By Reka Varga

So let’s try and describe the food of Hungary in one word; let’s go for diverse. Not only because of its historical background is the food so varied but in no small part was Hungarian cuisine was influenced by Italian cuisine during the Renaissance, ancient Turkish cuisine during the Ottoman era, Austrian and German cuisine under the Austro-Hungarian Empire – forever imparting a love of good food on the nation’s tables. Richness and spiciness are the main characteristics of the food of my mother country, but I’ll try and put the flavours in a nutshell for you.

Soups play an essential role in the Hungarian kitchen with a wide range of different varieties: famous chilled fruit soups like apricot soup, sour-cherry soup, which can be served as a starter; the rich one-pot soups can be eaten as main course, and various vegetable and cream soups as first course. Main meal is lunch, which is unimaginable without a big-flavoured soup. I would say soup is as important for Hungarians as tea for the English.

Another significant element of Hungarian cuisine is pork. Although chicken and beef is beloved as well, pork is still on the top of the list. This became a staple food following the Ottoman era, when the Turks took away everything apart from the pigs; they didn’t eat them due to their Muslim religion. Since that time – the sixteenth century – pork has remained the essential ingredient in every household. Most of the country still breed their own pigs and slaughter them in a ritual called disznótor, home butchering is a living tradition in Hungary. No wonder that all traditional Hungarian dishes contain lard instead of oil. Mildly salted back bacon is another vital ingredient. Combining it with the famous Hungarian red spice, paprika and onions create a wonderful harmony of flavours so typical of pörkölt and paprikás dishes. While not truly authentic, Jamie’s Spicy Pork and Chilli-pepper Goulash is as close in terms of spiciness and richness.

Most people associate Hungary with its typical pepper called paprika. It is believed to give Hungarian dishes their ultimate heat. However sweet paprika is more preferred in Hungarian gastronomy than hot paprika. It is commonly used in almost all dishes giving them a nice fiery colour and a deep luxurious edge. In addition to numerous kinds of paprika other characteristic flavour components are black pepper, caraway, dill, garlic, bay leaf, horseradish, poppy seeds and tarragon.

The creaminess of Hungarian food comes from a thick soured cream called tejföl, made from cow or buffalo milk. Another common used diary product is túró, a type of quark. The Hungarian sweet quark cheese dumpling is incredibly tasty, the best option for a light dinner.

Hungarians or Magyars are well known dessert makers, their special stuffed pancakes or the chimney cake have a widespread reputation. If you are lucky enough to get to Huungary, you have to visit a cake shop and try the delicious Dobos cake or the unique Somlói-style sponge cake. Children’s choice would be Madártej or Bird’s milk with meringue dumplings, a dessert made of milk custard and stiffly beaten egg white.

No one can escape a shot of fruit brandy in Hungary, pálinka is a crucial element of local hospitality. It is made either from plum or pear and has outstanding flavour, but has exceptionally high alcoholic content.  Pálinka is characterized by the wood aroma that develops during the long period of maturation in wooden casks.

So varied is the cuisine of Hungary that it’s difficult to sum up in a short article, but the robust nature of the people is reflected in the food. It’s a culture well worth exploring.


main dish, spices

More news

  • Misi

    great article!

  • Gábor Berényi

    My favorite is the ‘broth style’ soup what you can find on the tables in every Hungarian household on a Sunday. It’s like you would make a chicken or a beef stock from scratch, but the difference is you wont reduce it. We just strain this golden colored soup rich in flavors and serve it with all the veg boiled with it (carrots new potatoes, celery) also add some green peas and thin egg noodles.. Amazing! If we have beef my mum usually put some bone marrow in the stock as well. We’d have it as a starter. Spread the marrow on garlic toast, with salt and pepper and a sprinkle of paprika on top, really delicious!
    I want to see some Hungarian food in Jamie’s interpretation soon!! 😉

  • Agnes Latzkovits

    Palinka comes in many other flavours, pear, mixed fruit, whatever trees there are in the garden. People take their fermented fruit mixtures to communal distilleries and they end up with their own home made palinka. Some people are better at this than others, you can get a mighty hangover and a throbbing headache if you are not careful! I love a disznotor, I still know how to make sausages, wash and fill the intestines. After 5 shots of palinka and a hearty fried curdled blood breakfast it does not seem to be such a bad job. Hungarian bakeries offer a delicious variety of bread rolls and breakfast rolls from the elongated kifli to the round zsomle, people eat this for breakfast with deli meats and sweet green paprika, or tomatoes. My favourite, parizsi, which I prefer from beef. The deli counter has a wast array of meats, the choice is endless, I like the old fashioned sausages and cold cuts, there are a lot of new varieties since the fall of communism but they seem to all taste the same to me. If you holiday on a budget this is definitely something to go for, a cheap breakfast of cold cuts and delicious bread rolls. I live in the UK since 15 years and found several things that are similar, like Sainsbury’s low fat sour cream, that resembles the most to tejfol. Although it does not behave the same, with heat it tends to disintegrate, so making roux and saindoux is a bit more difficult. I miss the cottage cheese terribly, I am still looking for an alternative that has low moisture content so I could make dumplings. The other delicious dessert that I miss is plum dumplings. I also miss poppy seeds and walnuts. We’ve just planted a tree in our garden, in 3 years time maybe we will have some nuts. Luckily there are now two Hungarian shops in the North West. Great article by the way! Jamie you must once participate at a disznotor, it is tremendous fun!