Hungarian Cooking - "It ain't heavy, it's my supper!"
Jun 16, 2001 (Updated Aug 28, 2004) Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line Rich sauces, heavy in paprika, Hungarian food is definately different to typical food from neighbouring countries. Give it a try - it is certainly interesting!
PAPRIKA PAPRIKA PAPRIKA!
"PAPRIKA" is really the biggest thing you need to know about Hungarian cuisine!
The sweetish, mildly hot Paprika pepper is absolutely everywhere in Hungary. If you wander the streets of Budapest, you will see elderly women on almost every street corner, at entrances to train stations and Underground stations, selling fresh Paprika peppers. It makes you want to explain the economic theory of supply and demand to them... "the reason you arent making much money, is that you are over supplying the market with Paprika... why don't you diversify?
If you go into Budapest's huge market, you will see stalls selling huge rings of sausage, and ground paprika ....... (incidentally, they also sell huge bags of dried mushrooms (Cepes, Penny Buns and Chanterelles, amongst others), for £3-£4 a bag - the bargain of my holiday!
However, one look at any traditional restaurant menu will also tell you that demand is also huge.... Paprika sausage, Gulyas soup, chicken in Lesco, even the salads have peppers in them, and the list is endless - the country is Paprika mad!
And what do these meals taste like? Well, you often get a meat based stew, with an exceptionally rich, tasty, sweetish, peppery sauce (this isn't particularly hot), with either fried potato wedges, potatoes with diced parsley, dumplings, or a kind of pasta, with which to mop up the excess sauce. Vegetables can be a little rare in Hungary!
Although, the basic taste is similar, Hungarian chefs achieve different taste combinations with paprika by also adding other flavourings such as garlic, black pepper, caraway seeds, marjoram, tomatoes, sour cream, parsley and mustard in different combinations and permutations.
The Turks, who invaded the area in the 1550, and who started to grow their spices in Hungarian soil, introduced paprika into Hungary. This can be evidenced by tracing the origin of peppers - for example, Spain grows different varieties, sourced from South and Central America, and are called Pimiento's. These are not found in Hungary.
There are two main types of Paprika grown in Hungary - one (which are green or yellow early in the season), are eaten raw, the other is used dried and ground.
Major types of Hungarian food that you may experience include:
Gulyas - prepared with Onion and Paprika, and which often contains potato and small pieces of csipetke (dough), this has a soup like consistency.
Porkolt - as above, only thicker sauce & with Onion.
Paprikas - a refined version of Porkolt, white meat, less Onion, less paprika flavour, as sour cream, or sour and sweet cream is added.
Tokany - similar to Porkolt or Paprikas, only the meat is cooked in thin strips, and other herbs and spices (as described above), become more dominant, and bacon, mushrooms or sausage may be also added.
And, what can you wash down this potent and exceptionally rich and heavy food down with?
Well, as boring as it sounds, the natural spring waters are excellent, especially if you like the slightly salty, oily Italian style water... particular favourites of mine were Kristalyviz and Theodora.
Indigenous beers were in my experience, quite undistinguished, which was surprising, as the lager mecca that is the Czech Republic being so close - however, you will find no absence of these excellent beers imported into Hungary, along with other German and Austrian examples, and the prolific bland euro fizz Amstell.
The best thing that could be said about Hungarian Red Wine is that it is cheap! (in many reasonable restaurants, perhaps £4 ($6), but in one restaurant in the middle of Budapest, a cheap and undistinguished bottle selling for an excessive £11 ($15) a bottle).
The red wine is often "young" and "thin" tasting - at best it is reasonable but never exceptional. A reasonable dry but not rich red is made from the "Kekfrankos" grape (a major component in "Egri Bikaver (Eger Bull's Blood), some of the others, were rather too sweet for my taste. Given our experiences with the cheaper, and mid range red wines, we did not trouble to shell out on anything more expensive.
I understand that the white may be of a better quality, but I didn't buy any, apart from some of the famed Tokaj desert wine, which we have yet to open and drink. Tokaj rises in standard from 3* to 6*. We bought a honey coloured 1990, 5*, for about £8 ($11), and a paler 1996 (good vintage) 3*, for around £4 ($6).
We just need the occasion, to open them now!
It is worth experimenting with Hungarian food - it is very rich and heavy, but imaginative use of meats that are expensive in the UK - duck, goose, pigeon, goat... can make your meal very tempting. Budapest (at least) also has a variety of other food types, Greek, Chinese, Indian, and Italian for you to vary your diet over your stay.
Do not get over excited about the beers and wines, although the water is very good.
Finally, be very viligent about the prices of the restaurants in Budapest, even if the more expensive are still cheaper than what you might pay at home - you are being ripped off - there are cheap and excellent restaurants about with chefs who care about the quality of the food. Take the trouble to find them, they are not generally to be found along the banks of the Danube, within 100 meters of a swanky US hotel chain, or on the main touristy hotspots!
|Read all comments (12)|Write your own comment|