Food, glorious food! I love nothing more than eating local cuisine when travelling and when I visit most places there is always a signature dish that I look forward to trying – pizza in Italy, pad thai in Thailand, dhal curry in Sri Lanka. However, prior to visiting Budapest in Hungary I wasn’t aware of any popular Hungarian dishes or even what the basis of their cuisine was. It wasn’t until I arrived in the country that I learnt that traditional Hungarian dishes are primarily based on meats, seasonal vegetables, fruits, fresh bread, dairy products and cheeses. Apologies in advance, this is a very photo light post as we were so busy eating, we forgot to snap the delights on offer (sorry).
I was quite worried when I learnt this as I am primarily a ‘social vegetarian’ (yes I’ve made that phrase up). It means that I only eat meat that I have cooked. This is because I like my meat VERY well done. Much to the annoyance of Mr ESLT who says I over cook everything! (thanks). It quickly became evident that I would have to eat meat in Hungary unless I wanted a diet that only consisted of bread or desserts. So I took some baby steps and started by trying a Hungarian chicken and dumpling stew which was FANTASTIC! It was one, if not the nicest stew I have ever eaten and I think I would be hard pressed to find one as nice again. Mr ESLT was in his element as he is a massive meat eater and couldn’t decide what to try first.
Another thing I learnt was that stew/goulash is considered a starter in Hungary which means you should follow it up with a main course. On our first night in Budapest we ordered our stews followed by Hungarian chicken for me and wiener schnitzel for Mr ESLT. We were so full it was hard work walking back to our hotel. Lesson learnt, we didn’t repeat the same mistake for the rest of our trip and instead chose either a starter OR a main course. We had to save room for the local beer – Dreher, you see. The next night I did revert to form and chose a vegetarian option, a lovely and tasty cheese soup which in reality was like eating fondu but I wasn’t complaining – it was awesome.
The main thing that surprised me about Hungarian food is how spicy it is. I love spicy food so this was not an issue for me however if you are not a lover of the spice please ask what is in your dish. It seems that most dishes have some (usually a lot of) paprika in it. Even what you may assume would be quite a bland dish can still pack a punch on the spiciness scale. Paprika was introduced to Hungary by the Turks in the 16th Century. There are now two main paprika production places in Hungary – Szeged and Kalocsa.
Everything I tired in Budapest was very tasty however I probably did not push my limits as much as I should have done with regards to variety. I seemed to stick to the same things or a variation thereof each day. I was happily surprised at cost of food in Budapest. Mr ESLT and I were paying no more than around £25 for a two course meal each and two pints of beer which for us Brits is ridiculously cheap especially because of the quality and quantity of the dishes on offer. The nicest (and naughtest) treat for me was the icecream which many street vendors were selling for a mere 40p/50p. So creamy and much needed on a hot June day (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).
Other traditional Hungarian dishes that I liked the sound of but didn’t get the chance/have the guts (eeek) to try include:-
- Stuffed Cabbage (Töltött Káposzta) – this is a dish that comprises of large cabbage leaves which are stuffed with meat and rice. The cabbage ‘parcels’ are then cooked and covered with sour cream
- Sweet cheese dumplings (Turogomboc) – this dish allows you to have your dessert for your main course. Turo cheese is boiled then rolled in breadcrumbs and usually served with vanilla sauce or sour cream and sugar
- Sour cherry soup (Meggyleves) – this is what happens when sour cherries, sour cream and sugar are combined. It results in a chilled sweet soup which is again eaten as a started or main course not a dessert like you may think.
- Fried dough (Lángos) – wow this dish is a complete carbfest which simply consists of a large flat piece of fried dough covered in sour cream and cheese! I imagine you would probably need a snooze after eating this.
- Dobos cake (Dobostorta) – this is right up my street. A chocolate buttercream layered sponge cake which is topped with caramel with nuts around the sides. It is named after the Hungarian confectioner Jozsef Dobos who originally created it.
So do you think that you would go hungry in Hungary? Of course you can eat non traditional Hungarian food but when in Rome. If you haven’t visited Hungary do any of the dishes I have mentioned tempt your tastebuds? Have you visited Hungary before? Could you recommend any dishes? Writing this has made extremley hungry – time for dinner I think 🙂