Hungarian Cuisine

Famous Dishes of Hungary



Hungary’s cuisine evolved over centuries with influences from Asia, Middle East and Western Europe, but it still has kept its uniqueness, rich and extravagant flavors that many visitors yearn for after visiting. The spicy, red powdered paprika is the most important ingredient in Hungarian dishes, like the well-known Goulash soup, Beef stew dishes or the Fisherman’s Soup.
Other staples of Hungarian cooking include onions, cabbage, potatoes, noodles, and caraway seeds. Both cream and sour cream are used heavily in Hungarian food. Hungarians are meat lovers, mainly pork or beef serving their world famous stew based dishes and the unforgettable tasting Hungarian sausage.
The Hungarians are also known throughout the world for their elegant pastries and cakes, suggest as they famous Strudel, a flaky pastry dough filled with apples, cherries, or poppy seeds.




The quintessential Hungarian food that almost everyone has heard of is GOULASH (spelled  Gulyas in Hungarian).  But few know what it really is.  In the olden days when men tended sheep, goats and cattle, they were away from home all day sometimes for many days at a time. So the men would cook.  In the morning they would set up a tripod and hang a bogracs, a large iron kettle, from the tripod over a wood fire.  To the bogracs, they would add some lard, heat it and then add lots of chopped onions and a large quantity of cubed meat, usually beef; they would salt it, stir it a bit, add water and then cover it with a thick layer of sweet or hot paprika.  They would leave it over the fire all day, coming to tend the fire occasionally.  At the end of the day they would toss in some peeled, cubed potatoes and soon they would be enjoying a steaming bowl of SOUP; if most of the liquid boiled away it would be a great stew.  Of course each herdsman would tweak the recipe adding a little of this and a little of that depending on what was available, mostly carrots or celery, sometimes they would add pinched noodles made on the spot; but always, meat, onions and paprika.  It is most often made with beef but occasionally it is made with pork.  An old Hungarian lady when asked for the recipe of her wonderful Goulash, said it is simple you add onions in the same amount as meat, brown in lard, use lots of paprika, add salt & a little water and simmer for a long time.



The other Hungarian specialty that many folks have heard about is CHICKEN PAPRIKAS.  Paprikas is a method of cooking using meat or most often chicken, onions and what else – Paprika, sweet or hot. It is also always served with sour cream.   As with any popular dish there is much discussion about how exactly it must be prepared; use lots of onions and no water, use water or chicken broth to make a lot of sauce, use oil, lard or bacon drippings to sauté the onions and chicken.  But the end result is tender chicken pieces in a rich paprika sauce usually with sour cream in the sauce, but for those who are watching their cholesterol as many are now-a-days, sour cream may be served on the side.


GOMBA PORKOLT, a vegetarian mushroom stew, made with mushrooms, onions, red peppers & sweet, not hot  Paprika, Served over boiled potatoes, or more often  the famous Hungarian dumplings: “nokedli”.


The dish is a famous soup. An important ingredient in Fisherman's Soup is in the court bouillon, which adds significant flavor. To prepare the soup base, fish trimmings are used, fresh carp heads, bones, skin and fins. These are boiled with water, salt and vegetables (red onions, green peppers and tomatoes) for two hours. When ready, the court bouillon is strained. Hot ground paprika, two finger-thick carp fillets, roe and coral is added ten minutes before serving, to the boiling soup.


A cabbage roll is a dish consisting of cooked cabbage leaves wrapped around a variety of fillings. It is common to the ethnic cuisines of the Balkans, Central, Northern, and Eastern Europe, as well as West Asia.
Meat fillings are traditional in Europe, often beef, lamb, or pork seasoned with garlic, onion, and spices. Grains such as rice and barley, eggs,mushrooms, and vegetables are often included. Pickled cabbage leaves are often used for wrapping, particularly in Southeastern Europe. 
Cabbage leaves are stuffed with the filling which are then baked, simmered, or steamed in a covered pot and generally eaten warm, often accompanied with a sauce. The sauce varies widely by cuisine. 


Punjena paprika is a dish made of peppers, stuffed with a mix of meat and rice in tomato sauce, the ingredients consisting of green or red capsicums, eggs, spices, salt, tomato, minced meat and rice.
The dish is called punjena paprika in Serbian and Croatian, Filovana paprika in Bosnian, Polnjena paprika in Slovenian, Palnena Chushka in Bulgarian, Polneti Piperki in Macedonian, Plněná paprika in Czech, Plnená paprika in Slovak, and Töltött paprika in Hungarian, meaning "stuffed peppers". The dish is popular in Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia,Macedonia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro. There are also many variations of the dish across the Balkans.


ARE YOU A SAUSAGE FAN?  If you are, the homemade KOLBASZ, a pork sausage flavored with sweet paprika and garlic is very tasty without being too spicy. When an older Hungarian gentleman was asked to describe the taste of Kolbasz, he said “it tastes good”.  You will just have to taste it and see!
Kolbasz comes in many variations depending on the chef.  They can be long and thin or short and thick; they can be hot, hot, hot or mild and they can also be smoked over various types of wood.  Once cooked or smoked they can be eaten hot or cold.



Hungarians eat a diet rich in pork (the other white meat), so a very popular BAR-B-QUE dish is Seasoned PORK STEAK, FLECKEN.  The pork steak is sliced thin and seasoned and refrigerated overnight.  The next day it is grilled over an open fire and comes out moist, tender and tasty.  Ask about the secret seasoning!  If you love grilled meat, but shouldn’t eat beef, TRY THIS TASTY FLECKEN.


LANGOS, a most unusual snack is eaten on the street or at home with goulash or just by itself. People wait in line impatiently for the yeasty dough to rise and turn golden brown as it fries in a vat of bubbling oil; anxious fingers reach for the still hot, crisp snack before the oil has drained away; it is salted & smeared with garlic and/or sour cream; sometimes it is sprinkled  with cheese. Simply stated it is fried bread dough, but my oh my, what a treat even though it is not sweet.


The Pastries of Hungary


The Hungarians like their sweets; and everyone enjoys a visit to a Cukraszda (Sugar Shop) where they can enjoy a good cup of coffee and wonderful pastries.  Some of the most popular pastries:  



The Hungarian “Napoleon”, vanilla flavored custard between two layers of puff pastry with powder sugar on top.  


Fillo type dough sprinkled with nuts, sugar, butter, breadcrumbs and sometimes with cinnamon, topped with sour cherries or cottage cheese or apples & raisins and rolled  and baked – not at all like American strudel.  



Hungarian Apple Pie, a  layer of short dough, a middle layer of sliced apples, sugar, cinnamon, sometimes raisins, topped with a layer of  dough & a sprinkling of sugar.   


Palatschinken are made by creating a runny dough from eggs, wheat flour, milk, and salt and frying it in a pan with butter or oil. Unlike thicker types of pancakes, palatschinken are usually served with different types of fillings and eaten for lunch or dinner.
Palatschinken are traditionally rolled with apricot, strawberry, or plum jam, and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. A variety of fruit sauces, or thick fruit jams called lekvar , lemon juice and sugar, chocolate sauce, hazelnut-chocolate cream, almonds, dried or fresh fruits, sweet cottage or quark cheese and raisins, cocoa powder, poppy seed, or any combination thereof, may also be used. 
A Hungarian version of palatschinke is the Gundel pancake (Gundel palacsinta), made with ground walnuts, raisin, candied orange peel, cinnamon, and rum filling, served flambéed in dark chocolate sauce made with egg yolks, heavy cream, and cocoa.


A butter dough sometimes with lemon, covered with a thick layer of jam and topped with ground nuts mixed with sugar, then toped with lattice strips.


Beigli is a rolled dessert made with either a short dough or a yeast dough filled with ground nuts, cinnamon, jam, rum and sugar syrup or it is filled with sweetened poppy seeds; the dough is usually spread with apricot jam and the fillings will have either orange or lemon zest.


The most famous of the Hungarian Tortes, it is a multilayered torte with thin layers of sponge cake filled with a chocolate butter cream & topped with caramelized sugar.  The butter cream uses egg whites.  


A layer cake with sponge & chocolate layers filled with jam and rum syrup and topped with fondant icing.



A rich torte made with ground walnuts, no flour, filled with buttercream frosting.


Chocolate sponge cake filled with chocolate butter cream and topped with a chocolate glaze.



Sponge cake filled with home made lemon curd and topped with powdered sugar.


A pastry with several layers of  butter dough, filled with ground nuts, sugar & jam and a topped with a layer of chocolate.


Sweet or salty this biscuit is a must; most often it is salty and served with drinks.  It is a butter biscuit usually made with cottage cheese or sour cream and topped with more cheese, paprika, or caraway seeds.  Some times it has bacon bits in the biscuit.               




The Hungarian Heritage Foundation of the San Francisco Bay Area promotes, shares and educates the public about Hungarian culture, language and art.

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Victoria Szabo-Lengyel

Szilvia Gilbert