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 European, with some elements from the East and Southern Europe such as the use of poppy, the popularity of kefir and quark (cottage cheese). Paprika, a quintessential spice and pepper is often associated with Hungary and used prominently in a handful of dishes. Typical Hungarian food is heavy on dairy, cheese and meats. Chicken, pork and beef are very common, while turkey, duck, lamb, fish and game meats are also eaten but not as frequently. 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's 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. Fortunately, 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 paprika (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 slice of 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 quark), cream cheeses, ewe-cheese (juhturó), Emmentaler, Edam and the Hungarian cheeses Trappista, Pálpusztai, and Pannonia cheese.
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 by default, it's always optional to those who request it. Hot chilis are also rarely given as a garnish to be put on by the eater in traditional Hungarian cuisine. 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 features prominently in many dishes. The use of the thick sour cream called tejföl as a topping is another common feature with 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. "herdsman'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 Neopolitan 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 Asiatic components mixed with Germanic, Italian, and Slavic elements. 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 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 (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 and salad, 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 a simple thin sliced cucumber or tomato salad in vinaigrette are 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 then 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.
Typical Hungarian dishes
- Gulyásleves (goulash soup; it is possible to cook gulyás like a stew as well, for example Székelygulyás)
- Halászlé (a famous hot and spicy fish soup with hot paprika)
- Húsleves (clear chicken (or veal meat) soup with soup vegetables and thin soup pasta called csipetke)
- Hideg meggyleves (chilled sour-cherry soup)
- Jókai bableves (a bean soup named after the author Jókai Mór)
- Lencseleves (lentil soup)
- Vadgombaleves (wild mushroom soup)
- Borleves (wine soup)
- Palócleves (named after Mikszáth Kálmán's nickname)
- Köménymagleves (caraway seed soup)
- Zöldségleves (vegetable soup, made for example of peas, carrot, parsley, often with csipetke as well (pinched dumplings))
- Krumplileves (potato soup)
- Tojásleves or Rántott leves (soup made with scrambled eggs and caraway seeds)
- Májgombóc leves (liver meatball soup; a variation exists called májgaluska leves (liver dumpling soup))
- Pacalpörkölt (tripe stew)
- Chicken paprikash called Csirkepaprikás (a stew with a lot of sweet paprika, cream or sour cream called tejföl)
- Császármorzsa (sweet crepe crumbs)
- Főzelék (thick vegetable stew)
- Székelygulyás (Goulash stew; can be made from three kinds of meat and sauerkraut)
- Krumplis tészta or gránátos kocka (a simple noodle dish with potatoes and paprika)
- Lecsó (mixed vegetable stew, made of tomato and paprika, somewhat similar to ratatouille)
- Stefánia szelet or Stefania slices (Hungarian meatloaf with hard boiled eggs in the middle. Makes decorative white and yellow rings in the middle of the slices)
- Pecsenye (thin pork steak served with cabbage or the dish fatányéros, a Hungarian mixed grill on wooden platter)
- Pörkölt (meat stew) - similar to ragù
- Palacsinta (stuffed Hungarian crepes, usually filled with jam. Other fillings are sweet quark cheese with raisins or meat)
- Paprikás krumpli (paprika-based stew with spicy sausage and potatoes)
- Rántott sajt, (flat cheese croquette, cheese rolled in breadcrumbs and, deep fried)
- Rántott csirke, (chicken rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried; similar to Wiener Schnitzel)
- Rántott galamb, (same as above, except with pigeon)
- Rakott krumpli (potato casserole, see recipe on Wikibooks Cookbook)
- Rakott káposzta or Kolozsvári káposzta (layered cabbage with Pörkölt and rice and sour cream- recipe from Transylvania/Erdely; the second name literally means "Cluj Cabbage")
- Sólet (Jewish-Hungarian bean stew)
- Szilvásgombóc and nudli (sweet plum dumplings and small noodles, rolled in sweet fried butter breadcrumbs or streusel)
- Szűz tekercsek (literally "Virgin roulade" filled with minced meat)
- Töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage)
- Töltött tojás, (deviled (stuffed) eggs)
- Székelykáposzta (a hardy pork and sauerkraut stew, often flavored with paprika, onion, and sour cream)
- Töltött paprika (Stuffed peppers - ground meat, rice and spices are used for the filling)
- Töltött tojás or kaszinótojás (Literally stuffed egg or "casino egg" - Deviled egg served cold in mayonnaise or warm, baked in the oven with sour cream)
- Túrógombóc (Hungarian sweet quark cheese dumpling)
- Túrós csusza or túrós tészta (noodles with quark cheese called túró - served savoury with bacon or sweet)
- Vadas marha (Beef with a sauce made of carrot and other root vegetables, usually served with bread dumplings)
- Wiener schnitzel (called Bécsi szelet, more commonly Rántott hús)
- Tökfőzelék (often called kapros tejfölös tökfőzelék - a squash soup, usually flavored with dill and sour cream, sometimes as a compliment to meat dishes such as fasírt)
- Pásztortarhonya (literally "shepherd's egg barley" - a hearty dish made from egg barley, potatoes, onion, kolbász, and paprika, sometimes also with bacon and other vegetables)
Sausage and cold cuts
- Hurka (sausage, two types: liver sausage called májas hurka, made of pork liver, meat and rice and black sausage called véres hurka, which is equivalent to the black pudding)
- Téliszalámi (or Winter salami, salami made of spiced meat, cold smoked, and dry ripened, the most famous brand made by Pick Szeged)
- Herz Szalámi
- Csabai szalámi and kolbász (spicy salami and smoked sausage, made in the town of Békéscsaba)
- Gyulai kolbász (spicy sausage, made in the town of Gyula)
- Debreceni kolbász (Debrecener sausage)
- Disznósajt (pig cheese, meat jelly, meat slices in aspic with additional gelatin)
- Szalonna (Hungarian bacon, fatback, back bacon rind, has more fat than usual breakfast bacon)
- Virsli (a Frankfurter-like long and thin sausage, consumed boiled with bread and mustard)
- Lókolbász (Horse sausage)
Sweets and cakes
- Dobos Cake (sponge cake layered with chocolate paste and glazed with caramel and nuts)
- Linzer torta (a tart with crisscross design of pastry strips on top)
- Rigó Jancsi (Cube-shaped sponge cake with dark chocolate glaze)
- Gesztenyepüré (cooked and mashed sweet chestnuts with sugar and rum, topped with whipped cream)
- Bejgli (cake roll eaten at Christmas and Easter)
- Kürtőskalács Stove cake or Chimney cake, cooked over an open fire — a Transylvanian specialty, famous as Hungary's oldest pastry
- Csöröge (crispy, light Hungarian Angel Wing fry cookies, a twisted thin fried cookie made of yeast dough, dusted with powdered sugar)
- Vaníliás kifli (vanilla croissant, small, crescent shaped biscuits)
- Piskóta (thin, light, sweet delicate, crispy cookie)
- Rétes (strudel)
- Csiga (literally snail - a rolled pastry that comes in many different coatings and flavors, usually walnut, poppy seed, chocolate, and vanilla pudding)
- Képviselő Fánk (Hungarian Cream Puff made from choux paste and filled with vanilla cream. Literal Translation - 'Ambassador Doughnut')
- Kuglóf (Kuglóf cake, a traditional Austro-Hungarian coffee party cake)
- Lekváros Bukta or Bukta (a baked dessert filled with jam, túró or ground walnuts)
- Lekváros tekercs (Rolled up soft sponge cake filled with jam)
- Lekvár (Thick Hungarian jam)
- Birsalma sajt (Quince cheese, or quince jelly made of quince fruits)
- Törökméz (a sweet sticky white nougat paste cooked with sugar, eggwhites, honey, bits of walnuts, spread between two wafer sheets)
- Halva (a Transylvanian sweet confection, made with sunflower seeds, of Turkish origin)
- Madártej (Floating island, a dessert made of milk custard with eggwhite dumplings floating on top)
- Túró Rudi (sweet quark cheese - called túró - filled chocolate bar)
- Szaloncukor (flavoured candies that hang on the Christmas tree, eaten at Christmas)
- Arany galuska (dumplings, or dough balls rolled in butter, sugar, and nuts and packed together to make a pull-apart cake, with vanilla custard)
- Vargabéles (Hungarian strudel or Noodle Pie)
- Esterházy torta (Consists of buttercream spiced with cognac or vanilla and walnuts)
- Somlói galuska (Somló-style Sponge Cake)
- Palacsinta (crêpe-like variety of pancake)
- Mákos guba (a poppy seed-based dessert found throughout Central Europe; consists of slices of sweet(ened) kifli and poppy seeds boiled in milk with butter, often with various nuts and dried fruits as toppings)
- Túrós lepény or túrós pite (dessert bars made from sweetened túró. A variant called kapros-túrós lepény also exists, which has dill added)
- Flódni (A Hungarian-Jewish dessert, a cake with 4 different fillings, poppyseed, walnut, apple and plum jam)
- Lángos (fried bread dough)
- Pogácsa (a type of bun, round puffed pastry with bacon, traditionally cooked on the fire)
- Zsemle (round small breads, eaten cut in half, with butter, cold cuts or jam, often for breakfast)
- Fánk or Bismarck Doughnuts
- Kifli (crescent-shaped bread. It can be made plain, salted, or sweet; see picture)
- Perec (Pretzel, salty crispy pasty)
- Májgaluska (small liver dumplings used in different soups, for example liverball soup)
- Grízgaluska (Hungarian boiled semolina dumplings used in soup)
- Tarhonya (a kind of large Hungarian "couscous", big pasta grain, served as a side dish)
- Rizi-bizi (Hungarian risotto, white rice mixed with green peas, served as a side dish)
- Vinetta or padlizsán krém (Transylvanian mashed eggplant salad made of grilled, peeled and finely chopped eggplants)
- Körözött or Liptai túró (cheese spread with ground sweet paprika and onions)
- Libamájpástétom (Hungarian delicacy: foie gras - goose liver pâté)
- Bundás kenyér (literally, "coated bread" or "bread with a fur", French toast or Gypsy toast or bread fritter, a breakfast food or eaten with spinach)
- Mákos tészta (noodles with ground poppy seeds and sugar)
- Diós tészta (noodles with ground walnuts and sugar, often with lekvár (jam) or honey)
- Bread (Hungarian bread - kenyér - is baked fresh every morning in the bakeries. The traditional form called cipó is big, round and with a hard thick crust. The other bread type is vekni: long loaves with crispy crust, thicker or thinner, like the baguette.)
Hungarian wine dates back to at least Roman times, and that history reflects the country's position between the Slavs and the Germanic peoples. The best-known wines are the white dessert wine called Tokaji (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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- Hungarian Food Safety Office
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- List of restaurants in Hungary
- National symbols of Hungary
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