Hungary has a growing and bustling restaurant scene, and thanks to a few Michelin stars won by local restaurateurs, it is finally starting to get some attention. Described by the Daily News Hungry as the “perfect blend of Germanic, Italian, with a little touch of Slavic cooking traditions” Hungary is a hidden gem for any lover of food.
Food Rich in History
Situated in Central Europe between Romania and Austria, the country has a tumultuous past, with much of its history shrouded in raids and invasions. Because of the ongoing battles, the country became somewhat of a melting pot of the neighboring fare. Present day food will showcase a heavy influence of German and Italian food as well as a number of Jewish dishes.
With over 3 million residents, the Budapest metropolitan area accounts for more than a third of Hungary’s population, making it a central location for some of the country’s best food. The capital city was once two separate cities separated by the Danube river. Buda resided on the hillside, while pest was down below. The two cities have since merged, but they still retain their own unique vibes. Buda is known for being a quieter location, home to palaces and Ottoman spas, whereas in Pest, you will find a more lively scene featuring museums, art, and the Jewish District, a spot for amazing food.
Hungary’s cuisine is rich with soups. It’s most well-known dish is arguably goulash, or as the locals call it, gulyás. The dish, a stew consisting of beef and vegetables is a staple in Hungary. It is given a savory, sweet taste thanks to the generous infusion of paprika. This history of gulyás goes back to the Magyars, the earliest settlers of Hungary, who would travel with dried chunks of meat and vegetables with them. They would later combine all the ingredients with water in a heavy cast iron pot and eat the stew throughout their journey.
Põrkõlt is another favorite in Hungary. The stew is made of large pieces of meat (usually beef, mutton, chicken, veal, goose, carp, or game), onions, bacon, garlic, tomatoes, and green peppers. And of course, you can’t forget the paprika. The stew is simmered down until barely a broth remains.
Although a staple, soups are not the only fare you will find in Hungary. Take a walk around Budapest, and you’ll surely stumble across somebody devouring langos. This popular street food consists of deep-fried dough topped with sour cream, topped with cheese, topped with practically anything you want. Consider it the Hungarian version of pizza. Meats, cheeses, and vegetables are popular toppings, but langos can also be topped with sweets like Nutella.
Paprika chicken (Csirke paprikás) is a bold showcase of the country’s favorite spice, you guessed it, paprika. The chicken is marinated in a creamy sauce and most often served with nokedli (dumplings). While traveling through the country, you will find paprika to be a common ingredient in the local cuisine. Paprika was introduced to Hungary during the 150-year rule of the Turks. It was initially used as an alternative to traditional pepper as the price of pepper began to rise. However, it slowly became a staple of the Hungarian kitchen and replaced pepper altogether.
Pork is the chosen meat in Hungary. The reason for this is rooted in history. During the period following the Ottoman era, the Turks took away domestic except pigs, as the Turks did not eat pigs due to their Muslim faith. You will find pork showcased in many of the local markets, where you can treat yourself to a diverse supply of local sausages and cured meats.
While the culinary scene does not get its fair share of attention, the confections of Hungary are known worldwide. If sweets are your weakness, be sure to try a Kurtoskalaces, aptly known as a chimney cake. This treat is a towering funnel of sweet dough, topped with butter, sugar, and often cinnamon, nuts, and candies. Not sure where to find one? Like with Lángos, a walk around town is sure to introduce you to someone enjoying this dessert. The Dobos torta is another treat not to be missed. This dessert is a vanilla cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel.
When enjoying dessert, don’t forget to try some local wine. Though Hungary is not usually a name that is tossed around in the wine realm, it’s moderate climate makes it a great place to grow a variety of wine grapes. The Tokaji aszú comes from the Tokaji region of Hungary. The wine is made from hand-picked berries that have been affected by noble rot. This type of berry lends to a very sweet wine that is a favorite in Hungary.
Can’t-Miss Local Spots
The Great Hall Market, expansive, and supported by towering wrought iron, is a foodie hub in Budapest. The traditional fare of fruits and vegetables are ever present, but this market has so much more to offer. Meats and cheeses abound, but you will also find a large supply of preserved foods, such as jams and pickles. Pickled foods are a large part of the Hungarian diet and will typically have an entire section devoted to them at the markets.
Café Ruszworm is one of oldest cafes in Budapest and one of the best places to try a Dobos torta. Another delicious choice is the Ruszworm Cream Cake, which consists of a sweet vanilla cream between two delicate layers of pastry.
Gelarto Rosa delights with picture worthy servings of ice cream. The smooth, frozen dessert is beautifully formed to resemble a rose. The shop features only the best local and organic ingredients. Alongside their traditional offerings, they also provide vegan, lactose intolerant, and diabetic friendly options.
Looking for the best pancakes? Gundel is the place to visit. Here, the pancakes are stuffed with grounds walnuts, raisins, rum, and cream. They are topped with a decadent chocolate-rum sauce and a sprinkling of orange zest.
Pest-Buda is a great place to find traditional homestyle cooking. The restaurant and hotel are located within an 18th-century building in the Buda Castle Quarter.
As with every location, be sure to keep an eye on where the natives frequent. You will often discover hidden treasures that will delight your inner foodie.