Unless you’re Hungarian, it might be hard to think of local meals beyond the famous goulash. Although the famous beef stew has become a familiar dish, there is so much more to the cuisine than gulyás leves (shepherd’s soup). Whether you’re looking for new tastes or you plan to explore the Hungarian food culture first hand, here are some of the traditional Hungarian dishes worth trying.
This dish can be made with pork or beef, but it’s most commonly prepared with chicken. The most important aspect to the meal, however, is the paprika sauce, which can pack quite a spicy punch. You can take the edge off with some tejföl (sour cream), which Hungarians adore and use it to garnish countless meals.
This bake is a cross between a lasagne and a casserole and consists of layers of potato, hard-boiled eggs, spicy Hungarian sausage and onion. The layers are usually coated with copious amounts of sour cream, though some favour a bechamel-esque sauce that is a cheaper alternative. When baked together for a long time, the combination creates a starchy comfort food that is perfect for the -20 C Hungarian winters.
Though this is perhaps one of the less common dishes found at Hungarian restaurants, it remains a favourite at the traditional eateries that do serve it. There isn’t much to it—small cubes of meat, typically lamb, and potato are heavily flavoured with garlic and herbs and the mixture is slowly fried for an hour or more. The trick is to add small amounts of water to the dish as it cooks, allowing the meat to become incredibly tender. Then, fry the potato last to get it crispy.
What’s ‘pottage’, you ask? It’s a type of stew-soup hybrid, also called főzelék. Borsófőzelék is perhaps the most popular among Hungarians—a thick green pea soup cooked with equal parts milk and cooking cream. This alone wouldn’t be enough to satiate a Hungarian (whose typical diet mostly consists of meat), and so the dish is often topped with Debrecen sausages, eggs or batter-fried meats.
After a long day at work, Hungarians love to cook this dish made with cottage cheese, sour cream and pasta. The pasta of choice—fusilli works well—is added to bacon bits and Hungarian turó, a crumbly dairy product most similar to cottage cheese. The sour cream comes next, lavished on top by each diner to give the pasta a creamier sauce that is delicious. The dish is incredibly quick and easy to make.
There isn’t a country in Europe that doesn’t have a fondness for pancakes in some form, and Hungary is no different. Although many enjoy French-style crepes, Hungarians have a much wider range of pancake-based dishes. Hortobágy is an area to the east of the country, though it’s not known if this dish originates there. It’s namesake pancake is baked in an oven after having been filled with minced meat, spices and onion and then finished with a healthy topping of paprikash sauce.
This dish basically involves wrapping boiled cabbage leaves around minced meat, which might not sound appetising, but it is absolutely delicious. It is, admittedly, quite a squidgy dish, but it retains many of its composite flavours: paprika, meat, onion and rice being the key ingredients.
Although halászlé (fisherman’s soup) is found around the country all year, Szeged is most famous for the dish and has built a name on this spicy soup with paprika and fish. Halászlé is also commonly served on Christmas, often in the big metal pot it was cooked in. It’s a great starter to any meal.
In Hungarian, Vienna is referred to as Bécs, so Becsi schnitzel is Vienese schnitzel, often called wiener schnitzel. Although not originally a Hungarian dish, schnitzel is incredibly popular in Hungary and can be found in local-style eateries, often with a breaded coating and then served with shredded cheese and potato. It’s a unique twist on the classic that somehow makes it all its own.