Hungarian cuisine has been shaped and influenced over the centuries by other nations making it what it is today. In ancient times the people were semi-nomadic who lived by hunting and fishing, from about 500 AD the Magyar settled near the River Don, they took influence in their cooking from the Turks and Bulgarians. In the 15th century King Matthias married the Italian Princess Beatrice who brought many Italian flavors to enrich the Hungarian cuisine, also pasta and garlic. Then another enemy appeared on the borders of Hungary. In the 15th century the Turks invaded Hungary and defeated the Hungarian army at the battle of Mohács in 1526.Their 150 year rule had huge impact on Hungarian cooking as it was the Turks who brought Paprika to Hungary, which is the most widely used spice in Hungarian cooking today. The climate is perfect for the growing of paprika and they are the leading producers. It was originally used to replace pepper, which was expensive, but it has remained in many of the delicious dishes such as the world famous ‘Goulash’ The Turks also took all the domestic animals in their raids leaving only the pigs which they were unable to eat due to religious beliefs, therefore pork became the main meat used in traditional recipes. After the Turks came the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Austrian influences on many of the dishes, this also worked in reverse with Hungarian influences on the Austrian cuisine. So today’s Hungarian cuisine is a melting pot of many other countries influences using it’s own original Magyar people’s dishes. One of the traditional cooking pots still seen in use in Hungary today is the ‘bogrács’, which is a cauldron or stewing pot, it was originally used by herdsmen working in the fields and needing a hot meal. The bogrács is hung over an open fire and one-pot dishes such as goulash were left to cook over the fire while they were working.
Breakfast is normally quite a substantial meal in Hungary with cold cuts, cheeses, liver pate, bacon, salami, sausages and eggs. Peppers, tomatoes, radish and cucumbers will also be present as well as bread and butter jam and honey. This will be accompanied by a hot drink of tea, coffee or milk.
Lunch is the main meal of the day and will consist of three courses. Soup,(which play an important part in Hungarian cooking) or appetizers, a main meal with meat and a dessert. The evening meal will be a more informal meal often consisting of an open sandwich or hot sausage.
The most famous is the ‘Goulash’ soup (Gulyásleves) , although this is also cooked as a stew by including more ingredients to thicken it up. A hot, spicy fish soup ‘Halászlé’ is also spiced with paprika. Other soups include Vadgombaleves a wild mushroom soup and Köménymagleves a caraway seed soup, caraway seeds are also widely used in Hungarian cookery. Újházy chicken broth is also a tasty Hungarian soup found all over the country. Hearty beans soups are also very popular in Hungary and everyone has their own recipe. Most soups are meat based but if you are not feeling quite that hungry then try one of the many fruit soups instead.
Main dishes are hearty and filling affairs with plenty of meat and vegetables and a serving of either potaotes, rice, noodles or dumplings. In stews or minced meat dishes it is quite common to have a mixture of different meats. Besides the traditional Goulash stew served with dumplings or noodles and the ever present side salad they also produce other delicious stews and one-pot meals such as ‘Pörkölt’,’ Székelygulyás’ (goulash made with three kinds of meat), ‘Csirkepaprikás’ (a chicken paprikash stew with sweet paprika and cream) or Paprikás krumpli (a paprika stew with spicy sausages and potatoes). There are also many stuffed dishes ‘Töltött káposzta’ (stuffed cabbage) and ‘Töltött paprika’ (Stuffed peppers – ground meat, rice and spices are used for the filling). You will also find that ‘Wiener Schnitzel’ are popular in Hungary as are filled savoury pancakes, often served with creamy, rich sauces. Hungary produces several kinds of sausages and cooked meats,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 from Budapest Csabai szalámi and kolbász (spicy salami and smoked sausage, made in the town Békéscsaba) Gyulai kolbász (spicy sausage, made in the town Gyula) Debreceni kolbász (Debrecener sausage) Disznósajt (head 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 mustard)
‘Balaton’, Named after Lake Balaton this is a traditional hard cheese made from cow’s milk which is ideal for cooking and grilling,’Lajta’ is a semi-hard cheese made from cow’s milk with an orange rind.’Liptauer’ is made from a mixture of cow’s and ewe’s milk and is a spiced, white cheese containing onion,caraway seeds, capers, paprika and salt. Because of its spicy taste it is very popular throughout Hungary.The Liptauer cheese is also popular served with small potato dumplings
The most well known Hungarian cake is the ‘Dobostorte‘ named after it’s inventor Hungarianconfectioner, József C. Dobos in 1884,it consists of five layers of sponge and filled with chocolate buttercream all topped off with caramel to stop it drying out. The recipe was a closely garded secret until Dobos retired in 1906 when he gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners and Gingerbread Makers Chamber of Industry with the understanding that they could all use it freely. This cake is also very popular across the border in Austria. ‘Linzer torte’ is another delicious cake which is popular in both Hungary and Austria (where it originated from Linz) The main pastry-like base of the cake includes ground nuts, traditionally hazelnuts, and is covered with a thick layer of jam and finished off with a lattice of dough strips, this cake keeps very well and is very rich and moorish! Kürt?skalács Stove cake or Chimney cake, cooked over an open fire—a Transylvanian specialty, famous as Hungary’s oldest pastry. Rétes a strudel. ‘Kuglóf’ is a sweet yeast cake containg raisins and sometimes glaze over the top, it is traditionally baked in a deep ring-form tin with a hole in the centre, similar to the Austrian ‘Gugelhupf’. Arany galuska are small dumplings served with vanilla custard, Madártej floating island dessert, made from custard and egg-whites. The Turkish influence is seen in the ‘Törökméz’ (a sweet sticky white nougat paste cooked with sugar, egg-whites, honey, bits of walnuts, spread between two wafer sheets) and Halva (a Transsylvanian sweet confection, made with sunflower seeds) Hungarian bread, like in many European countries, is baked fresh every day in the bakeries.The traditional bread loaves are called ‘cipó’ which are round with a hard crust and the ‘vekni’ which are similar to the French baguette.
Hungarian wines can be traced back to at least Roman times and although there have been many year of mis-managment and damage done through the communist rule the wines of Hungary are now making a huge come back and they are producing some excellent wines. One of the best known white dessert wines is ‘Tokaji’ from the North-Eastern region of Hungary. Also famous is ‘bulls blood’ (Egri Bikavér) which is a full bodied red wine . Hungary has four large commercial breweries which produce mainly lager type beers and dark German-style beers. The Dreher Brewery, The Borsod Brewery, The Heineken Hungaria Brewery and the Pécs Brewery. The most popular spirits in Hungary are ‘Unicum’ which is a Hungarian herbal bitters which is drunk as a digestive and an aperitif, and ‘Pálinka’ which is a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy, it can be made from a number of fruits and there is a saying in Hungary that if a fruit is suitable for making jam then it is suitable for making ‘Pálinka’. Hungary is also famous for it’s large selection of mineral spas and there are 21 brands of Hungarian mineral waters, some of them having therapeutic values.
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