The food of Hungary, like the language, can be seen as a melting pot of the continent which produces its own original cuisine from the Magyar people. It shows elements of ancient Asiatic components mixed with Germanic, Italian, and Slavic undertones creating a unique and delicious cuisine. Hungarian cuisine is known for its hearty, comforting dishes and shows a lot of variety due to its fertile open landscape and favourable climate enabling excellent conditions for vegetables, potatoes and a good environment to raise livestock.
The nomadic past of Hungarians can be seen by the prominence of meat as well as a number of dishes cooked over open fire. For example, Hungary’s national dish, a meat stew called goulash, can be traced to the nomadic Magyar tribe eating habits (the itinerant lifestyle of the Magyars’ meant that they travelled with sun-dried cubes of meat that was cooked with onions, and water to quickly make a stew). Equally, although Hungary is a landlocked country, the Danube and Tisza, and Lake Balaton. provide good fishing areas for commercial fishers which has lead to the creation of several fish-based dishes.
To understand the Hungarian food culture more, we have planned to visit a Hungarian restaurant near Soho Square called Gay Hussar to try out some of the amazing food with our navigator, Pola. But until then, I have decided to do some research as to what we should try:
Gulyás (goulash)– Gulyas has a long history going back to the ninth century, and during the 1800s did it turn into a national symbol and a tool for preserving Hungarian identity. The name derives from the gulyás (herdsmen), who made their rich and fulfilling dish in a kettle over an open fire. Almost each region has its own variety, although a basic goulash is somewhere between a soup and stew, with beef (occasionally veal or pork), carrot, potato, spices and the typical paprika (Hungarian red pepper, ground into powder or pulverised into paste)
Halászlé- This traditional dish is a bright red hot soup, prepared with generous amounts of hot paprika and carp or mixed river fish. It is a popular celebratory dish, often served during Christmas Eve. This soup was originally prepared by fishermen along the Danube and Tisza rivers, using fresh fish, most often carp, catfish, pike, or perch but the accompaniments to the soup vary from region to region. Like many other dishes, it is prepared in a kettle over an open fire.
Kürtőskalács- this is a sweet pull-apart street food that is often sold at Christmas markets. To make it, vendors wrap ribbons of dough around a wooden cylinder, sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon, cocoa, coconut etc. and then hand-turn it over an open flame to cook. Traditionally it was reserved for the nobility but now it is an indispensable element of every festival.
Lángos- Also a street food, this is a plate-sized piece of fried flatbread is usually served smothered with sour cream, garlic sauce and cheese. The word ‘Lángos’ is derived from the word ‘flame’ but despite its name, the modern langos is not prepared by an open flame but rather a deep-fat fryer.