Eat Like the Locals: Traditional Hungarian Foods

Goulash, Paprika and More on the Menu

Hungarian goulash with egg noodles
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When you think of Hungarian cuisine, it's likely that goulash and chicken paprika spring to mind. However, there a lot more to traditional Hungarian food than these two tasty and iconic dishes. The food of Hungary has a long history with many influences -- including those from neighboring Slavic countries, along with Germany, Austria, and France. Paprika, Hungarians' favorite seasoning, is used generously, though mild paprika is more commonly used than is spicy paprika.

No matter what the dish, it is most often spicy and rich, a reflection of Hungary's Magyar past and its cultural influences.

Hungarian Meat Dishes

Like many Eastern European cuisines, Hungary has no shortage of meat recipes. Goulash, tokany, and porkolt all contain meat and a hearty mix of vegetables in stews or sauces. The most traditional goulash is made in a kettle and contains beef, potatoes, carrots spices and, of course, significant amounts of paprika. Porkolt means roasted, and it's a stew made of beef, pork, lamb or chicken that's cooked with onions, spices, and paprika. It's often served with nokedli, or an egg noodle dumpling, another traditional Hungarian recipe. Both are often on the menu for Sunday dinner. Hungarian cuisine is also big on sausage, and it's ubiquitous without a lot of preparation; Hungarians also eat pork sausage as a snack or with breakfast.

Hungarian Fish Dishes

If you want something a bit lighter, Hungarian fish dishes might be preferable over rich meals starring beef or pork.

Traditional Hungarian menus feature fish and seafood served with various sauces, vegetables or mushrooms. Hungarians also make a famous fish soup, fittingly called fisherman's soup. It's a favorite at Christmastime and is made of river fish, onions, green peppers and lots of red paprika. There are many versions of fisherman's soup, but it always contains these four ingredients.

It's served with white bread and often followed by a second course of pasta mixed with sour cream and cottage cheese, and sometimes also bacon; this is called turos csusza.

Vegetarian Choices in Hungarian Cuisine

If you are vegetarian and traveling in Hungary, your choices are limited. It's possible to find meatless goulash and vegetable-stuffed green peppers and cabbage rolls. If you like breakfast for dinner, you can fill up on pancakes. There's one terrific traditional Hungarian food that is typically meatless: langos. Langos are deep-fried flatbreads topped with a variety of taste treats—favorites are garlic sauce, cheese, and sour cream—a bit reminiscent of pizza.These are often served as a bread substitute. Langos often are topped with sausages, but you can just as easily find them totally vegetarian. 

Desserts in Hungary

Hungarians have appropriated dessert recipes and other sweet concoctions from all over Europe. Its most decadent specialty is somloi galuska, a sponge cake that contains walnut kernels, rum sauce, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Dobos torta is another unbelievably rich sponge cake covered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel. If you have a sweet tooth, you'll think you are in sugar paradise; you'll also find an abundance of doughnuts, strudel and other sweet pastries and cakes that define Hungarian dessert cuisine.