Hungarian or Magyar cuisine is the cuisine characteristic of the nation of Hungary and its primary ethnic group, the Magyars. Traditional Hungarian dishes are primarily based on meats, seasonal vegetables, fruits, fresh bread, dairy products and cheeses.
Hungarian cuisine is mostly continental Central European, with some elements from Eastern Europe such as the use of poppy, and the popularity of kefir and quark (cottage cheese). Paprika, a quintessential spice and pepper is often associated with Hungary and is used prominently in a handful of dishes. Typical Hungarian food is heavy on dairy, cheese and meats, similar to that of neighboring West Slavic cuisines (Czech, Polish and Slovak). Chicken, pork and beef are very common, while turkey, duck, lamb, fish and game meats are also eaten but not as frequently (mostly on occasions and/or special events). Hungary is also famous for the high quality and relatively inexpensive salamis and sausages it produces primarily from pork, but also poultry, beef, etc.
Bread is perhaps the most important and basic part of the Hungarian diet. It is eaten at all meals and often as a side to a main dish. Before the fall of communism in 1990, white bread was a staple food, and Hungarians were very proud of the delicious bread widely available. After the change to capitalism, the quality of bread decreased as bakers tried to save on costs. Nevertheless, there was a backlash and many specialty bakers arose who strive to provide the high quality white bread available back then, as well as many new varieties. Not only bread, but numerous types of baked goods, such as buns and pastries both salty and sweet, often creatively filled, have proliferated in recent years. These can be found in the numerous bakeries all over Hungary. To mention one, the pogácsa is a real Hungarian classic, and the Fornetti franchise has been hugely successful with their line of pogácsas and other pastries.
Hungarians view main dishes as one of two types: either requiring a side dish (köret) or not requiring one. For the ones that require it, it would be very unusual to eat it without the side dish. Vice versa, if a side dish is not required it would be very unusual to order one. The side dish is most commonly potato prepared in different styles, but rice or steamed vegetables are also popular. Some foods have a customary side dish (i.e. csirkepaprikás (paprika chicken) is almost always eaten with noodles (nokedli), while others are completely flexible (i.e. rántott sajt (fried cheese) can take any kind). Some Hungarian dishes also have toppings or bread on the side considered almost mandatory, for example the sour cream and bread with töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage).
In recent years, chefs have made Hungarian food into a creative art form, adding new ingredients and preparation styles that never existed in the past. As a result, Hungarian dishes prepared for tourists may seem quite unusual to Hungarians who have always eaten those foods in a traditional, less showy way.
Goulash, the quintessential "Hungarian" dish, is actually not eaten very frequently, it's a traditional food. Other famous Hungarian meat stews include paprikás, a thicker stew with meat simmered in thick, creamy, paprika-flavored gravy, and pörkölt, a flavorful Hungarian stew with boneless meat (usually beef or pork), onion, and sweet paprika powder, both served with nokedli or galuska (small dumplings). In old-fashioned dishes, fruits such as plums and apricots are cooked with meat or in piquant sauces/stuffings for game, roasts and other cuts. Various kinds of noodles, dumplings, potatoes, and rice are commonly served as a side dish. Hungarian dry sausages (kolbász) and winter salami are also an integral part of Hungarian cuisine.
Other characteristics of Hungarian cuisine are the soups, casseroles, desserts, and pastries and stuffed crêpes (palacsinta), with fierce rivalries between regional variations on the same dish (such as the Hungarian hot fish soup called fisherman's soup or halászlé, cooked differently on the banks of Hungary's two main rivers: the Danube and the Tisza), palacsinta (pancakes served flambéed in dark chocolate sauce filled with ground walnuts) and Dobos Cake (layered sponge cake, with chocolate buttercream filling and topped with a thin layer of crunchy caramel).
Two remarkable elements of Hungarian cuisine that are hardly noticed by locals, but usually elicit much enthusiasm from foreigners, are the different forms of vegetable stews called főzelék as well as cold fruit soups, such as cold sour cherry soup (Hungarian: hideg meggyleves).
Hungarian cuisine uses a large variety of cheeses, but the most common are túró (a type of crumbly quark), cream cheeses, picante ewe-cheese (juhturó), the most common Hungarian cheeses like Trappista, Karaván, Pannónia, Pálpusztai and Emmentaler, Edam.
Worth to mention the wide selection of smoked pork products. Which are very important part of Hungarian cuisine, and many dish is get the character from the smoky taste of one or more of these ingredients. Broad selection of Hungarian smoked sausages, smoked ham, smoked lard also being consumed without further preparation. These accompanied with bread and fresh vegetables, are often called 'cold dish', mainly consumed for breakfast or dinner, but sometimes offered as starter in restaurants.
The pickled (fermented) vegetable products are often used in the Hungarian cuisine. The main product is the savanyú káposzta (lit: sour-cabbage, sauerkraut) and soured peppers, gherkins, but also common the mix of cauliflower, green tomatoes, baby water melon, and some other vegetables too. These traditionally consumed at winter and often were the main source of vitamin-C throughout the cold months of winter. Some seasonal hearty dish such as Töltött káposzta, Húsos káposzta or Korhely leves based on savanyú káposzta. Classic Hungarian restaurants often offer some variations as side dish, a refreshing compliment to heavy dishes.
Hungarian food uses selected spices judiciously to add flavor, and despite the association of hot paprika with Hungary, there is actually no Hungarian dish that features hot chili peppers intrinsically, and one may request not to include them in the dishes that use it. Hot chilis are only sometimes given as a garnish in traditional Hungarian cuisine, although dried hot chilis or hot chili paste may be given on the side for added, optional spiciness. This is in stark contrast to other nations associated with the chili pepper, like Mexico or Thailand, which use the hot variety much more frequently and typically also serve it as a garnish. In Hungary, the sweet (mild) paprika is much more common and is featured prominently in most dishes. The use of a thick sour cream called tejföl as a topping is another common feature in many dishes.
In addition to various kinds of paprika and onions (raw, sweated, seared, browned or caramelized), other common flavor components include: dill, bay leaf, black peppercorn, caraway, coriander, cinnamon, garlic, horseradish, lemon juice and peel, marjoram, mustard (prepared), tarragon, oregano, parsley, vinegar, poppy seeds, and vanilla. Less used spices are anise, basil, chervil, chives, cloves, juniper berries, lovage, nutmeg, rosemary, savory, thyme, creeping thyme, and white peppercorn.
Hungarian cuisine has influenced the history of the Magyar people, and vice versa. The importance of livestock and the nomadic lifestyle of the Magyar people, as well as a hearkening to their steppe past, is apparent in the prominence of meat in Hungarian food and may be reflected in traditional meat dishes cooked over the fire like goulash (in Hungarian "gulyás", lit. "cattleman's (meal)"), pörkölt stew and the spicy fisherman's soup called halászlé are all traditionally cooked over the open fire in a bogrács (or cauldron). In the 15th century, King Matthias Corvinus and his Neapolitan wife Beatrice, influenced by Renaissance culture, introduced new ingredients such as sweet chestnut and spices such as garlic, ginger, mace, saffron and nutmeg, onion and the use of fruits in stuffings or cooked with meat. Some of these spices such as ginger and saffron are no longer used in modern Hungarian cuisine. At that time and later, considerable numbers of Saxons (a German ethnic group), Armenians, Italians, Jews, Poles, Czechs and Slovaks settled in the Hungarian basin and in Transylvania, also contributing with different new dishes. Hungarian cuisine was influenced by Austrian cuisine under the Austro-Hungarian Empire; dishes and methods of food preparation have often been borrowed from Austrian cuisine, and vice versa. Some cakes and sweets in Hungary show a strong German-Austrian influence. All told, modern Hungarian cuisine is a synthesis of ancient Uralic components mixed with West Slavic, Balkan, Austrian and Germanic. The food of Hungary can be considered a melting pot of the continent, with a culinary base formed from its own, original Magyar cuisine.
In Hungary, people usually have a large breakfast. Hungarian breakfast generally is an open sandwich with fresh bread or toast, butter, cheese or different cream cheeses, túró cheese or körözött (Liptauer cheese spread), cold cuts such as ham, liver pâté (called májkrém or kenőmájas), bacon, salami, mortadella, sausages such as kabanos, beerwurst or different Hungarian sausages or kolbász.. Traditionally fresh tomatoes and green peppers (sometimes scallion, radish and cucumber) are served with these when they are in season. Eggs (fried, scrambled or boiled) may also be part of breakfast.
Some types of meat that were commonly eaten in the past (such as beef tongue, disznósajt (head cheese) or véres hurka (similar to black pudding) are now more associated with the countryside as people turn to healthier diets.
Modern day Hungarians don't always eat this typical breakfast. For many, breakfast is a cup of milk, tea or coffee with pastries, a bun, a kifli or a strudel with jam or honey, or cereal, such as muesli and perhaps fruit. Children can have rice pudding (tejberizs) or Semolina Cream (tejbegríz) for breakfast topped with cocoa powder and sugar or with fruit syrup. Hot drinks are preferred for breakfast.
Villásreggeli or brunch, (literally breakfast with fork) is a more luxurious big breakfast given on special occasions or holidays. Often guests are invited. Deviled eggs, cold steak, cold salads, salmon-omelet, pancakes, a spicy cheese spread made with sheep milk cheese called körözött, caviar, foie gras, fruit salads, compote, fruit yogurts, fruit juices, champagne and pastries, cakes and cookies may be served.
Lunch is the major meal of the day, traditionally with several courses, but often just one course in modern times. Cold or hot appetizers may be served sometimes (for example fish, egg or liver), then soup. Soup is followed by a main dish. The main dish is a dish including meat, side dishes and salad (or pickled vegetables - paprika, cucumber, sauerkraut, etc.), which precedes the dessert. Fruit may follow. In Hungary, pancakes (or rather, crepes) may be served as a main dish or as a dessert but not for breakfast. Salad is typically served with meat dishes, made of lettuce with tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, or some pickled variant of them. A simple thin sliced cucumber or tomato salad in vinaigrette is also typical. Salads such as Salade Olivier or potato salad are made of boiled potatoes, vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, mushrooms, fried or boiled meat or fish, in vinaigrette, aspic or mayonnaise. These salads are eaten as appetizers or even as a main course.
Some people and children eat a light meal in the afternoon, called uzsonna, usually an open sandwich, pastry, slice of cake or fruit.
Dinner is typically less important than lunch, and there is no typical Hungarian dinner. It may either be a lunch-type meal, with multiple courses and the same foods one would serve for lunch, or it could be the same as a traditional Hungarian breakfast, with bread, cold cuts, cheeses, tomatoes and peppers as described above. When dinner is an important occasion it will be prepared the same way and with the same courses a full lunch would be. When it's not an important occasion, it's a good time to eat leftovers.
Hungarian meal times are somewhat flexible. Typical times are as follows: Breakfast 6-9 am; Lunch 12 noon-2 pm; Dinner 6-9 pm
For Christmas, Hungarians have a fish soup called halászlé. Other dishes may be served, such as roast goose, roast turkey or roast duck, cabbage rolls (töltött káposzta). Pastry roll filled with walnut or poppy seed called (bejgli) is a usual Christmas food, and candies and sweets used to decorate the Christmas tree, such as szaloncukor are eaten during all Christmas, when everybody picks them and eats them directly from the tree. On New Year's Eve (Szilveszter), Hungarians traditionally celebrate with virsli (Vienna sausage, and lentil soup. On New Year's Day, it is common to eat either lentil soup or korhelyleves, a meaty sauerkraut soup said to cure hangovers. Easter (Húsvét) meals have few specialties, though some Hungarians (especially in Szabolcs County) make a special sweet yellow cheese, Sárga túró, made with quark (túró) and eggs.
|Gulyásleves||Goulash soup; it is possible to cook gulyás like a stew as well (e.g. Székelygulyás).|
|Halászlé||Famous hot and spicy fish soup with hot paprika. It is always made with the locally available freshwater fish selection (wider selection used, better the taste). There are some distinct recipes by which it is cooked slightly different, depending on the region of Hungary in which one makes it, and generally categorised based on the closest large body of water (river or large lake). The most famous versions are Szegedi, Bajai which are often part of the argument over this soup.|
|Húsleves||By the classic recipe it is made of strong beef or hen, often with bones, but many popular version use chicken or veal. Some other type meat is also possible such as wild duck, pheasant or pigeon. This is a slow cooked broth like soup with a selection of vegetables. The cooking time depends on the type of meat, it can take up to 2-3 hours. Often served with different levesbetét (additional noodles), small pasta dumplings called csipetke, csigatészta, angel hair noodles, but grízgombóc (semolina dumplings) or a light májgombóc (chicken liver dumplings) also popular.|
|Gyümölcsleves||A chilled, sweet soup with redcurrants, blackberries, sour cherries, apple, pear, quince and/or other seasonal fruit mix. It's fast cooked with cream or whole milk, some spices often accompanied with fruits, like cloves and cinnamon and sugar. This soup is often thickened with creme fraiche and flour mixture. It's served sometimes hot, but mainly cold from the fridge. Very common throughout the summer with seasonal fruits but the winter version can be made with oranges, clementines or any sweet fruits available fresh or frozen.|
|Meggyleves||A popular variant on the above, which is made only with sour cherries.|
|(Jókai) bableves||A very rich bean soup, with lots of vegetables, smoked pork hock pieces and noodles. Often made spicy or some sort of hot chilli offered with it. Despite its richness it's served with and Hungarian sour cream on top and fresh white bread, and in fact this soup is a lunch or dinner itself. Some households add some vinegar to it after serving it to the plate. This soup is named after the famous Hungarian writer Mór Jókai by Károly Gundel the founder of one of the most known restaurant of Hungary in 1937.|
|Csontleves||A basic bone broth, usually served with spaghetti noodles, carrots, and turnips. May also be served with stewed meat (usually pork), meat bones, and/or parsley.|
|Gombaleves, vadgombaleves||A soup made from various wild mushrooms, often with sour cream added. Not necessarily the same as cream of mushroom soup.|
|Palócleves||Similar to goulash, except lighter in color, sourer in taste (due to the sour cream), and with dill added. It got its name after Mikszáth Kálmán's nickname, and not after the palóc people in Hungary.|
|Zöldségleves||A soup with vegetables, such as peas, carrots, turnips, and parsley.|
|Sóskaleves||Made from sorrel leaves in a broth, often with boiled eggs as well. Similar to green borscht, but thicker.|
|Krumplileves||Made from potatoes in a broth, frequently with slices of sausage, carrots, turnips, and/or sour cream.|
|Pacalleves||A tripe soup eaten primarily by Hungarians living in Transylvania, usually seasoned with vinegar, sour cream, and garlic. May be eaten with bread and hot paprika on the side. Known as ciorbă de burtă for Romanians.|
|Borleves||A sweet wine soup, usually with cinnamon added and raisins and whipped egg whites on top.|
|Köménymagleves||A soup made from caraway seeds, often with pieces of stale bread.|
|Tojásleves, rántott leves||Same as köménymagleves, except with scrambled eggs added. Very similar to the Slovenian national dish, prežganka.|
|Csirkepaprikás||A chicken stew with lots of sweet paprika, cream, and/or sour cream called tejföl. Known as chicken paprikash, or by some translated variant in many Central/Eastern European countries.|
|Paprikás krumpli||The same kind of stew as csirkepaprikás, except with potatoes in place of chicken, and usually with spicy sausage (kolbász) added as well.|
|Császármorzsa||Shredded, sweet crepe pieces with sugar sprinkled on top. Often served with jam (apricot or peach, usually) as well.|
|Főzelék||A thinner, vegetable stew (almost like a soup, but thicker), similar to pottage. It can be made with a variety of vegetable bases, such as cabbage, potatoes, kidney beans, squash, spinach, lentils, tomatoes, sorrel, peas, dill, or some combination. Meatballs (fasírt), spicy sausage (kolbász), or a fried egg (tükörtojás) may be added. It rarely appears in formal restaurants, and it usually eaten at home as a home-cooked meal.|
|Lecsó||A mixed vegetable stew, made of primarily tomato and paprika, also found throughout the Balkans and Central Europe. It is somewhat similar to ratatouille, but without squash and zucchini. A variety exists called tojásos lecsó (lecsó with eggs), which has scrambled eggs mixed in.|
|Székelykáposzta, székelygulyás||A hardy pork and sauerkraut stew, often flavored with paprika, onion, and sour cream. Despite its name, it does not originally come from Transylvania (Erdély), and is instead named after the Hungarian writer József Székely (a friend and contemporary of Sándor Petőfi), who apparently asked a kocsmáros (tavernman) to mix together leftover savanyúkáposzta-főzelék (sauerkraut pottage) and sertéspörkölt (pork stew) to create it.|
|Fasírt, fasírozott||Flat, pan-fried meatballs, made from minced meat (usually pork, veal, and/or beef), with paprika and salt added for taste. Very frequently eaten with főzelék, or served with rice or french fries.|
|Stefánia szelet, Stefánia vagdalt||Hungarian meatloaf with hard boiled eggs in the middle. Makes decorative white and yellow rings in the middle of the slices, and is often served with potatoes.|
|Pörkölt||A stew similar to ragù, made with boneless meat (veal, pork, chicken, beef, lamb), sweet paprika, and some vegetables (always onions, though). Many variations exist throughout Hungary. One famous variation (pictured) is pacalpörkölt, which is often quite spicy and made with tripe. Some others are kakaspörkölt (made with rooster), kakashere pörkölt (made with rooster testicles), and ones using pork or chicken liver (sertésmáj pörkölt and csirkemáj pörkölt, respectively).|
|Palacsinta||A stuffed crepe, usually filled with jam. Other fillings that exist are sweet quark cheese (túró) with raisins, Nutella, vanilla pudding, or meat. Some more specific/elaborate variations on the palacsinta are listed in the next few rows.|
|Gundel palacsinta||Literally named Gundel crepe. It was created by and named after Hungarian restaurateur Károly Gundel. They are stuffed with walnuts and served in chocolate sauce, and often flambéed (with rum). They traditionally also come with candied orange peels.|
|Hortobágyi palacsinta||A thin savory pancake, filled and covered with a meat stew, typically made from veal, onions, and spices. Often also topped with sour cream.|
|Rakott palacsinta||Layered crepes with sweet cottage cheese, raisins, jam and walnuts.|
|Liptai túró||A spicy cheese spread with paprika, carraway and onions.|
|Rántott sajt||A flat cheese croquette; cheese rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. It is frequently served with french fries, mashed potatoes, rice, rizi-bizi (green peas and rice mixed together, as shown in the picture), or vegetables.|
|Rántott hús, Bécsi szelet||Originally from Austria. Meat that is tenderized, covered in eggs, flour, and breadcrumbs, then fried. Also known as Wiener schnitzel.|
|Rántott csirke||A chicken breast rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried; similar to Wiener Schnitzel. Another rarer dish, rántott galamb, is made the same way, except with pigeon.|
|Rakott krumpli, rakott burgonya, tepsis burgonya||A potato casserole made with some combination of eggs, paprika, spicy sausage, thick bacon (szalonna), quark cheese (túró), onions, sour cream, and/or breadcrumbs. See a recipe on Wikibooks Cookbook.|
|(Erdélyi) rakott káposzta||A layered cabbage dish which consists of cabbage, pörkölt, rice, sour cream, and spices. The dish comes from the Hungarians in Transylvania (Erdély).|
|Sólet||A Jewish-Hungarian stew made with kidney beans, barley, onions, paprika, and perhaps meat and eggs as well. It is similar to cholent.|
|Szilvásgombóc||Sweet plum dumplings, rolled in sweet, fried, buttered breadcumbs or streusel. May also be served with nudli, which are made from the leftover dumpling dough.|
|Túrógombóc||Unlike szilvásgombóc, this sweet quark cheese (túró) dumpling has no filling, and normally served with sour cream and icing sugar.|
|Töltött káposzta||A cabbage roll made from pickled cabbage, filled with a light minced pork meat and rice mix. It may contain minced paprika and be served in a tomato sauce with sour cream, but this is not always the case (as in the picture). It is frequently eaten around Christmas and New Year's, but can still be eaten year-round.|
|Töltött tojás, kaszinótojás||Literally translates as stuffed egg or casino egg, respectively. Deviled egg served cold (in mayonnaise) or warm (baked in the oven with sour cream), with parsley, green onions, or paprika powder added to taste.|
|Töltött paprika||Stuffed peppers filled with pork mince and rice mixture, served in a tomato sauce with salty boiled potatoes. Also found throughout the Balkans, where it is often known as punjena paprika.|
|Pecsenye||A thin pork steak served with cabbage or in the dish fatányéros (pictured), a Hungarian mixed grill on wooden platter.|
|Cigánypecsenye||A variant on pecsenye which literally translates as Gypsy roast. Consists of fried or spit-roasted pork cutlets, with thick bacon as well, which are spiced with paprika, salt, and/or pepper. Usually served with roasted potatoes or french fries, or perhaps savanyúság (pickled vegetables) (pictured).|
|Bélszín, vesepecsenye||Beef tenderloins, usually seasoned with paprika, salt.|
|Szűzpecsenye||Literally means virgin roast. pork tenderloins, which are usually prepared the same as above. May also be made into szűzérme (lit. virgin medallions; pork medallions) or szűztekercs (rouladen; thinly-cut tenderloins, stuffed with minced meat, vegetables, and/or other things).|
|Brassói (aprópecsenye)||This dish is clearly named after Brassó, the former Hungarian name for Brașov, but it is unclear how, and various legends have arisen as explanation. It consists of diced pieces of pork and potatoes, which are pan-fried with onions, bacon, and seasoning (salt, pepper, and/or paprika). This dish, despite the simple ingredients, need some practice to master.|
|Mákos tészta||Very famous and common, an easy egg noodle dish, made with ground and sweetened poppy seeds. It has a distinct look and taste.|
|Diós tészta||Boiled egg noodle dish served with ground walnuts and sugar, often with lekvár (jam) or honey.|
|Gránátos kocka, krumplis tészta||A home-cooked, simple egg noodle dish, made with potatoes and paprika powder. Often served with pickled gherkins or other pickle on side.|
|Túrós csusza, túrós tészta||An egg noodle dish, made with quark cheese (túró) and served savory (with bacon) or sweet (with sugar).|
|Vadas||Literally translates as with venison. Also known as vadas mártás (vadas sauce). Originally cooked with venison, such as wild boar, deer, wild duck or hare. But often made with beef, veal, rabbit and rarely with chicken. The meat (pre-cooked, in case of red meat) ready cooked in a brown or dark orange coloured vegetable ragout with carrots and other root vegetables. It is typically served with bread dumplings. In some cases the ragout is made separate and served on side of roast venison or beef slices. The venison version often accompanied with mushrooms.|
|Pásztortarhonya||Literally translates as shepherd egg barley. A hearty dish consisting of egg barley, potatoes, onion, kolbász, and paprika, sometimes also with bacon and other vegetables.|
|Tarhonyás hús||Egg barley with pieces of minced meat (usually pork), but sometimes potato and kolbász as well, along with various spices.|
Hungarian wine dates back to at least Roman times, and that history reflects the country's position between the West Slavs and the Germanic peoples. The best-known wines are the white dessert wine called Tokaji Aszu (after the North-Eastern region of Hungary, Tokaj) and the red wines from Villány (Southern part of Hungary). Famous is also the wine called Bull's Blood (Egri Bikavér), a dark, full-bodied red wine. Hungarian fruit wines, such as redcurrant wine, are mild and soft in taste and texture.
Hungary's most notable liquors are Unicum, a herbal bitters, and Pálinka, a range of fruit brandies (plum and pear are popular). Also notable are the 21 brands of Hungarian mineral waters (for example Apenta and Kékkúti). Some of them have therapeutic value, such as Mira.
Traubi or Traubisoda, is a soft drink based on an Austrian license produced in Balatonvilágos since 1971. Before soft drinks became widely available, Hungarians made their own soft drinks called szörp, which is a concentrate created from sugar and fruits such as the raspberry, currant or elderberry. This concentrate is diluted in either fresh or carbonated water. These are really delicious if you can find them.
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