For those who like to tipple…
Hungary is traditionally a nation of wine-drinkers, and by some statistics has some of the highest alcoholism rates in Europe. So, yes, Hungarians definitely like their wine (bor). Quality ranges from poor to incredibly good, and these days the quality is a lot better – just stay away from the stuff in plastic jugs. Prices, of course, vary. One famous Hungarian vintage is a sweet, dessert wine from Tokaj in northeastern Hungary. French King Louis XIV liked it so much he called it “the king of wines, the wine of kings.”
The national firewater is called pálinka, and it’s a sort of schnapps made out of whatever rotting fruit is available. Common varieties are distilled from plums, apricots, and pears. For our sensitive, feminine tastebuds, we prefer the “mézes” or honey pálinka, a kinder, gentler version.
Another celebrated local elixir is Unicum, which is syrupy and black and tastes kind of like Jaegermeister, except much worse. Originally intended as medicine for the Austro-Hungarian emperor’s indegestion (he loved to eat, a lot), this herbal digestif liquer quickly became a favourite with Hungarians. The recipe is still secret but we do know that it is a blend of 40 different herbs and spices. The new plum-flavored Unicum Szilva is much smoother and actually has quite a nice flavour.
Beer (sör) enthusiasts needn’t worry: the close proximity of Germanic Europe has left a fairly strong and beery impression. Several local pilsner-style lagers (quite good, save for the really cheap stuff) are always available on tap (look for Soproni and Dreher), along with a wide variety of imports from neighbouring brewing giants Slovakia, Czech Republic and Austria. More recently, Hungarian craft beers have been showing up on tap in an increasing number of bars.
For the Foodie in all of us…
Hungarian home-cooking is what some would call stodgy, but we like to call it hearty. There are loads of traditional veggie dishes as well (See #4 below), but Hungary is mostly a pork-loving country. We probably should’ve added the woolly pig (Mangalitsa) to the list below, but it was getting too long. This pig is fast becoming the next big thing in meat consumption. The Budapest restaurant scene is burgeoning with Hungarian fusion restaurants. Adventurous and enthusiastic Hungarian chefs are re-discovering Nagymama’s (Granny’s) recipes and fusing them with international flare. Hungarian cuisine is a massive subject to tackle – as any country’s culinary history is. So we’ve made a list of
Four Five Six Seven things we hold most important on this matter:
1. Sour cream (or tejföl, pronounced tehy-fill) is used as a condiment here. They put it on pretty much everything, even sweetening it with powdered sugar for desserts. It will accompany pretty much any meal in a traditional restaurant or in a local’s home. Ketchup is for pizza only, in this country at least.
2. Gulyás (or commonly known as Goulash) – is traditionally a soup, not a stew. Bringing this up to any food-loving (i.e. every single, living, breathing) Hungarian will result in hours long discourse on the subject, therefore – avoid bringing it up.
3. Paprika – Yes, heavily favoured and used in Hungarian cooking. The general practice is to sautée onions in (traditionally) lard then ‘brown’ the paprika with the onions. Then you add a little water and whatever your main thing is – pork, chicken pieces, beef, wild boar, mushrooms, etc. This is called pörkölt (PURR-kilt), unless you add a little water and sour cream, then it is called a paprikás. And if you add a lot of water it becomes leves. In plain English? Soup.
4. Főzelék – a mystery to all foreigners and even some Hungarians. It’s basically cooked veggies with a ‘rue’ (fat and flour) base. And of course you have to eat it with sour cream.
5. Túró Rudi – When you hear what it is you think you’re going to puke if you taste it. But then you taste it anyway. And then you are transported into the magical, mystical world of lemon-flavoured curd cheese covered in smooth dark chocolate. Seriously. Good.
6. Lángos (pictured above) – Deep fried dough, best if smothered in garlic, sour cream (see #1) and cheese. ‘Nuff said.
7. Pastries and Cakes – Dobos Torte. Gerbeaud. Marzipan. Oh my! Our love affair with Hungarian desserts and sweets would require us to quit our jobs and write a book. We’d rather just get another helping of Somloi Galuska. Suffice it to say, if you are in Budapest, please make time to stop and taste the cake.
Once we get started on this subject, we can’t stop. We just had to include information about the local markets. Going to the market and farmer’s market never really died out in Hungary. In other countries like the USA and UK people mostly do all their shopping in supermarkets and farmers markets are only now becoming main stream again. In Hungary, Saturday mornings have always been and are still a bustling, joyful culinary experience in any of Budapest’s outdoor or indoor markets.
The Grand Central Market Hall is a must-see. The smells, sights and sounds alone are enough for any Foodie to have a Foodgasm. Then there are all the little markets scattered around the city. Including the organic farmers market in the 12th district on Saturdays and the bohemian vibe of the Hunyadi square market. Budapest is foodie heaven, we tell you!
Discover the plethora of local cuisine and booze available through our foodie-oriented hen activities: