When I think of food from Hungary, I think of paprika, which I love. I’m also fond of food from Central European countries so I was excited to make some Hungarian food!
Hungary is a landlocked country in an important part of East-Central Europe; the land has been a crossroads for many civilizations over the years including the Celts, Romans, and Huns.
The Hungarian state began forming in the late 9th century with the conquest of the Carpathian Basin, and developed into a regional power in the 12th century. In the 16th century Hungary was partially occupied by the Ottomans, and later the country joined with the Austrian Empire to form Austria-Hungary.
Hungary’s current borders were established after Word War I, when Austria-Hungary collapsed. Hungary then took the Axis side (Germany, Italy, and Japan) in World War II, which led to significant damage and casualties. They were ruled by the Soviet Union for a time, until 1989, when Hungary became a democratic parliamentary republic.
Today, Hungary has a high-income economy, with universal healthcare and tuition-free secondary education. It’s a popular European tourist destination, owing in part to its long history of contributions in arts, music, literature, sports, science, and technology.
What Do People Eat in Hungary?
Hungarian cuisine bears similarities to those of neighboring countries, with Ottoman influences. It is known as the spiciest cuisine in Europe, which is mostly because of the use of paprika in many dishes. Although hot paprika is common, sweet paprika is also used for milder dishes or tastes. Other common seasonings include garlic, marjoram, caraway seeds, celery seeds, and dill seeds.
Meat is an important part of most Hungarian meals. Popular meats include chicken, pork, and beef, with turkey, duck, lamb, fish, and game meats usually reserved for special occasions. Hungary produces a variety of sausages and cold cuts.
Hungary has a range of famous stews, and in some of the older dishes, fruits such as plums and apricots are cooked with meat. There are also cold fruit soups including sour cherry soup; you may think that these are intended to be a dessert but they are often served before the main course.
Bread has always been important and is a standard accompaniment to main dishes. Rice, noodles, dumplings, and potatoes, which can be prepared various ways, are also popular.
Dairy is another important part of Hungarian cuisine, often in the form of sour cream or many types of cheese.
Vegetables do also feature in Hungarian meals of course, and Hungarians are particularly fond of pickled or fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and gherkins.
There are many delicious desserts, cakes, and sweets found in Hungary, often popular in the neighboring countries as well. In particular, there seem to be a lot of varieties of buns and pastries with various fillings—jam, nuts, custard, and poppy seeds are common.
What I Made
- Brassói Aprópecsenye (Pork and Potatoes)
- Uborka Saláta (Cucumber Salad)
- Paprikás Csirke with Nokedli (Chicken with Paprika Sauce and Noodle Dumplings)
- Gulyás (Goulash – Beef and Paprika Soup)
- Londoni Szelet (Walnut and Jam Slice)
Scroll down to read about other popular Hungarian dishes I didn’t make!
Brassói Aprópecsenye (Pork and Potatoes)
This is a simple dish; the name means ‘mini roasts’ and refers to small pieces of pork which are served on fried potatoes. There are many variations when it comes to flavor; I chose a recipe that relies on bacon, onion, and garlic, but you can add tomato, mushrooms, or marjoram.
I sautéed the bacon and onion for a few minutes, then added cubed pieces of boneless pork shoulder with some salt and pepper. After a few more minutes, I added most of the garlic and enough water to cover everything, then cooked, covered, until the meat was tender. At that point, I removed the lid, added the rest of the garlic, and increased the heat until the remaining water boiled away.
The potatoes were boiled first in their skins, then peeled, chopped, and shallow-fried in a separate pan until crisp. I served the pork on top of the potatoes, but you can also stir them both together.
This was a lot better than I was expecting—I didn’t think it would be bad but I definitely didn’t think it would be so good. There’s quite a lot of garlic, and it provides delicious flavor without being overpowering. I’ll definitely make this again, but next time I may experiment with adding other flavors. Not because I think this needed more flavor, but just out of interest. I served this with a Hungarian cucumber salad on the side (next dish).
To make this, I used a recipe from Zserbo.
Uborka Saláta (Cucumber Salad)
I felt like I needed some kind of salad to go with the previous dish so I chose to make uborka saláta, a cucumber salad with a creamy dressing.
I sliced my cucumbers thinly and sprinkled them with salt, then let them sit in a colander for a while as I cooked my brassói aprópecsenye. This helps to draw the excess water out of the cucumber.
Then I mixed garlic, sugar, vinegar, sour cream, pepper, and paprika in a bowl and added the cucumber. I used a little less sugar than called for in the recipe, which was the right call for me. There was still some sweetness, and I thought it was just the right amount. I served this with a sprinkle of paprika over the top.
I’ve had similar cucumber salads before, and I sometimes find the creaminess a little too much. I think the vinegar and paprika really help break through the heaviness of the sour cream for a much more delicious result. I’d make this again!
This recipe is from Recipes from Europe.
Paprikás Csirke with Nokedli (Chicken with Paprika Sauce and Noodle Dumplings)
There are two dishes here—paprikás csirke, also known as ‘chicken paprikash’, and nokedli, a type of egg noodle/dumpling that is often served with it.
For the chicken, I seasoned some whole chicken thighs and browned them, then removed them from the pan. I added onion, then garlic after a few minutes. I sprinkled over some flour and after a few minutes more, I added a large amount of Hungarian paprika and some tomato paste.
Next I added chicken stock and returned the chicken to the pan. I let it simmer until the chicken was done, then took it back out of the pan to finish the sauce.
I combined sour cream, flour, and a little water together, then started tempering it by whisking in some of the hot sauce from the pan a little at a time. When I felt it was safe, I tipped the mixture into the pan and whisked to combine. I returned the chicken to the pan once more and made sure it was well-coated in sauce.
The nokedli are similar to German späetzle. First, you make a dough out of eggs, flour, water, and salt. You drop small pieces into boiling water to make noodles. This particular recipe said to use the side of a teaspoon to form small pieces of dough. This worked better than the method I had used when trying to make spätzle; I was pushing the dough through a colander and it didn’t work out too well. I also tried a cheese grater which wasn’t good either. In Germany, a spätzle maker would be the tool of choice, and I’m sure that’s something they would also use in Hungary.
I was pretty apprehensive about even attempting a similar recipe again, but this time, it worked out much better. I think the dough was not as wet, which helped make it easier to manage. This was still a lot of work and not something I would want to do if I were serving more than a few people!
Both the chicken and the nokedli were really good; the noodles made a great delivery mechanism for the creamy paprika sauce!
Gulyás (Goulash – Beef and Paprika Soup)
I don’t think I could have called Hungarian week complete without cooking the dish most people probably think of when they think of Hungarian cuisine—goulash, or gulyás as it’s called in Hungary. Gulyás is considered Hungary’s national dish.
I noticed when looking at recipes that Hungarians get a bit upset when people call gulyás a stew; it is a soup and that’s that! Mine definitely came out more stew-like.
I started by cooking some onion in oil and butter in my Dutch oven, then stirred in the beef (I used chuck). After a few minutes, I added garlic, red and yellow bell pepper, and tomato, then lots of Hungarian paprika, some caraway seeds, and a bay leaf.
I stirred in some beef stock, then let the pot simmer until the beef was nearly done (about 1 1/2 hours). At this point I added chopped carrot and potatoes and cooked until they were done.
I sprinkled some parsley on top and served this with some bread (just regular, non-Hungarian homemade bread). It would also be common to serve gulyás with egg noodles, of which there are a variety available in Hungary.
I feel like my picture doesn’t really convey how delicious this was and I’m kind of annoyed I didn’t get a better one. This was really, really good!
The recipe I used for this is from Recipe Tin Eats.
Londoni Szelet (Walnut and Jam Slice)
This is a layered slice, which was suggested to me by a relative by marriage on my husband’s side whose family is Hungarian. It sounded good and wasn’t difficult to make, so I decided I would include it.
I did decrease the recipe by one sixth (there were originally six eggs, and the other ingredients were either in grams or didn’t need to be exact so they were simple to decrease proportionally). This is because this was supposed to be made in a larger pan than I had; the reduced amount ended up being close to the right proportion for a 9×13 inch pan, which is what I used.
The first layer is made by combining egg yolks, flour, sugar, butter, lemon zest, vanilla, and a little salt. The recipe didn’t give any instructions further than ‘mix the ingredients to make a dough’. I started by creaming the butter and sugar in my stand mixer, then added the yolks, and then the dry ingredients.
I pressed this mixture into a pan and spread apricot jam over the top. Other kinds of jam can also be used.
I then beat some egg whites with sugar, not quite to stiff peaks (the recipe just said to beat until ‘semi soft’). I folded in ground walnuts, and spread this mixture over the jam.
Then all I had to do was bake and let the slice cool before slicing and serving. The bottom had a kind of cakey cookie texture, and the top was like aerated walnuts (I had wondered if it would be like meringue, and it wasn’t). I really enjoyed this and would make it again! I particularly like the fact that there are no excess egg yolks or whites remaining, because the same amount of each is used.
The recipe I used is from European Zest.
Other Popular Hungarian Dishes
- Töltött Káposzta – Hungary’s version of stuffed cabbage rolls, typically filled with pork (sometimes beef too) and cooked in a sauce with tomato and sauerkraut.
- Hortobágyi palacsinta – a savory Hungarian crepe filled with a stewed meat mixture. Someone on Reddit said leftover gulyás is often used.
- Halászlé – a soup traditionally made from freshwater or river fish (since Hungary does not have access to the sea). It is usually seasoned with hot paprika.
- Dobos torte – a cake with thin sponge layers and chocolate buttercream as the filling and frosting. The cake is covered with caramel and looks really impressive; it’s definitely something I would love to try one day.
Everything I made this week was really good, so much so that it’s difficult to pick a favorite. I would probably go with the paprikás csirke if I had to choose.
Next week, I will be cooking food from Iceland.