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Hungary is one of those mysterious lands that always conjured images of Gypsies and magic in my mind when I was growing up. And to be totally honest, now as an adult, with several dear Hungarian friends, it still seems like a pretty mysterious place!
Located in the heart of Europe, Hungary has in some ways become a melting pot of cultures, while holding on to a deep cultural history of its own.
To understand a bit more about Hungary, and what makes the Hungarian food culture unique, I asked Hungarian natives Bea Solya and Katalin Ujhelyi to share their insider’s perspective on Hungarian cuisine.
The Hungarian Kitchen and Traditions
by Bea Solya
I grew up in the south east part of Hungary, where the sun shines the most in the country.
This area has a huge influence on the Hungarian cuisine because of the famous paprika that grows here. People say the secret of the many amazing Hungarian dishes is in the paprika. It’s true that all authentic Hungarian stews, paprika, or goulash, start with braising onion in hot oil, and then adding paprika.
Also, the second largest river runs through my city, so our Fisherman’s soup is super famous and simply amazing!
When I moved to the United States at the age of 22, I had a very hard time dealing with all the changes. My whole environment, my “safety net” disappeared along with friends, family, habits, rituals… and of course with all the food traditions.
I didn’t realize right away how hard it really was to exist without the tradition I grew up in. Only later did this become clear to me! To tell the truth, 20 years later I still don’t have real food traditions that keep me together the way Hungarian traditions did as I was growing up. Thinking back, food was the glue which kept the lifestyle we lived together. We transmitted love, appreciation, attention, and celebration through food.
Many women’s, like my grandmother’s, main focus in life is providing cooked meals for the family. This is how she expresses her love. She loves us through her cooking.
What do I miss, living in America, even after 20 years?
The big Sunday lunches with the whole family that kept our week in a loving frame. We never missed getting together, and talking about family issues or happenings of the week. We laughed so much that it provided us with good vibes for the rest of the week.
Cooked meals for lunch every day! The Hungarians’ main meal is lunch. It is minimum 3 courses, and always starts with a soup. Usually hot soups, but in the summertime we eat chilled fruit soup.
The cafes in the town squares. This is the place where everyone gets together. You have your delicious Italian cappuccino, with your favorite piece of cake, or an incredible ice cream.… and you meet and connect and network and laugh with friends and anyone you know in town. It took me years to not think about this every single day!
The huge farmer’s market. It’s a part of the Hungarian lifestyle on Saturday morning to go to a farmer’s market where all the farmers bring their fresh produce. Everything is fresh, and mostly organic.
Then, of course there are the certain dishes that I grew up with. The taste and the spices that provided comfort and love growing up. Sweet pasta dishes like túrógombóc (cottage cheese dumplings) szilvásgombóc (plum dumplings), Gesztenye püré (chestnut puree), and Somlói galuska (sponge cake dumplings with chocolate sauce, rum, and whipped cream) are typical luscious Hungarian desserts.
Of course, I miss crapes!! Oh, that’s our favorite thing to eat as children! So, naturally, that’s something I eat almost every day when I spend time in Hungary! We eat them with homemade jellies, sweet farmer’s cheese, and poppy seeds or walnut.
What one place should you go to experience Hungarian cuisine in Hungary?
When you visit Hungary, you must visit the famous Gundel Restaurant, which is known all over the world. The incredible Gundel crape was first made by Karoly Gundel in his restaurant.
Bea Solya is a motivational speaker and a transformation leader who inspires her audience to live a more empowered, joy filled life. She is a charismatic mind coach who is passionate about shifting people out of their comfort zone, and moving them toward living according to their desires. She assists her clients to live a consciously designed life.
Bea grew up in Hungary with a gift of intuition, listening skills, and presence that empowers others to remember their own true essence. She has been listening to and helping people find their own strengths and solutions since she was 12 years old.
Bea believes that everyone deserves to live life at the highest level possible. All we have to do is to let go of old limiting beliefs that stop us from living our lives with full potential. She believes that we have to retrain our mind to create a vision of peace, prosperity and compassion.
She is dedicated to assisting people with the knowledge, the courage, and the motivation they need to be the vision and the change they wish to see in their lives.
You can find more information about Bea at StrongElegantAndWise.com.
Defining Hungarian Cuisine
by Katalin Ujhelyi
Traditional Hungarian cuisine is quite spicy, heavy, and contains lots of meat. All traditional dishes have some kind of meat in them. We eat quite a variety, such as pork, chicken, and beef.
For breakfast we eat sandwiches, which a lot of people outside of Hungary find weird. It can be toast or just normal bread (brown bread, as well) with some butter, a slice of cold cut meat, and a slice of cheese. Our main meal of the day is lunch, and not dinner, which I think is a lot healthier than having a big meal in the evening.
The main spice is the Hungarian red paprika, which is world famous, and the main herb is parsley. We also use a lot of pepper, onions and garlic, and a lot of sour cream, as well.
- Csirkepaprikas (chicken paprikas)
- Hortobagyi husos palacsinta (crepes filled with meat (I use chicken) and baked in a sauce). This is my specialty.
- Gulyasleves (goulash soup)
- Husleves (chicken noodle soup)
- Halaszle (fish soup made from river fish)
- Sztrapacska (pasta with cottage cheese. Keep in mind that Hungarian cottage cheese is rather different than cottage cheese found in the US. It is distinctly Hungarian, but resembles fresh ricotta or quark in appearance.)
Fozelekek (this is very difficult to translate… different vegetables cooked and mixed in a sauce made of sour cream. They are quite healthy, and so easy to make – I love them. We give them to kids a lot, but you can’t really get them in restaurants.)
Rantott hus (breaded and fried pork or chicken)
Palacsinta (crepes with different fillings, like jam, cottage cheese, etc)
Kurtoskalacs (a crispy pastry shaped like a chimney)
The restaurants you would want to go to for authentic Hungarian food in Budapest –
- Gundel – Although quite expensive, it is the # 1 restaurant in Hungary.
Regi Sipos Halaszkert – This restaurant has good prices, and traditional food.
Trofea Grill Restaurant – This buffet style restaurant is one of my favorites.
Katalin Ujhelyi grew up in Budapest, Hungary, and now lives in the UK. She enjoys sharing the joys of her native cuisine, while experimenting with creative and tasty ways to make it even more healthy and delicious.