sandwich boards invite you to have a taste of this beautiful looking dish, which is quite interesting to look at thanks to its multiple layers of color. This is a Jewish tart and the best area of Budapest to taste it is therefore in the Jewish Quarter. Your taste buds can get ready for apple, walnut and poppy.
So where do you get everything?
The local markets are a complete paradise for gourmands and photographers. If you find yourself in Budapest over the holidays, don’t miss out on trying goodies from the markets in the city center! Those found in Vörösmarty tér (square) are especially popular. Inside, you can find everything from goulash, grilled duck leg through to regional specialties. Even in winter, don’t hesitate to visit the markets, you can always find food, drinks and a simmering hotplate to keep you warm!
The Central Market can be found at any time of year on the street Vámház krt. 1-3, right on the river. It’s also the largest and oldest market in Budapest.
In today’s Budapest, several restaurants now boast Michelin stars, and they aren’t often as expensive as you’d think. According to Andras Jokuti, currently one of the most popular Hungarian food bloggers, some great restaurants include Borkonyha*, Tanti*, as well as Zona and Olimpia, which don’t have a star but regularly appear in the Michelin Guide.
If the stars don’t matter too much to you, then it’s definitely worth stopping into the restaurant Gulyas Csarda, for example, at Nagy Lajos utca 4 for goulash and other typical Hungarian specialties. After lunch, walk to Daubner Cukrászda Kft at Szépvölgyi utca 50 for sweets and a priceless gastronomic experience – for only a few forints!
Did we manage to inspire you today? What do you enjoy most about Hungarian cuisine? Are you planning on going to Budapest in the future?