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Hungarian food has evolved to include a wide array of flavors and textures from the foods first eaten by the Magyar people, centuries ago.
Today, Hungarian cuisine is one of the most diverse in Central and Eastern Europe. Generous use of spices, like paprika, with succulent meats and rich cheeses, makes it a hearty cuisine with plenty of kick.
Here are sixteen traditional Hungarian foods, as recommended by a local, that are not to be missed in Hungary.
Körözött is a type of spread you can have for breakfast or as a snack during the day.
Its main ingredient is túró which is very similar to what people call cottage cheese in Britain though Hungarian túró has a crumblier, drier consistency.
Some make it from sheep’s cottage cheese, some use only cow’s cottage cheese but it’s also okay to mix the two.
To give it a unique taste, ground paprika, red onion and caraway seeds are mixed in the cream.
It’s recommended to put it in the fridge for a few hours to cool it down before spreading it on bread or using it as a dip for vegetables.
Don’t miss a good hurka sausage breakfast while visiting Hungary.
Budapest offers many butcher’s shops you can stop by to get the day properly started.
Hurka is a type of sausage that is traditionally made in the countryside at pig slaughter events to fill the pantry with enough food until the next pig grows up.
People stuff the pig’s well-cleaned intestines with its own minced liver and kidney, add some rice, and boil it in water.
It’s usually eaten with mustard and bread.
In case you like tasting different sausages, you can also try csabai kolbász, párizsi, or Pick szalámi. The latter is offered in shops worldwide making Pick, it’s manufacturer one of the most famous Hungarian companies.
Imagine sun-bathing on the shore of Lake Balaton, the so-called Hungarian Sea. It’s 33°C degrees and you’re sweating like crazy when you decide to grab something cold to refresh yourself, right? Not in Hungary! Lángos, the most popular beach food in Hungary is the best when it’s freshly taken out of the hot, boiling oil.
It is a special dough you fry in a pan, then put some toppings on it. Some say it is the Hungarian pizza.
Traditional lángos toppings include garlic, sour cream, and trappista cheese.
With a hint of salt, it’s the best fast food you can get in the country.
With its popularity rising higher than ever you can also find it in the streets of basically any Hungarian city.
Cheap, delicious and filling, what else do you need?
Moving on to soups, Hungary has a really unique soup selection. There’s this thing called hideg gyümölcsleves, or cold fruit soup in English.
Most often, it is made of cherry but you can put any fruit in it.
To most foreigners, it’s very strange when they first hear about it because they’re not used to eating sweet soups at all.
To make it, you only need water, sugar, cornstarch, heavy cream, cinnamon, and cherries.
Oh and the best part is yet to come, whipped cream on top – obviously only added when it’s served, strictly after it spends a night in the fridge.
It’s a meal that both kids and adults love.
The traditional Hungarian halászlé (fish soup) is served in csárdas, which are small, folk art style restaurants with red and white chequered tablecloths.
Though you can easily cook it in a big pot at home with fish from the supermarket, the best is if you make it over open fire on the banks of Tisza river from freshly caught carps.
It’s really not the cooking skills that make a great halászlé, it’s your ingredients’ quality since you can just put pretty much everything in the pot and wait until it’s fully cooked.
A quick tip: put your hand above the steaming pot and touch your thumb with your index finger. If the steam sticks them together for a second, it’s time to eat it.
The Jókai bableves is a bean soup named after one of the greatest Hungarian writers of all time, Mór Jókai.
Whenever he visited his favorite restaurant in Balatonfüred, he always ordered the classic bean soup from the menu with a little extra request: he asked the chef to also cook pig nails into the dish.
His version soon became very popular and an independent item on the menu.
This kind of bean soup is often served with a lighter second course or even a small desert.
If you ask a foreigner what the first thing is that comes to their minds when mentioning Hungary, their answer is usually goulash (or Puskas, if you ask the elderly. He is a football legend).
And there’s often a misunderstanding around goulash because people tend to think it’s a kind of stew. But it really isn’t; it’s a kind of soup.
So goulash is a very filling, very heavy soup that originates from the herdsman who used to live with their herd on the Great Hungarian Plain, often far away from their families for months.
Their comfort food was gulyás, something they could prepare with the available ingredients. No wonder that the original goulash was always made from beef and vegetables that they had lots of – paprika peppers, carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes. If possible, noodles are also added to the mixture.
Just like fish soup, goulash is also the best if cooked over an open fire; it’s a typical campers’ food.
There are hardly any Hungarian households that do not have a cauldron that is still often used for family gatherings.
Maybe you want to try something with less meat in it? That’s a hard thing to accomplish when you’re looking at the Hungarian cuisine, but we’ve got you covered – try lecsó.
Lecsó is a vegetable stew that is easy to make and just too delicious to miss while visiting Hungary.
Peppers, onions, and tomatoes are the main ingredients, which are then seasoned with salt.
You can either opt for the sweet version and add some sweet paprikas, or you can continue trying the fifty shades of spicy Hungarian foods by mixing hot paprikas in your pot (by now you probably have an idea of the first rule of the Hungarian cuisine: just add paprika to everything and you’re set).
Adding rice or even eggs can help you to make a stand-alone dish but make it less heavy, and it’ll be the perfect side dish.
Lecsó is often compared to the French ratatouille and they are similar, you’ve got to admit, but you simply can’t go wrong with a bowl of lecsó.
Csirkepaprikás has everything you need for a typical Hungarian dish. Meat – chicken in this case-, paprika, red onions, garlic, pepper, and tomatoes.
It’s usually eaten with bread and sour cream, which you can put on the top of the dish, as much as you’d like. There’s nothing better than the chilled sour cream melting onto your steaming csirkepaprikás.
And what if you made too much and there’s some leftovers?
You’ll be instantly prepared to make a hortobágyi húsos palacsinta, which is a meat-filled pancake or crépe named after Hortobágy, a certain area of a Great Hungarian Plain.
Few people know that it has nothing to do with centuries-long traditions or the Hortobágy itself. This dish was officially invented for a World Fair. It must have been a hit though since then it has become an official Hungaricum, meaning it’s a typical example of the unique Hungarian culture.
If you’re confused now because you thought pancakes were sweet deserts, you’re right, they originally are. But there are some Hungarian tricks to turn them into a salty meat dish.
The minced meat of csirkepaprikás will make the perfect stuffing, while the meat juice mixed with some sour cream will be your sauce on the pancakes.
Once you filled the pancakes, tuck in the ends and pour the sauce on it. A little bit of parsley on top is a good choice and not just for decoration.
Put everything in the oven for a good 30 minutes, then serve while still warm.
A quick casserole is rakott krumpli, which is made from potato, sausage, eggs, and sour cream.
All ingredients are cut into slices and you just layer them in a baking pan.
The bottom and the top layer must be potato layers but everything can be mixed in between them.
Some people like to strew the top with some crunchy bacon pieces but that absolutely depends on your taste.
Főzelék is a type of food with an untranslatable name. We could say it’s something like a vegetable stew, but that is not entirely true.
Though it may sound funny, főzelék is the vegetable soup you tried to cook but you messed up and now it’s so thick you can’t pour it into a plate. But no problem, it has all the healthy ingredients, and now you have a filling second course to enjoy.
In recent times, it has become so popular that special főzelék bars opened in Budapest to fill the void.
You can basically pick any vegetable as a base for your főzelék – the most popular ones are bean, pumpkin, and lentil-based ones.
A slice of meat on top can make it accepted by meat lovers as well.
And if you’re a pasta lover but already bored of what Italy can offer, we recommend trying mákos tészta.
Mákos tészta is a poppy seed pasta with a hint of powder sugar on top. Sounds weird? Come on, you have to give it a try before judging.
It’s also very easy to make at home. You just get the water boiling, put some noodle pasta into it and mix it with poppy seeds and melted butter when ready.
There’s only one thing you need to remember after a big plate of mákos tészta – to check your teeth.
Once you got the vibe of sweet pasta, grízes tészta is the next step to take. Grízes tészta is very similar. However, instead of poppy seeds, mix the pasta with apricot jam and semolina.
And if you’re still able to eat after any of the mentioned dishes, the best of Hungarian sweets are waiting for you to try.
A Hungarian confectionary has a lot more to offer than just a boring chocolate cake. Let’s start with something you can also prepare at home with a great chance of succeeding: gesztenyepüré, which is a chestnut purée with a lot of whipped cream.
You just need to buy a chestnut cube, sold in most Hungarian food stores, grate it with a cheese grater, then put some whipped cream on top and you can already enjoy this tasty heaven.
Nowadays, you can also find flavored cubes in the stores with different types of fruity chestnut so you can spice it up a bit if the original version is too plain for you.
The Dobos-torta is more complicated to make. It has several sponge cake layers with chocolate buttercream between the layers, but the top layer is hardened caramel.
The recipe was created by the famous confectioner József Dobos, whose aim was to create a type of pastry that would last longer than most cakes in the 19th century when cooling trucks or refrigerators were not yet a thing.
He traveled around Europe to introduce his desert that was welcomed with great enthusiasm on the international market.
There is no Hungarian confectionery today that would not have the Dobos-cake in their selection.
There are also kürtős kalács, aka chimney cake to try.
It is a typical fair food that got its name from a stovepipe, as a hot, steaming kürtős kalács shows a resemblance with a smoking chimney.
It’s made of a yeast dough that you have to cut into long strips, then roll it on a special, wooden, rolling pin-like device and put it in the oven.
The „rolling pin” is constantly rotated to give the dough an evenly golden glow. You can try it in different flavors, such as sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, coconut, and chocolate.
The crispy crust and the soft inner dough make a perfect match you don’t want to miss.
Belly-filling dishes, fresh ingredients, and plenty of spices make the foods of Hungary a memorable and enjoyable culinary experience.
Some of the fusions and colors in Hungarian food are truly mesmerizing. They really are not to be missed.
If you enjoy meat dishes, there’s a range of innovative recipes to enjoy that use chicken, beef, pork, duck, and plenty of other tender meats.
And that’s not even mentioning Hungarian sausage and salami, which is one of the tastiest in Europe.
Hungarians’ creative uses of spices like paprika and poppyseed have taken the tastes of hearty, carbohydrate-heavy dishes to another level.
Pair these dishes with Hungarian staples, like thick breads and strong cheeses, and you have a cuisine that’s both very hearty and very tasty.
Naturally, Budapest has more of a cosmopolitan blend of foods, along with traditional choices.
If you can get out to the outskirts and smaller towns, you’ll be able to find bakeries and family resturants that serve plenty of these delicious, traditional dishes.
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Author: Claudia Moricz is a Hungarian translator and creative writer from Sarospatak. When not translating texts, Claudia writes on a number of topics relating to her home country, including Hungarian food and top destinations.
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